Since the 1990s the U.S. Navy has been required to purchase a very specific type of chain only from U.S. manufacturers. This requirement has been placed in every appropriations bill that funds the Pentagon for the last 25 years.
As I wrote in this column in December, this requirement that anchor and mooring chain (up to four inches in diameter) be purchased from an American source is one of several anti-competitive provisions that appears in the Pentagon appropriations bill every year. Other provisions cover ball bearings, steel plate and super computers.
While I won't quibble about the wisdom of not purchasing super computers from foreign sources, I strongly believe the rest of these protectionist requirements should be retired. The Pentagon should set a fair quality standard for ball bearings, anchor and mooring chain and steel plate and take bids from all interested parties. The contract should go to the lowest responsive bidder. To do anything else is a waste of federal funds gussied up as patriotism.
For all these reasons, I was disappointed to see an amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill in the Senate, offered by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to extend this requirement to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. You'd be surprised how many vessels are owned by the Corps. And Murray wants to extend this unnecessary requirement to all the anchor and mooring chain (up to four inches in diameter) on those craft as well.
My organization, Taxpayers for Common Sense, along with seven other groups that care about safeguarding your tax dollars, wrote a letter to all senators asking them to reject the extension of this clearly anti-competitive practice to the Corps of Engineers. With only hours to gather support, the common sense forces against the Murray amendment fell short of the 51 votes needed to stop it.
Not a single Democrat voted against the Murray amendment and 12 Republicans voted for it. If you look at the pattern of votes by Republicans for this clearly anti-free market amendment, you see the strong influence of the shipbuilding industry and its ability to raise funds for political candidates. This may explain the votes of Republican and Independent senators from Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi and New Hampshire. But that doesn't explain the votes of senators from Missouri, Colorado, Illinois and Ohio.
My organization will continue working to remove these provisions from future appropriations bills. It's time to put an end to these practices which pervert the Pentagon acquisition process to benefit a few companies and industries.
Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense