Sen. Chris Murphy questions secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson. Senate Foreign Relations Committee video feed / File Photo
Sen. Chris Murphy Senate Foreign Relations Committee video feed / File Photo

Washington – In an unusual alliance with the Trump White House and GOP senate colleagues, Sen. Chris Murphy on Tuesday introduced a “Buy American” bill aimed at helping small American companies, including many in Connecticut, get their fair share of federal government business.

Murphy has pressed his “Buy American” campaign for years. But this is the first time his Buy American legislation is introduced in partnership with key GOP lawmakers – Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, a former U.S. Trade Representative, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Murphy also said he had been working with White House officials since last summer to fashion a bill.

“It certainly helps that this is a priority for administration officials,” he said.

In April, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that said, “It shall be the policy of the executive branch to maximize, consistent with law, through terms and conditions of Federal financial assistance awards and Federal procurements, the use of goods, products, and materials produced in the United States.”

Murphy’s bill would codify Trump’s executive order. Although there are federal laws limiting the types and amounts of foreign goods and services federal agencies can buy, the agencies can apply for waivers from these restrictions, and the Pentagon often does.

Murphy’s bill  would establish a, website that lists all waivers to existing Buy American laws. The website would show when the federal government is not using an American company — and help give U.S. manufacturers in Connecticut a shot at securing these contracts, the senator said.

Instead of tightening federal restrictions on foreign purchasers, Murphy said his latest attempt to press federal agencies to give preference to American companies “puts the fix in the hands of small U.S. contractors.”

By searching the new website set up by his legislation, U.S. companies can peruse waiver requests before they are signed and initiate protests that could result in their winning that contract instead.

Murphy said that over the last decade, the Pentagon spent almost $200 billion on manufactured goods made by foreign companies.

He cited several examples of  local manufacturers who were overlooked in favor of a foreign company when the federal government sought a company to fulfill a contract.

Ansonia Copper & Brass, a Connecticut manufacturing company that served the U.S. Navy, was once one of the Naugatuck Valley’s largest employers.

Murphy said the Department of Defense exploited loopholes in our Buy American laws and shifted contracts so that work that once went to Ansonia Copper & Brass was instead sent to foreign manufacturers. As a result, Ansonia Copper & Brass was forced to shut its doors in 2013.

Torrington-based Colonial Bronze also was passed over by the Pentagon,  Murphy said.

A few years ago, the U.S. Air Force was looking to purchase brass towel racks and claimed there were no American companies that made them. So they bought them from a foreign company instead.

Murphy said the federal government didn’t even take the time to do a 10-second Google search before giving the Air Force a green light to spend thousands of dollars purchasing the towel racks from a foreign company.

Murphy said it’s “logical” the Pentagon would spend a lot of money overseas.

“The Department of Defense is under extreme pressure to do more with less,” he said. “So they do ‘wink and nod’ deals with contractors.”

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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