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Industry And Labor Seek More Job Creation With Homeland Security Purchases

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

US textile manufacturers and organized labor have filed comments with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), charging that its interim rule covering the Buy American textiles provisions in the recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will fall short of the legislation's goal of creating more job opportunities unless changes are  made.

A group of 10 fiber and textile organizations and the textile labor union Workers United say they are "deeply concerned" that the interim DHS rule fails to fulfill the legislative and executive intent of the act by permitting what they say are loopholes that allow imported goods and decreased domestic content to eliminate US textile and apparel jobs and hinder investment.

The sponsor of the Buy American amendment to the homeland security bill, Rep. Larry Kissell, D-N.C., echoed those sentiments in a letter to DHS pointing out that the intent of  his amendment was to create jobs, and the interim rule falls short of that in several respects.

The industry and labor filing says that in enacting the so-called Kissell Amendment  covering procurement of textiles and apparel, Congress and the administration emphasized the importance of creating jobs with DHS purchases of clothing and other textile items. Their filing lists nearly 100 textile and apparel products used by DHS and the Department of Defense that that they feel should have a domestic content requirement. A major question is just how many of these items DHS will define as being "directly related to national security" as required by the law.

"Any rule allowing unnecessary use of non-domestic parts will substantially undermine the job-creating capability of the Kissell Amendment's provisions," the associations' letter says.

Citing a number of problems with the proposed rule, the associations say DHS's definition of "items directly related to national security" at the present time is "confusing" and will greatly complicate the ability of contractors and government procurement officers to implement the law. A simple solution to this problem, they say, is to apply the criteria that have been used for Department of Defense procurement for more than 60 years under the so-called Berry Amendment, and not create another list of new criteria.

They also say exempting imports from Canada, Mexico and Chile from the domestic requirement because those nations were not notified in a timely fashion is a mistake that casts a cloud over current and future procurement.

The associations believe that adopting their recommendations will enable DHS to implement the Kissell Amendment "fully and faithfully" and create and save the most US jobs possible.

Rep. Kissell told DHS it has adopted an "unnecessarily restrictive definition of items directly related to national security interests," and pointed out that this would unnecessarily exclude certain textile products from procurement. "My amendment was intended to be an extension of the Berry Amendment to DHS," he said. "By creating a new definition for purposes of applying this amendment, DHS is undermining the intent of Congress and creating unnecessary complications in the procurement process."

Kissell emphasized that the amendment was enacted to benefit US manufacturers, particularly in the textile industry, saying, "It is incumbent upon DHS in drafting final rules to implement the amendment to ensure that US producers of textile components and products have the ability to compete and seek full procurement advantages as intended by the statute."

September 22, 2009