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February 25, 2024

Biden administration waives certain 'Buy America' provisions in broadband expansion plan

In a noteworthy policy reversal, the Biden administration revealed on Friday that it is withdrawing certain “Buy America” requirements related to its $42 billion broadband enhancement push, as The Hill reports.

As such, some of the money set aside for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program may now be used to pay for equipment produced abroad.

Logistical challenges cited

The administration's move comes in the wake of findings by the Commerce Department revealing that certain materials needed for the initiative are not manufactured in the United States in “sufficient and reasonably available quantities” for the program's needs.

In the words of Commerce Department official Will Arbuckle, “This [Build America, Buy America] waiver takes the strongest approach possible to protecting American jobs while also ensuring that we can quickly build the Internet networks.”

Noting that even with the waiver in place, Arbuckle said that roughly 90% of the designated money for the broadband expansion will be spent on material produced in America.

“These are American tax dollars – and we strongly believe they should be spent on equipment made by American workers in American communities,” he stated.

Waivers abound

It was earlier this year that President Joe Biden exercised his veto power to quash a congressional initiative to reverse another administration waiver of “Buy America” requirements, as Reuters reported.

In that instance the waiver pertained to the construction of federally mandated electric vehicle charging stations.

Legislators had previously passed a measure preventing the administration from waiving American content requirements for iron, steel, and other construction materials, citing what they believed was the real risk that taxpayers would end up footing the bill for Chinese-made products.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said at the time of the measure's passage, “There is absolutely no sane reason to funnel taxpayer dollars to Chinese companies. President Biden should act in the interest of the American people, follow the bipartisan wishes of Congress and stop favoring foreign industry.”

In announcing his veto, Biden said, “This resolution would harm my administration's efforts to encourage investment in critical industries and bring high-quality jobs back to the United States.”

The president also declared that the measure would “delay the significant progress being made by my administration and the states in establishing the EV charging network,” but whether those priorities – or those related to the broadband expansion – should have trumped impetus behind the “Buy America” rules is a matter of continued dispute.

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