Congress needs to take a minute to reject a proposal that would prohibit contractors from completing Defense Department contracts with specialty metal parts not made in the United States. In this case, "specialty metals" includes all pure and alloy forms of stainless steel, titanium, nickel and cobalt. Such a restriction would delay production and delivery of the electronic components that have become so important to our troops and would also add millions of dollars in costs.
You may recall that this restriction is a clause in the Berry Amendment, passed by Congress in the 1970s. It would require contractors to use metals that are smelted in the United States. Last year, Congress broke specialty metals out of the Berry Amendment and provided DoD with new flexibility to take delivery of the items they need to supply the warfighters, while preserving the specialty metals industry as a critical domestic industrial component. They also included an exception for electronic components and DoD has been hard at work applying that exception. That legislation built upon a tradition of granting authority to the Secretary of Defense to determine that a metal produced outside the United States is necessary to complete an electronic part for national security purposes.
Without that exception, electronic components in equipment used by our troops could not include specialty metals from the global supply chain. Companies would be prohibited from finding the best deal for the taxpayer when purchasing those metals. In fact, most corporations don't even have the ability to easily trace such sourcing to the point of origin. Even where possible, such tracking would be incredibly costly. As a result, many firms doing business with DOD would not be able to fully comply with this requirement. And that could force many big and small contractors from the market and potentially add millions of dollars in costs for the Pentagon.
This latest proposal on specialty metals was passed by the House of Representatives on May 17 as part of the FY2007 National Defense Authorization Act and is now headed to the Senate. But the Information Technology Association of America believes it is short-sighted for Congress not to give DoD access to the most advanced computers and major core electronic equipment essential for the war fighter. If it becomes law, it could even be more difficult for contractors to deliver the electronic components necessary for military weapons systems.
This proposal is clearly heading in the wrong direction. While it would be nice if all components in a national security supply chain were U.S.-produced, it is clear that raw materials now come from multiple sources and few exclusively from the United States. At a time of heightened security and on-going military operations, it is important to make electronic components more readily available, not harder to get.
Our soldiers and the citizens they protect deserve the most that innovation can deliver. No one's safety should be compromised for the sake of economic protectionism.
Phil Bond is the president and CEO of the Information Technology Association of America. Look for a column from ITAA twice a month.