Joe Biden has already issued more executive orders during his first two weeks in office than any previous president. One of them is something that Donald Trump could have issued verbatim.
On April 18, 2017, Trump issued Executive Order 13788, “Buy American and Hire American.” The policy statement is found in Section 2:
It shall be the policy of the executive branch to buy American and hire American.
(a) Buy American Laws. In order to promote economic and national security and to help stimulate economic growth, create good jobs at decent wages, strengthen our middle class, and support the American manufacturing and defense industrial bases, it shall be the policy of the executive branch to maximize, consistent with law, through terms and conditions of Federal financial assistance awards and Federal procurements, the use of goods, products, and materials produced in the United States.
(b) Hire American. In order to create higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States, and to protect their economic interests, it shall be the policy of the executive branch to rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad, including section 212(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(5)).
This executive order was strengthened and amended on January 31, 2019, when Trump issued Executive Order 13858, “Strengthening Buy-American Preferences for Infrastructure Projects.”
On July 15, 2019, Trump issued executive order 13881, “Maximizing Use of American-Made Goods, Products, and Materials.” It strengthened and superseded certain provisions of executive order 10582, “Prescribing Uniform Procedures for Certain Determinations Under the Buy-American Act,” issued by President Eisenhower on December 17, 1954.
On January 14, 2021, Trump issued Executive Order 13975, “Encouraging Buy American Policies for the United States Postal Service.”
Trump’s protectionism, economic nationalism, and ignorance and incoherence on trade are well known. But is Biden any better?
On January 25, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 14005, “Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers.” The policy statement is found in Section 1:
It is the policy of my Administration that the United States Government should, consistent with applicable law, use terms and conditions of Federal financial assistance awards and Federal procurements to maximize the use of goods, products, and materials produced in, and services offered in, the United States. The United States Government should, whenever possible, procure goods, products, materials, and services from sources that will help American businesses compete in strategic industries and help America’s workers thrive. Additionally, to promote an accountable and transparent procurement policy, each agency should vest waiver issuance authority in senior agency leadership, where appropriate and consistent with applicable law.
The head of every federal agency shall “as soon as practicable and as appropriate and consistent with applicable law” consider “suspending, revising, or rescinding those agency actions that are inconsistent with the policy set forth in section 1 of this order” and “proposing any additional agency actions necessary to enforce the policy set forth in section 1 of this order.”
Biden’s executive order specifically supersedes executive orders 10582 of Dwight Eisenhower and 13881 of Trump. It also establishes within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) the Made in America Office, headed by a director appointed by the director of OMB.
Before an agency grants a waiver to “Made in America” laws to allow for the purchase of a foreign-sourced product, it must “provide the Made in America Director with a description of its proposed waiver and a detailed justification for the use of goods, products, or materials that have not been mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States.” And if it appears there is a significant cost advantage in purchasing a foreign-sourced product, “the relevant granting agency shall assess whether a significant portion of the cost advantage of a foreign-sourced product is the result of the use of dumped steel, iron, or manufactured goods or the use of injuriously subsidized steel, iron, or manufactured goods.”
Neither Trump’s nor Biden’s “Buy American” orders are limited to raw materials and manufactured goods essential for national defense. I am not making the argument here, but some have argued that the United States shouldn’t be dependent on imported raw materials and manufactured goods that are vital to national defense because if the country ever went to war with the country supplying those things, then its supply would be cut off, weakening its ability to defend itself.
So, leaving aside the “Buy American” argument when it comes to raw materials and manufactured goods essential for national defense, if it makes sense for individual Americans to buy things where they’re cheapest (accounting, of course, for quality and durability) in order to free up more resources to buy other things, then it makes sense for the American government to do likewise.
But that’s not the real problem with Biden’s “Buy American” policy.
The real problem is that the federal government simply buys too much. And it buys too much because it is so large, so bloated, so wasteful, so profligate, and so full of unconstitutional agencies.
The federal government contains a myriad of agencies, bureaus, corporations, commissions, administrations, authorities, and boards organized under fifteen departments. These departments are: Agriculture (which includes the food stamp program), Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services (which includes Medicare, Medicaid, and a myriad of other welfare programs), Homeland Security (which includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] and the Transportation Security Administration [TSA]), Housing and Urban Development (which administers Section 8 housing vouchers), Interior (which includes the Bureau of Land Management [BLM]), Justice (which includes the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA]), Labor, State (which includes funding for the United Nations), Transportation, Treasury (which includes the Internal Revenue Service [IRS]), and Veterans Affairs.
And then there is the alphabet soup of independent agencies of the federal government, each of which has its own budget. The main ones are: the Small Business Administration (SBA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the International Trade Commission (ITC), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Of particular relevance is the General Services Administration (GSA). It “is responsible for the purchase, supply, operation, and maintenance of federal property, buildings, and equipment, and for the sale of surplus items,” but also “manages the federal motor vehicle fleet and oversees telecommuting centers and civilian child care centers.” It turns out that the federal government has more than two million full-time civilian employees (not counting the Post Office), owns roughly 640 million acres of land, owns or leases about 8,700 buildings, and has a motor pool of more than 215,000 vehicles. The federal budget is now almost $5 trillion a year.
Those two million federal civilian employees use a lot of paper, desks, chairs, computers, furniture, office supplies, monitors, printers, toilet paper, paper towels, electricity, and gasoline. But most of those expenditures are unnecessary because most of the agencies (however they are classified) of the federal government should not exist.
For example, since the Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to have anything to do with agriculture or education, those entire departments — with their thousands of employees, hundreds of field offices, and budgets in the billions — should be completely and permanently closed. The EEOC, with about 2,000 employees and an annual budget of about $400 million, enforces the federal government’s laws against workplace discrimination. But since those laws shouldn’t exist, the entire agency should be shuttered and all of its employees laid off. And the same things could be said about most agencies of the federal government.
Instead of a “Buy American” campaign by the federal government, we need a “Don’t Buy at All” campaign in conjunction with a massive reduction in the size of the government.
It is fitting that Trump and Biden issued protectionist “Buy American” executive orders, since both men likewise have no philosophical objection to the size and spending habits of the federal government.