Photo of CAT construction equipment working on the underside of a raised highway

The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has issued a temporary waiver of Buy America requirements for construction materials as the federal government hopes to allow time for companies to ramp up their compliance and work around supply chain struggles at the same time.

The “Build America, Buy America” provisions included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are meant to ensure that infrastructure projects funded by the federal government use American-made construction materials.

This means iron, steel, and other manufactured products would all come from within the country. The waiver lasts until November 10, 2022, unless otherwise extended — or shortened — by USDOT. The waiver’s 180-day initial span is estimated to be enough time for compies to ramp up their compliance while balancing with the turbulent supply chain.

Contractors and others involved in infrastructure construction should note that the waiver only applies to USDOT projects — for all other relevant projects from other federal agencies, the Buy America provisions still apply.

The White House’s press release on the guidance pointed out that it “recognizes that America’s critical supply chains have gaps — and that waivers will be needed while manufacturers scale up to meet demand.”

USDOT claims that the decision to issue a waiver had a positive reception, saying that “The vast majority of commenters supported DOT’s proposal to issue a temporary waiver for construction materials.” That said, this opinion wasn’t universally held, as the agency also noted that “certain manufacturers and labor organizations” had responded with opposition to the move.

As supply chain struggles have continued to build, even those who have supported these Buy America provisions have noted the stress they might put on companies. Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives at Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), noted that the provisions could end up negatively affecting a large number of construction projects simply due to the difficulty of finding materials domestically.

“More recently, we’ve seen a lot of challenges more regional in nature with some of the materials even being supplied domestically,” Turmail said. “The supply chain is so fragile right now that it’s easy to envision a scenario that something a year ago that was easily sourced domestically is no longer sourced domestically or is impossible to achieve within the project timeline.”

The White House is likely hoping that the temporary waiver isn’t a recurring issue as the country tries to recover from the current state of the construction supply chain. The Biden administration’s April 20, 2022, position notes that “the guidance calls on agencies to issue waivers strategically and only as needed to help ensure that Made in America goods will be used once firms make needed investments to expand domestic production” — showing that the federal government won’t be looking to employ these waivers often.

Turmail also noted that the nature of the waivers themselves — and how controversial they might appear — would likely contribute to the potential frequency of their use, saying that “The White House set itself up to really be reluctant to give out waivers given how high-profile and public each of these waiver requests is being set up to be.”