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    Government Contracting Database

    Buy American Act

    Manuel, Kate, The Buy American Act – Preferences for “Domestic Supplies: In Brief, Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, R43140, (April 26, 2016). 

    The Buy American Act of 1933 is the earliest and arguably the best known of various statutes regarding federal procurement of domestic products. Essentially, the act attempts to protect U.S. businesses and labor by restricting the acquisition and use of end products or construction materials that are not “domestic.” For purposes of the act, domestic end products and domestic construction materials include (1) unmanufactured end products or construction materials mined or produced in the United States, as well as (2) end products or construction materials manufactured in the United States, provided that (a) the cost of the components mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States exceeds 50% of the cost of all components, or (b) the product is a commercially available off-the-shelf item. End products or construction materials that do not qualify as domestic under these definitions are generally treated as foreign, and offers that supply foreign end products or construction materials are foreign offers, regardless of the offeror’s nationality. Purchases of services are generally not subject to the Buy American Act.  

    As implemented, the Buy American Act limits the purchase of foreign end products and the use of foreign construction materials by establishing price preferences for domestic offers. Specifically, the provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) implementing the Buy American Act provide that, when a domestic offer is not the low offer, the procuring agency must add a certain percentage of the low offer’s price to that offer before determining which offer is the lowest priced or “best value” for the government. This percentage generally ranges from 6%, in cases where the lowest domestic offer is from a large business; to 12%, when the lowest domestic offer is from a small business; to 50%, for Department of Defense procurements, although agencies may adopt higher percentages by regulation. If the domestic offer is the lowest, or tied for lowest, after the application of this price preference, the agency must award the contract to the domestic offeror. However, if the foreign offer still has the lowest price, the agency generally awards the contract to the foreign offeror pursuant to provisions of the Buy American Act permitting the purchase of foreign end products when the costs of domestic ones are “unreasonable.”  

    There are also other “exceptions” to the Buy American Act, which permit the purchase of foreign end products and the use of foreign construction material when (1) the expected value of the procurement is below the micro-purchase threshold (generally $3,500); (2) the goods are for use outside the United States; (3) the procurement of domestic goods or the use of domestic construction materials would be inconsistent with the public interest; (4) domestic end products or construction materials are unavailable; (5) the agency is procuring information technology that is a commercial item; or (6) the goods are acquired specifically for commissary resale.  

    In addition, the Buy American Act is often waived pursuant to the Trade Agreements Act. When this happens, certain products that are wholly grown, produced, or manufactured in foreign jurisdictions, or “substantially transformed” into new and different articles within foreign jurisdictions, are treated the same as “domestic” ones for purposes of the procurement.  

    The Buy American Act is of perennial interest to Congress, which has periodically enacted or considered measures to expand the scope of domestic preferences in federal procurements or, more rarely, to narrow it. The act itself has seldom been amended. However, numerous statutory requirements like those of the Buy American Act have been enacted. See CRS Report R43354, Domestic Content Restrictions: The Buy American Act and Complementary Provisions of Federal Law, by Kate M. Manuel et al. 

    Updated: May 31, 2018 

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