The Homeland Security Department buys more uniforms from Mexico and Central America than it does from within the U.S., a top watchdog said Tuesday, ducking the spirit of Made in the USA rules the government has on the books.
By contrast some 30 percent came from Mexico, 10 percent from El Salvador and 6 percent from Honduras, totaling nearly $75 million in spending over the last three years.
Those purchases fly in the face of rules that say Homeland Security, like much of the rest of government, is supposed to buy textiles that are grown or processed in the U.S. when it comes to national security cases. That chiefly means uniforms for the law enforcement branched of the department, such as the Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration and the Secret Service.
Homeland Security officials are aware of the rules and include language in contracts trying to follow them, the GAO said.
But in reality, there are a number of exceptions that prevent the Buy American rules from having a serious effect on government contracts.
Small contracts are exempt, and the Buy American rules are tossed out when they are deemed to violate U.S. trade deals, auditors said.
“As of June 2017, under the current uniforms contract, 58 percent of the value of ordered uniform items by DHS came from foreign sources,” the investigation found.
Foreign uniforms are, on the whole, less expensive to taxpayers, the GAO said.
Nearly 70 percent of the Transportation Security Administration’s uniforms and 46 percent of Secret Service textiles come from Mexico, compared to just 10 percent of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and officers’ uniforms.
But the issue has rankled some members of Congress.
Rep. Scott Taylor, Virginia Republican, introduced a bill in March that would require homeland security to procure all of its uniforms from within the U.S. The bill has nearly 40 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.
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