State of the Union: U.S. infrastructure will be built with U.S. construction materials

By Andy Brown and Larry StewartFebruary 08, 2023

During his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden announced stricter standards to increase the American-made content of construction materials used in federal construction projects.

“Tonight, I’m also announcing new standards to require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America,” he said.

“American-made lumber, glass, drywall, fiber optic cables. And on my watch, American roads, American bridges, and American highways will be made with American products.”

In his first week in office, Biden signed an executive order “Ensuring the Future is Made in America by All of America’s Workers,” initiating a review of long-established Buy American policy and launching an initiative across government to strengthen the use of federal procurement to support American manufacturing. To turn ambitious goals and patriotic talk into action, the executive order created the Made in America office within the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and that executive office was codified by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,.

In Tuesday’s State of the Union, Biden pointed out that “Buy American” has been the law of the land since 1933. “But for too long, past administrations have found ways to get around it. Not anymore.”

Biden also spoke about the importance of infrastructure to the U.S. economy and how the country’s infrastructure had fallen behind that of other countries.

“To maintain the strongest economy in the world, we also need the best infrastructure in the world. We used to be No. 1 in the world in infrastructure, then we fell to No. 13.

“Now we’re coming back because we came together to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the largest investment in infrastructure since President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System.”

How possible is Buy American?

The chief executive officer of the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA), Doug Carlson, commenting on the speech, said, “Our projects require a very complex mix of materials, some of which are not domestically manufactured. Our nation’s utility construction industry literally digs into fresh American soil to complete our projects, so we support sourcing materials from American manufacturers.

“But a one-size-fit-all solution never fits individual projects like ours. Some components are not made in the United States and must be bought overseas to complete a job. Other materials sourced from foreign sources are significantly cheaper and hold down federal government infrastructure expenditures. On some projects, a delay on a single critical part can delay the entire project, driving up costs and significantly postponing its completion.”

Carlson did praise Biden’s work on infrastructure, saying, “Since President Biden signed into law the 2021 core infrastructure bill, critical water, wastewater, broadband, natural gas, and electric projects are now finding federal funding. That’s something all Americans can be proud of.”

How much U.S. content satisfies Buy American?

The Buy American Act does not limit federal purchasing to all-American-made products. Legacy implementation rules qualify products as Made in America for federal procurement if 55% of their value is manufactured here.

Last year Biden updated the rules governing implementation of the law with intent to direct more of the $600 billion the U.S. government spends on goods and services each year toward creating domestic jobs and industry. A primary step in the new rules increased the qualifying American content to 60% in 2022 It will increase the threshold to 65% in 2024, and 75% in 2029. The progression is designed to close loopholes in how the law is implemented and give businesses time to develop, to onshore manufacturing and adjust their supply chains to support American production. 

The president’s administration has launched a new website aimed at providing transparency into exceptions from Made in America laws, and created a Made in America Council to identify the best ideas and practices from across the federal government.

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