President Joe Biden is acting on the concept of "Buy American" with an executive order that would direct the federal government to buy from U.S. manufacturers whenever possible.
The order would transform the federal government's $600 billion procurement budget into a tool to boost the American economy, using it to create jobs and add to American companies' bottom lines.
If this refrain sounds familiar, it's because former President Donald Trump promised from the beginning of his term that his administration would "Buy American, hire American."
Regrettably, it remained mostly talk. Little changed over Trump's four years. The federal government's share of what it bought here or overseas stayed virtually the same.
Biden's order, by contrast, has some teeth. It will tighten the definition of what constitutes American-made products.
To ensure follow-through, the Office of Management and Budget will have a position to oversee increased domestic purchase. Waivers to buy foreign goods will be harder to obtain, and agency requests will be reviewed by the White House.
Adding some much-needed transparency, a website will be launched to allow businesses and the public to view contracts issued to foreign companies, giving them a chance to alert the government to possible domestic alternatives.
The need to protect American-made supplies was made abundantly clear at the outset of the pandemic, when it became apparent that medical supply chains here were far too dependent on overseas production, creating shortages of everything from masks and face shields to ventilators.
"We're going to make sure that they buy American and are made in America," Biden said in signing the order. The order could prove a particular boon to small businesses that have been at a competitive disadvantage against cheaper foreign manufacturers.
There are trade-offs, of course. Might it result in some higher costs? Purchasers will have to be vigilant. This cannot be used simply as a way to soak the American taxpayer. But it is not only reasonable but appropriate for a nation to protect vital supply lines and favor the companies that pay American taxes, hire American workers and build American communities.
The pressure to seek the lowest possible price has too long disadvantaged American companies and their workers, serving as a deterrent to higher wages and better benefits. That may save a few pennies on the purchases themselves, but it hurts American manufacturers.
As this country works to come back from the pandemic and its accompanying recession, this is a concrete step toward making that a reality.