Conversations on Capitol Hill
Metalcasters convened in Washington, D.C., to ask for investment in infrastructure and legislation that supports U.S. manufacturing.
Every summer, metalcasters from across the U.S. gather in Washington, D.C. for visits to the offices of their senators and representatives. They travel together to give a united voice to legislators about laws that help or hinder the metalcasting industry’s growth and prosperity. These gatherings are planned and coordinated by AFS, and this year’s Government Affairs Fly-In was held June 11-12.
AFS supports the continued implementation of a pro-manufacturing agenda to ensure U.S. metalcasters can continue to compete in today’s global economy. This year at the fly-in, metalcasters urged Congress and the administration to work together to enact growth-oriented, job-creating policies, including the following priorities to advance the nation’s economic security and the vitality of the U.S. metalcasting industry.
The U.S. metalcasting industry is a critical component of American manufacturing and military systems. Over the last five years, U.S federal agencies have spent more than $30 billion on goods manufactured by foreign firms. The Department of Defense (DoD), the largest purchaser of manufactured goods in the world, has spent in excess of $200 billion on manufactured goods made by foreign companies since 2007.
Under current law, federal agencies can use domestic content waivers to Buy American laws to purchase goods or services from foreign companies when an American-made good is unavailable or there is a significant cost difference.
Bipartisan legislation, the BuyAmerican.gov Act of 2019, was recently introduced in both chambers that would:
- Create a centralized, publicly available website through the General Services Administration (GSA) to track and display any requested waivers to Buy American laws at the link currently established as BuyAmerican.gov.
- Allow manufacturers to identify contract opportunities and hold federal agencies accountable when issuing Buy American waivers.
- Offer manufacturers the chance to challenge pending waivers sought by federal agencies.
- Require agencies to report on the implementation of, and compliance with, Buy American laws.
AFS urges lawmakers to cosponsor and support the passage of the BuyAmerican.gov Act of 2019 (S. 1324/H.R. 2472). This bill calls for a system of checks and balances to ensure federal agencies follow Buy American laws, prioritize the purchase of American-made goods, and close loopholes in the waiver process. The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). A companion measure was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Mike Bost (R-Ill.).
Invest in Water Infrastructure
Water infrastructure plays an important role in public health, maintaining a good quality of life for Americans. Without sustainable, reliable supplies of water, attracting new businesses to communities across America becomes more challenging.
Nationwide, a large proportion of the water infrastructure–including drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems, pipes, locks, and dams—is approaching, or has already reached, the end of its useful life. Most of the buried drinking water infrastructure was built 75–100 years ago or more, and as much as 25–30% of the treated water that goes into distribution systems leaks into the ground.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. drinking water systems, dams, and levees a “D” grade in its 2017 report card on the nation’s infrastructure. Over the next 20 years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that over $470 billion in drinking water infrastructure investment will be needed as aging pipes and treatment and storage facilities require upgrades and replacement.
U.S. metalcasters produce critical components that are used in the distribution, transmission, and maintenance for our water infrastructure systems throughout the U.S. EPA maintains several loan and grant programs that provide key funding sources to help states and communities meet the critical and costly water challenges.
AFS and metalcasting representatives urged lawmakers to fully support authorized funding for the following water programs in the fiscal year 2020 appropriations measure:
- Clean Water State Revolving Fund at $1.81 billion. Since 1988, Congress has provided $45 billion in federal capitalization grants, which have generated more than $133 billion in clean water infrastructure projects.
- Drinking Water State Revolving Fund at the fully authorized level of $1.3 billion. These capitalization grants have generated more than $38 billion in total funding.
- Water Infrastructure Finance & Innovation Act (WIFIA) program at authorized level of $50 million in FY2020—an amount that could be leveraged into more than $5 billion in loans for water and wastewater projects.
- Replacing Lead Service Lines at $20 million for a program to help communities and low-income households.
- Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability program at $4 million for the program that would help drinking water systems adapt their infrastructure.
Support Programs Addressing Worker Shortage
The U.S. economy continues to grow, but that growth is constrained by a shortage of qualified workers. The U.S. manufacturing sector currently has more than 350,000 unfilled skilled jobs, and millions of manufacturing employees are expected to retire in the next few years.
Today, more than 80% of U.S. metalcasters report a talent shortage in the industry—from production, maintenance and technician positions, to machinists, electricians, patternmakers, and foundry engineers. Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely need to be filled. To compete globally, U.S. metalcasters require high-quality workers, as well as a strong technical workforce.
AFS along with its chapter organizations is working to attract employees to our industry. Metalcasters introduce the metalcasting process through “Foundry in a Box,” with interactive demonstrations at local elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, science fairs, and other venues. Thirty-five student chapters exist at universities and community colleges across North America. Many AFS chapters provide support, including scholarships, to students at community colleges and universities with metalcasting programs. Metalcasting businesses provide internships for these students, many of whom obtain full-time positions at foundries when they graduate.
AFS supports better coordination among educators, government, and the private sector in order to recruit prospective employees into manufacturing and provide them the K-12 foundation and job training to fill positions at our facilities. Federal funds slated for higher education programs should be available for non-traditional, non-four-year programs such as apprenticeships, short-term manufacturing-related job training programs, and other technical training programs. U.S. taxpayers currently spend $140 billion on secondary education programs, and only 14% goes toward occupational or career and technical training programs.
