NPCA flags precasters on reversal of steel products’ Buy America exemption

Sources: National Precast Concrete Association, Carmel, Ind.; CP staff

Citing a late-December U.S. District Court decision vacating Federal Highway Administration Buy America exemptions for miscellaneous steel components, NPCA is urging members who fabricate precast structures for federally funded projects to evaluate use of tie wire, lifting devices and any other elements from foreign sources, and assume requests for documentation that all structure components are domestic.

Rebar tie wire and lifting devices manufactured overseas are no longer authorized for use in FHWA projects after the court nullified terms of a 2012 Transportation Secretary memo allowing precasters to use foreign-sourced steel hardware in federally funded work. Eight plaintiffs led by a United Steelworkers International Union affiliate challenged the document’s Buy America exemptions in the District of Columbia Circuit Court.

In a January 29 member alert, NPCA explains: spool-fed tie wire is not made in the U.S. but commonly used in rebar tying guns; domestic manufacturing capacity for certain precast concrete-grade, steel lifting devices is not sufficient for industry needs; and, the court decision could force producers to alter production methods for future federally funded work, as pre-decision bid awards are not affected.

In 2012, the association reports, some state departments of transportation were strictly interpreting Buy America and requesting documentation for every element of supplied products—including lifting devices and tie wire—on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-funded projects. NPCA met with the FHWA regarding the impracticalities of Buy America for miscellaneous items, one of the factors influencing the Transportation Secretary’s exemption memo. Although not opposed to the exemption for miscellaneous steel components, the District Court in December 2015 found a) that the memo constituted a substantive rule change of a federal regulation; and, b) any agency filing such a rule change needs to formally publish its proposal in the Federal Register and open it to public comment.

NPCA President Ty Gable and Director of Certification and Regulatory Services Richard Krowelski are tracking agency response to the court action after a mid-January meeting in Washington, D.C. with an FHWA Buy America official. The association feels the agency should formally file the Buy America exemptions as a proposed rule change to avoid any disruptions in upcoming federal projects.