By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory affairs & assistant general counsel, ARTBA

President Donald Trump is directing all federal agencies to “Buy American and Hire American” in their federal procurement practices. For the transportation construction industry, his April 18 executive order will impact how the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and other federal transportation agencies interpret the 35-year-old contractor compliance law similarly known as the Buy America Act.

The existing rule requires that steel or iron components “permanently incorporated” in federal-aid highway projects be manufactured in the United States, subject to possible waivers and exemptions.  In part, President Trump’s order directs all federal agencies to analyze their current compliance with Buy America regulations and ensure they are maximizing the use of U.S. products on both direct federal and federal-aid projects. The order also states that any waivers from Buy America rules be interpreted to ensure the maximum use of domestic products.

For several years, ARTBA has advocated and worked with FHWA for a reasonable interpretation of certain Buy America provisions, particularly those with minimal economic benefit for domestic manufacturing, but carrying the potential to increase costs and delays on projects.  ARTBA has supported FHWA’s efforts to exempt manufactured products containing 90 percent or less steel or iron, as well as miscellaneous steel or iron components, subcomponents and hardware. These exemptions involve “commercially available off-the shelf” (COTS) products that include iron or steel components, and nuts, bolts, washers, and other miscellaneous steel or iron parts.

Since these exemptions weren’t finalized by the previous administration, it remains to be seen how President Trump’s order will impact their fate. ARTBA believes that neither action would have a significant impact on domestic steel, iron or manufacturing due to their very limited scope.

ARTBA will continue to advocate strongly for these principles through the process established by the executive order. This includes a roundtable discussion with FHWA officials during the ARTBA Federal Issues Program on May 16, with all contractor-members invited to participate.  Please contact Rich Juliano or me with any further questions or insights.