Low-End Manufactured Goods: No Supply Alternative to China — Or Lazy Air Force Sourcing Strategies?

According to an article in today's WSJ, Chinese Light Fixtures Compromise U.S. Combat Readiness?
, "the Air Force had granted a domestic procurement waiver for a stimulus-backed military housing construction project at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska." Apparently, the Air Force is having trouble finding any American produced goods, such as "screws, toilet paper holders, bathroom vanity fixtures [etc.]" needed to build base housing under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The waiver is specifically aimed toward the Buy American requirements, and says "The domestic nonavailability determination for these products is based on extensive market research and thorough investigation of the domestic manufacturing landscape. This research identified that these products are manufactured almost exclusively in China."

Which goods, specifically, aren't available? See an extensive list here that includes everything from "3? Ceramic Coated Bugle Head Course Thread Screws" to "Residential Style Polished Chrome 30" Towel Bar." Now, having recently moved into a new apartment, I've been spending a fair amount of time at Home Depot, and to be fair: most everything there is indeed made in China (thanks Spend Matters for making me aware enough to check!). But my sourcing skills are piddling compared to the US Military's: if they can make stealth helicopters and source Doggles then it seems to me that they could spare the mind power to find an American manufacturer for screws and towel rods -- or perhaps even set up a contract with an American firm to produce these goods specifically for the military. To simply ask for a waiver seems like an easy way out, much like a story that Jason recently wrote about where the "Japanese government has requested New Delhi to allow its car makers source spares from alternative destinations and exempt them from mandatory tests to prevent any disruption in their supply chain and production."

But if this is a real issue, and the US 100% seriously can't find domestic sources of such basic items, what does that say about our foreign dependence? The WSJ article points to the fact that "Some troubling examples of U.S. dependence on foreign sourcing include basic items like 'machine tools' all the way up to key high-tech equipment such as 'night vision goggles,'" and that "We didn't expect our military to be so compromised, though, that the nation is now dependent on foreign sourcing for bathroom light fixtures and towel bars."

The Alliance for American Manufacturing is now apparently pushing for "U.S. manufacturers to do what they can to fill the Air Force's needs on the Eielson project," to avoid sending American spend to China. Personally, I found this Amish-made wrought iron towel bar for $12.95 using everybody's most valuable sourcing tool: Google.

- Sheena Moore

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