You would think by now that I would be of an age and experience such that I would no longer be shocked at some of the ridiculous and counterproductive things done by government. But last week, I learned of a practice that not only violates the law, it basically disregards the interests of American workers and companies and forsakes them, potentially, for the betterment of any country on Earth other than America.
The most recent and damaging instance of the federal government working against the interests of our people and our economy is the Army’s decision to spend your tax dollars on foreign-made cotton yarn and other materials to be used in uniforms for the Afghan Army and National Police. The United States Army has indicated that they will allow textiles manufactured in third-party nations such as China and Korea rather than from American vendors.
Put simply, all Department of Defense purchases are legally bound by the Berry Amendment to be made in the United States using American-made components. The wisdom of this law is so clear, from both a security standpoint and an economic standpoint, that you wouldn’t think anyone in the U.S. government would ever want to take action opposed to it. As you well know from my previous columns, I support the extension of this law to include the uniforms worn by Border Patrol and TSA officials. The Army, however, has decided to attempt to skirt this law in its purchases of uniforms for the Afghan Army and National Police Force, a decision that could cost thousands of American jobs in the textile industry.
I spent the better part of this past week railing at the Department of Defense for allowing this decision and insisting that it be reversed. I refuse to accept, after the incredible sacrifice made by the American people in an attempt to bring freedom to the Afghan people and rid that country of the brutal rule of the Taliban, that American workers could be denied the opportunity to provide components for the uniforms of the Afghan soldiers and policemen we have trained and armed and defended. It is an outrage that, after all America has done to try and support the creation of a modern and free Afghanistan, countries such as China will be allowed to swoop in and provide materials for Afghan security forces’ apparel that will be paid for by American taxpayers.
I accept that these uniforms, field jackets and various other pieces of equipment will be assembled in Afghanistan. As much as I wish that finishing work would be done in America, I understand the need for Afghanistan to build a viable economy, and it only makes sense that they make their own clothes and put their own people to work. My problem is with the input components they will use to make the finished products. Goods not readily available in Afghanistan and paid for with U.S. tax dollars must be purchased from American companies. There is no excuse for not doing so. I am finding that people in our district of every political stripe agree with me on this one. Regardless of their view of the war, no one I’ve talked to thinks we should ignore American law and give our tax dollars to third-party nations.
This issue is critical in that it could lead to millions of dollars of domestic textile revenue being transferred from U.S. producers to manufacturers in other countries. The government enforces laws and regulations on American citizens and businesses every single day. And it is patently unfair that the Department of Defense is now going to allow a law (the Berry Amendment) to be broken, when its enforcement would help American workers and businesses. Government tells people all the time to “play by the rules, or else.” Well, it’s time for the government to play by the rules and only spend taxpayer dollars with American companies when ordering uniform components through the Department of Defense.
The program to clothe Afghan security forces is funded with Department of Defense dollars, which are your tax dollars. It is clear and logical that the purchase of any textile materials unavailable in Afghanistan be required to fully comply with the Berry Amendment and thus be purchased from American manufacturers. Can’t we make our own rules work to our advantage just once? I say we can, and we should, and we must.
I have called on the Department of Defense to halt this willful disregard of American law and America’s economic interests. I will not sit idly by as the Afghan Army uses U.S. tax dollars to buy yarn from China or Korea. It is only by virtue of American sacrifice and investment that Afghanistan even has an army or a police force or the slimmest chance at becoming a modern nation with a viable economy. American law and common decency dictate that American businesses should be allowed to sell goods to the Afghan government, especially when those goods are being paid for with your tax dollars. Some of the companies who stand to lose the most from the decision have challenged the action. I have met with textile representatives from throughout our state and I join them in contesting this absurd and self-defeating action taken by the Department of Defense.
Nothing makes me madder than when the United States government takes direct action that makes more difficult the all-important task of rebuilding our economy and putting our people back to work. And I am going to fight as hard as I can in every direction to see that this shameful practice is discontinued.
n Congressman Larry Kissell (D-N.C. -8) offices include Rockingham: 230 East Franklin St., Rockingham, N.C. 28379, Phone: 997-2070; Concord number (704) 786-1612; Fayetteville number (910) 920-2070; Washington office: 1632 Longworth HOB, Washington, D.C. 20515; phone (202) 225-3715. Web site, kissell.house.gov.