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Federal government spends $1.5 billion on foreign-made products

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In 2012 the American public objected after learning that U.S. Olympic team uniforms – from hats to shoes and all worn in between – were made in China. For athletes who represented the country to wear clothing made in another country was, well, un-American.

A new report by New York Times’ Ian Urbina, though, finds even more unpatriotic purchases: the U.S. government spends $1.5 billion annually on items made overseas.

Uniforms for federal firefighters and law enforcement, souvenir clothing sold by the Smithsonian and others items carrying military logos, and even uniforms worn by particular military units are made at factories in Southeast Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.

And even though some laws and policies still exist to deter such outsourcing, it seems that few in charge of the relevant purchasing departments know much about it, and don’t seem to care, either.

According to the article:

“Federal agencies rarely know what factories make their clothes, much less require audits of them, according to interviews with procurement officials and industry experts. The agencies, they added, exert less oversight of foreign suppliers than many retailers do.”

And not only do these U.S. government offices not care if their goods are made outside the U.S., but they also don’t seem to care about the unfair – even dangerous – conditions in which those products are made.

“(T)here is no law prohibiting the federal government from buying clothes produced overseas under unsafe or abusive conditions.”

Attempts to at least ensure that the products purchased are safely made have been fruitless, too, and due to apparent profit-oriented selfishness.

“Labor and State Department officials have encouraged retailers to participate in strengthening rules on factory conditions in Bangladesh — home to one of the largest and most dangerous garment industries. But defense officials this month helped kill a legislative measure that would have required military stores, which last year made more than $485 million in profit, to comply with such rules because they said the $500,000 annual cost was too expensive.”

That the Dept. of Defense insists on overlooking life-protecting safety to preserve only one percent in profit doesn’t uphold its stated mission of security and protection, it seems.

Foreign facilities aren’t unsafe to their workers alone, though. They’re dangerous for Americans, with high rates of product recall due to safety violations.

Perhaps worse, they’re also a danger to the U.S. economy. Losing over 2 million jobs during the 2007-2009 recession, unemployment in manufacturing remained as high as 13 percent through early 2010, months after the recession was declared over, and is still at a 6.2 percent level in the last-reported period of November 2013.

The 6.8 percent difference isn’t complete regain, either. Many of those jobs were eliminated, and the workers had to find employment in other industries.

Continuing economic damage to the U.S., those new jobs are paying workers less than they previously earned. While unemployment has notably declined, today’s wages are 6.1 percent less than national average income before the 2007-2009 recession began.

Manufacturing was once the dominant industry in the U.S., employing 19.5 million in 1979. Since then, over a third of those jobs have been lost to overseas facilities, though; only 12 million Americans currently work in this industry.

Through the last century, many laws were created to protect U.S. businesses and employment, including three Buy American Acts that pertained to general and specific product fields.

The first one from 1933 was updated eight years later with the Berry Amendment, which specified that the Dept. of Defense could only purchase uniforms and food items (with other products later added) that are made by American companies throughout all phases of production.

In recent years, though, the federal government has sought continuous loopholes to these job-protecting measures. In 2001, for example, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) introduced a bill that would exclude particular clothing items from the Berry Amendment; it passed later that year. Fasteners were eliminated from inclusion by the Dept. of Defense in 2007, and in 2008 Congress removed many other metal items and even general off-the-shelf products from the list, too.

The American public is greatly aware of the impacts of job loss to foreign countries; 86 percent agree that U.S. companies are outsourcing jobs simply for lower wages, 95 percent agree that this practice has contributed to unemployment in the United States, and 90 percent think the primary method for economic recovery would be regulations to “keep jobs in America.”

Before they can attempt to correct this in the role of conscious consumers, however, the public will need to return to gainful employment with proper wages.

And to reach that first step, the U.S. government should stop spending its money on foreign-made goods.

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