Bill would cut DOD's Federal Prison Industries purchases

Tuesday - 7/5/2011, 3:39pm EDT

By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

The Department of Defense, by law, is required to buy American-made goods. What has drawn recent controversy, however, is DOD's contracting agreement with federal prisons to produce military uniforms, camouflage, training gear and combat footwear.

Reps. Larry Kissell (D-NC) and Walter Jones (R-NC) say they want to put an end to this line of production with their proposed bill, the DOD Textile and Apparel Procurement Fairness Act. If passed, the legislation would help promote businesses with law abiding employees by terminating what they call an unfair contracting advantage the Federal Prison Industries has with the Department of Defense.

"This is a common sense bill to make it clear that our hard working businesses should not have to compete for their livelihood with those who have broken the law and been removed from society," said Kissell in a press release. "While I completely support programs to help keep our prisoners contributing to society and working, we simply cannot do so at the disadvantage of our small businesses."

In 2010, the military spent more than $2 billion on uniforms, camouflage, training gear and combat footwear for servicemen and women. Of that money, nearly $140 million went to 24 federal prisons in cooperation with the Federal Prison Industries.

Under the Berry Amendment - an amendment to the 1941 Fifth Supplemental DOD Appropriations Act - DOD cannot acquire food, clothing, fabrics, specialty metals or tools produced outside the United States.

Contracting with federal inmates as labor, however, dodges the intentions of the Berry Amendment, said Kevin Burke, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, in the Congressmen's release.

"As we explore every option to create and sustain jobs in the United States, our government should not put the employment of federal inmates over the employment of hardworking taxpayers," said Burke in the press release.

Kissell said the bill would help ensure troop safety as well as fair competition for manufacturers.

"This legislation is vital for the safety and security of our servicemen and women, as well as our domestic manufacturing sector," said Kissell. "Our textile industry has already been ravaged by bad trade deals, and through this legislation, more companies will be able to prosper and keep and create good jobs here in the U.S."

The bill specifically prohibits DOD from purchasing any "textile or apparel product for which Federal Prison Industries has a significant market share [more than 5 percent] ." Federal Prison Industries also may not submit offers for DOD contracts reserved for small businesses regarding textile or apparel products.

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Jory Heckman is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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