By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory and legal issues, ARTBA

At a Sept. 9 campaign stop in Warren, Michigan, former Vice President Joe Biden reiterated his pledge to strengthen “Buy America” provisions in federal procurement requirements, if elected. Citing his “Build Back Better” agenda, the Democratic presidential nominee vowed to “tighten the rules for public infrastructure projects, roads, bridges, canals, airports,” a reference to the long-standing “Buy America” law which applies to federal-aid projects.

Biden promised to issue a series of executive orders in this area soon after taking office. These would include creation of a “Made in America” office under the White House Office of Management and Budget, although he did not outline specific responsibilities for the new entity. His campaign website also notes,  “As part of its historic investment in infrastructure, Biden will strengthen and enforce Buy America.”

President Donald Trump has similarly focused on “Buy American, Hire American” principles, issuing multiple executive orders intended to strengthen existing regulatory requirements. In his Michigan remarks, Biden accused the Republican incumbent’s administration of doubling “off-shore” federal government contracts.  

While the political salvos in this area often do not do so, it is important to distinguish between the “Buy American” and “Buy America” statutes. The Buy American law dates to 1933 and primarily applies to direct federal procurements. The Buy America law (no “n”), which dates to 1982, is more familiar to ARTBA members.  It requires that steel or iron components “permanently incorporated” in federal-aid highway and transit projects be manufactured in the United States, subject to certain possible waivers and exemptions.  As indicated in his broader remarks and the specifics provided on his website, it is likely that enforcement of both laws would be a focus under a Biden administration.

See ARTBA’s guide to both candidate’s views on transportation issues.

(2014 file photo of Biden.)