Federal agencies must do a better job of administering existing domestic content preference laws and guaranteeing transparent and thorough audit processes to ensure compliance.29 In addition, they should establish higher thresholds for granting waivers of domestic content preferences; close loopholes that undermine the intent of these laws; ensure that low-bid contracting procedures do not undercut the ability to source domestically produced content; expand the application of Buy American and Buy America preferences to other types of federal spending programs and federal assistance programs identified as not being covered; and, when practicable, take steps in trade negotiations to rebalance a lopsided balance of procurement market access. If agencies are slow to act, Congress should require more aggressive steps that would result in more products made in America being purchased with federal dollars. Fortunately, House Democrats are poised to do just that.
Job quality and equity standards raise standards for workers
By adopting the protections outlined above in any infrastructure investment package, policymakers would be significantly raising standards for working people from all walks of life while, at the same time, helping Americans struggling from the economic consequences of the coronavirus get back to work.
Research finds that wage standard protections raise wages, lower poverty rates, and reduce inequality in affected industries. According to a 2016 study, construction workers in states with strong or average prevailing wage laws made nearly $12,000 more per year, on average, than construction workers in states with weak or no prevailing wage laws.30 Moreover, participation in Registered Apprenticeship programs results in an average earnings gain of more than $3,400 per year and a lifetime earnings gain of nearly $120,000.31
Similarly, federal interventions to reduce discrimination among federal contractors have been successful. After President Lyndon B. Johnson adopted affirmative action requirements for federal contractors, studies show that demand for Black Americans and women increased significantly in contractor establishments compared with noncontractor establishments.32