The executive branch has always had the power to redefine words to serve their interests. Reagan’s USDA reclassified “ketchup” as a vegetable so school lunches could meet both budgetary and nutritional requirements. George W.’s DOJ redefined “torture” so as not to violate international agreements, and Bill Clinton himself took a stab at redefining the meaning of “is” with reference to another sort of violation.
Now Obama’s Department of Homeland Security has redefined the word “domestic” to include products made in Mexico and Canada in order to reconcile the “Buy American” provisions of the Stimulus Package with NAFTA.
So the Kissell Amendment, which was intended to give USA manufacturers an edge, has actually handed the edge to Mexico, which is now allowed to bid on “domestic” contracts but is exempt from any of the Workers Rights provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulations regarding workplace safety, overtime, child labor, and other abuses. There is just one problem: the Kissell Amendment does not use the word “domestic”. It specifically requires that TSA Uniforms be produced “in the United States”.
But redefining the meaning of “in the United States” to include Mexico would torpedo another Homeland Security Program: E-Verify. On the same day that the Transportation Safety Administration released their uniform program featuring the new definition of “domestic” the Senate passed the “E-Verify Amendment”, an attempt to legislate George Bush’s executive order that federal contractors use none other than the Department of Homeland Security’s electronic system verify the legal status of their workers for work performed “in the United States”.
As the Senate’s “E-Verify Amendment” Sponsor, Jeff Sessions said, “Our unemployment rate is now at 9.5 percent, the highest in 25 years. E-Verify is a critical tool to ensuring that jobs go to lawful, taxpaying, American workers — which, in the current recession, is more important than ever before. I am pleased that the Senate has agreed that federal contractors benefiting from the stimulus should be required to use the program in the future.” He did not add, “or they will have to manufacture their products in Mexico” at the end but he could have to make the statement more accurate.
Something’s gotta give here. If “Buy American” violates the anti-protectionism procurement laws of the World Trade Organization, wouldn’t a law requiring that American Citizens work on federal contracts violate the same laws? If Homeland Security redefines “produced in the United States” as it sees fit for its own contracts does it have to hold other federal agencies to the same standard?