As if America’s public transportation networks weren’t hobbled enough by union wages and pensions, the Obama administration’s “Buy American” pandering is adding to the burden. One streetcar line in Houston has been sent back to the drawing board because it didn’t comply with purchasing provisions attached to federal money:
The Federal Transit Administration told Metro officials, Mayor Annise Parker and local members of Congress Wednesday that the process Metro used to award a rail car contract violated federal law and “Buy America” requirements intended to promote American employment.
To qualify for federal funds on the North and Southeast lines, the FTA said, Metro must cancel its contract with a Spanish company, Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, and solicit new proposals for a purchase involving up to $205 million in federal money.
Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is pushing for all federal rail contracts to adhere to Buy American provisions, with “comparable mandates for highways.” (Though obviously this doesn’t apply to the cars running on them, and I’d imagine that the physical properties of asphalt and concrete favor local highway construction companies anyway.) These mandates have had some success in bringing manufacturing home – for the first time in 60 years streetcars are being built in America – but I have to wonder, at what cost? Just something to think about when people try to argue that transit is too expensive to ever be viable.
Edit: As a few commenters have pointed out, “Buy American” is much older than the Obama administration, and indeed dates back to at least 1982, although I’m curious as to how domestic vs. foreign procurement decisions have changed since then, as the law allows for quite a few waivers.