Sen. Chris Murphy

Washington – Sen. Chris Murphy is at war with the Pentagon over what he says is the military’s failure to comply with “Buy American” laws that require the purchase of U.S. made goods – with certain exceptions.

On Friday, Murphy wrote Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, about two inspector general reports that showed that 36 percent of Air Force contracts and 40 percent of Navy contracts surveyed violated U.S. laws that require federal procurement agencies to give preference to American-made goods.

“A fair opportunity to compete for defense contracts is critical to American economic success,” Murphy wrote Kendall.

The senator, who also asked to meet with Kendall over the issue, said Connecticut manufacturers account for 10.2 percent of the jobs in the state.

“Without thorough consideration for procurement from DoD, the over 4,000 manufacturers currently operating in my state will surely suffer,” Murphy said.

Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers, a Department of Defense spokesman, said the Pentagon would coordinate with Murphy’s office “for appropriate action” once it receives his official request to meet.

The 1933 Buy American Act requires federal agencies to purchase goods that are at least 50 percent American made in contracts that are worth more than $3,000. Another, more recent law called the Berry Amendment, requires the Defense Department to give preference in procurement to domestically produced, manufactured, or home-grown products, most notably food, clothing, fabrics and specialty metals.

Federal agencies can ask for and receive waivers from Buy American restrictions.

“Since DoD is already exempted from the Buy American act on many purchases through statutorily acceptable means, the number of violations within the U.S. Air Force further proves that lack of compliance within DoD is seriously damaging American businesses,” Murphy wrote Kendall.

In the case of the Air Force review, the inspector general found that the service’s procurement officers  “were not sufficiently familiar with the Buy American Act” when they purchased millions of  dollars worth of football jerseys, combat boots, firefighting equipment and other tools.

The inspector general also determined that Navy procurement officers were also unaware of the law’s restrictions when they purchased airplane parts, gloves, body armor, medical equipment and other goods in violation of the Buy American law.

In an interview, Murphy said the Pentagon buys foreign-made goods because they are often cheaper.

“It might save the Defense Department 5 percent, but it costs the American economy greatly,” he said.

As far as not knowing about the law, Murphy said it was first implemented in 1933, and the Pentagon  “has had plenty of time to figure out how to comply.”

Murphy also said the Pentagon has been a more egregious violator of the Buy American law than any other federal agency.

“Historically, they have tried to explore every loophole,” he said.

We have seen Senator Murphy’s press release. Once we receive his official request, we will coordinate directly with his office for appropriate action.

Murphy succeeded in inserting language in last year’s defense authorization bill that requires more oversight of a loophole that allows the purchase of foreign-made goods if they are used by the Pentagon and other federal agencies overseas. He said he’s willing to seek new ways to tighten up other loopholes in the law.

Murphy said he became of champion of the “Buy American” cause after a company called Ansonia Specialty Metals in Waterbury shut down because the Pentagon began purchasing special metal tubing to be used in shipbuilding from overseas.

“Ansonia went out of business for one reason and one reason only,” Murphy said, “waivers to the Buy American Act.”

Murphy also said there’s a national security reason for the Pentagon to prefer domestic suppliers – there’s no guarantee that nations that are home to foreign suppliers will not turn hostile to U.S. interests.

“You can’t take for granted that these countries are going to always be on a friendly basis with the United States,” he said.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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