buy america act

Navigating the Buy America Act

When it comes to wheelchair accessible vehicles, there are several laws and certifications BraunAbility abides by to ensure the highest quality and safety standards are met for people with disabilities. Not only are our commercial wheelchair accessible vehicles built to meet or exceed standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but vehicles like the BraunAbility ProMaster, and ADA Chrysler Voyager meet additional federal standards too, like those set out in the Buy America Act.

Understanding the Buy America Act

The Buy America Act is a federal law requiring that transportation product components such as steel, iron, and other manufactured goods used in U.S.- funded transportation projects be produced in the United States. This law is generally associated with the public transit industry rather than with personal road vehicles.

Purpose of the Buy America Act

The primary purpose of the Buy America Act is to support American jobs and manufacturing. Requiring federally funded transportation projects to source and build within the U.S. can create positive impacts for both the economy and the environment.

Key Requirements of the Buy America Act

The Buy America Act applies to federally funded public transport. In the case of BraunAbility vehicles, compliant vehicles generally meet the following requirements:

  1. Sourcing of Materials for Accessible Vehicles: To comply with Buy America provisions, the materials and components used for modifications like ramps should be sourced from the U.S. when possible.
  2. Final Assembly in the U.S.: The final assembly of the vehicle must take place in the United States. This includes the installation of modifications necessary to make the vehicle accessible, like wheelchair ramps, lifts, modified seating, and other accessibility features.
  3. Certification and Compliance: Manufacturers like BraunAbility must certify compliance with the Buy America Act and are subject to audit and review. 

Vehicles purchased with federal funds available to the public should meet Buy America Act standards. Personal vehicles, whether they are accessible or not, are not subject to the above requirements. For a more in-depth look at the Buy America Act and its requirements within the transportation industry, visit the Federal Transit Administration(FTA) website.

Stimulating Domestic Production through the Buy America Act

The Buy America Act stimulates domestic production. By requiring products to be sourced and built in the United States, the Buy America Act not only encourages domestic production, but reduces reliance on international suppliers, contributing positively to overall economic and environmental impacts.

Industries Affected by the Buy America Act

The Buy America Act primarily affects two industries: transportation and construction. Within the transportation industry, the Federal Transit Administration oversees federally funded public transportation projects. This includes projects started by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT). Construction, preservation, and maintenance of highways, bridges, tunnels, and public transportation services should all meet Buy America requirements.

Challenges and Controversies of the Buy America Act

While the Buy America Act has many positives within the U.S., it does not come without challenges. Some common challenges include:

  1. Increased Costs: Mandating the use of domestically produced materials can lead to higher costs for goods due to limited competition. In the transportation industry, this can mean U.S.-made vehicles cost more in comparison to foreign alternatives. 
  2. Limited Availability: For certain specialized products or materials, there may be limited availability from U.S. manufacturers. This can lead to production delays when making transportation products like accessible vehicles.
  3. Impact on Innovation: Limiting the ability of U.S. companies to source new materials and technologies from around the world could hinder innovation necessary to continue making transportation accessible to people with disabilities.

Navigating the Procurement Process

Procurement refers to the process federal, state, and local governments follow when purchasing goods and services with federal funds.

Per the Buy America Act, preference should be given to prioritize materials and products made in the U.S. This means when government agencies are buying goods or services, they should purchase American-made products unless certain conditions are met that allow for exceptions or waivers. 

Flexibility within Regulations and Permissible Exceptions

Vehicles can still be Buy America compliant without being fully made in the U.S. There are several waivers that can be given depending on the product being made.

Examples of exceptions to the Buy America Act and accessible vehicles can include but are not limited to: 

  1. Non-Availability Waiver: If the materials required to make an accessible vehicle are not produced in the U.S. in sufficient quantities, a non-availability waiver can be granted. This allows companies to use foreign materials when domestic materials are not accessible.
  2. Cost Waiver: A cost waiver may be issued if domestic materials would increase the cost of the overall product- usually by 25% or more. This waiver aims to prevent excessive spending when sourcing domestic materials.
  3. Minimum Content Requirements: The Buy America Act allows for a percentage of components or materials to be sourced from outside the U.S. This flexibility recognizes that not all components can easily be sourced domestically. Currently, BraunAbility’s Buy America compliant vehicles are made with over 70% domestic content.

Process of Obtaining Waivers

In cases like those listed above, exceptions can be made in the form of a waiver. A company must follow these general practices to obtain a waiver.

  1. Identify the need for a waiver: This could be due to non-availability, cost, public interest considerations, or other reasons.
  2. Prepare a waiver request: The entity applying for a waiver must prepare a detailed request with a description of why the waiver is necessary.
  3. Submitting the request: Buy America Waiver requests are submitted to the agency overseeing the project. For transportation projects, this could be the FTA, FHWA, or the DOT.
  4. Public comment period: Many agencies require a public comment period for Buy America Act requests. During this time, the waiver request is made public, allowing other parties, like company stakeholders or members of the public to provide comments.
  5. Agency review and decision: The federal agency receiving the waiver request will review all documentation and public comments and use the information to decide whether the waiver is granted.

Modernizing Buy America with Recent Amendments

Like many laws within the U.S., the Buy America Act is always changing. Recent amendments ensure continued compliance.

Recent Buy America Act amendments include gradually increasing the requirement for American-made content in products from 55% to 75% by 2029, allowing for a "fallback threshold" where products that don't meet the new content requirements can still be considered if there are no American alternatives or if the cost is unreasonable.

Comparisons with Similar Legislation

Comparisons between the Buy America Act and similar international legislation typically revolve around their goal to promote domestic manufacturing through government procurement. Specifics such as thresholds for domestic content, scope of products covered, and exceptions, can vary. 

By mandating the use of domestically produced materials in government-funded projects, the Buy America Act is likely to drive changes in how companies manufacture products and source materials in the future. 

Looking for a Buy America compliant wheelchair accessible vehicle? Contact your BraunAbility dealer today.

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