AFS urges lawmakers to support passage of the following legislation to modernize our nation’s education system:
- Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students Act (JOBS Act) (S.839)—This bipartisan bill expands financial aid (Pell grants) to include students enrolled in high-quality and rigorous short-term job training programs that are at least eight weeks long and lead to industry-based credentials. Under current law, Pell Grants—needs-based grants for low-income and working students—can only be applied toward programs that are over 600 clock hours or at least 15 weeks in length, even though many job training programs are shorter-term.
- Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act (S.634/H.R. 1434)—This legislation would expand elementary, secondary, and vocational education opportunities for students by:
- Creating a federal tax credit for contributions from individuals and businesses to nonprofit scholarship funds.
- Allowing for scholarships related to career and technical education, apprenticeships, certifications, other forms of workforce training for postsecondary students.
Protect U.S. Transit
Metalcasters in the U.S. produce critical components for the nation’s transportation and infrastructure, including a wide variety of castings for the rail and bus transit systems such as axle components, rail suspension, rail coupling, hatch covers, rail braking, engine blocks and more. At the Fly-In, metalcasters raised their concerns about the Chinese government’s continued use of a range of state subsidies and predatory practices to support its market ascension in the rail and bus manufacturing sectors of the U.S. economy.
In the past four years, the Chinese state-owned enterprise China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) has aggressively targeted the U.S. market as part of China’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, a comprehensive industrial plan that aims to dominate key sectors of the global economy. Using state-backed financing, below-market loan rates, and other anti-competitive tactics, CRRC has now secured $2.6 billion in contracts to build metro transit cars for Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. It is also aggressively pursuing transit orders in cities such as Washington D.C., New York, and others.
In addition, metro transit cars rely on a wide range of sophisticated technologies to ensure the safety of passengers, such as GPS, surveillance cameras, temperature sensors, impact detection, and automatic train control—all using technology and components designed, manufactured, and produced by the Chinese government. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has to-date provided hundreds of millions of dollars to transit agencies for the purchase of these railcars.
AFS supports bipartisan legislation, the Transit Infrastructure Vehicle Security Act, which would:
- Prevent federal transit dollars from being used to award a contract or subcontract for the procurement of passenger rail cars or transit buses to Chinese state-owned, controlled or subsidized enterprises.
- Create a certification process for transit agencies to ensure their funds are not being used to purchase rolling stock from a covered manufacturer.
- Require any transit operator to develop and execute a plan for identifying and reducing cybersecurity risks to identify any hardware and software components of new rolling stock assets that should undergo third-party testing.
Invest in Transportation Infrastructure
Investment in the U.S. transportation infrastructure—roads, highways, bridges, rail, waterways, airports, ports, broadband, and pipelines—is currently one-third of what it was in 1960. The American Society of Civil Engineers, in its latest Infrastructure Report Card, graded the condition of the nation’s infrastructure as a D-plus overall. The report also estimated government needs to invest $2 trillion over current spending levels for the next 10 years to modernize the system. An, efficient multi-modal national transportation network supports the needs of U.S. manufacturers from factories to customers and to retailers. Roadway congestion alone costs an additional 23 cents per mile to transport our goods.
Metalcasters play a critical role in our nation’s infrastructure network. Metal castings are a vital building block for key components used in construction equipment, tractors and trucks, oil and gas pipelines, water works, buildings, railroads, and so much more. In fact, over 40% of all metal castings are dedicated to infrastructure.
AFS has urged leaders in Washington to work in a bipartisan manner to pass a comprehensive infrastructure package with innovative funding. This includes:
- Issuing Tax-Exempt Bonds (similar to Move America Bonds (S.146) or Build America Bonds)—These bonds provide state and local governments, as well as private-sector purchasers with tax credits to attract non-federal investment to help grow and repair America’s aging infrastructure.
- Establishing a National Infrastructure Bank (initially capitalized by a federal investment)—This bank would offer long-term, low-interest loans to finance projects that are larger than $100 million, achieve goals of regional or national importance, and are backed by an identified revenue stream that repays the loan.
- Addressing the Urgent Shortage of Truck Drivers by supporting the DRIVE-Safe Act (S.569 / H.R. 1374)—This act enhances safety and training standards for newly qualified and current drivers by offering younger drivers (18-21) with the opportunity to enter the industry safely by creating a two-step apprenticeship program. Trucks move 70% of all freight in the United States and without drivers to move that freight, prices and wait times are increasing for manufacturers and consumers.
- Streamlining the Permitting Process at the Federal, State, & Local Level—It takes on average five years to complete an environmental impact statement, a federal requirement for many projects. Permitting reform should include codifying the “One Federal Decision” approach so there is a single agency responsible for shepherding a project through the approval process and merge sequential and duplicative federal environmental reviews.
- Ensuring the Use of American-Made Materials—Require that the iron, steel, non-ferrous metals, and manufactured products used to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure is produced domestically, including metal castings. Specifically, extend the Buy America provisions to all federal infrastructure programs.
Click here to see this story as it appears in the July 2019 issue of Modern Casting.