Bentley backs 'buy American' rule for Pentagon

May 01, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun Richard H. P. Sia of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The United States is growing too dependent on foreign companies for its weapons systems, Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, testified yesterday, predicting dire consequences for national security and the economy.

The Baltimore County Republican, joined by other lawmakers, business and union leaders, came before a House Armed Services subcommittee to back legislation that would prevent the Defense Department from granting blanket waivers to "buy American" laws.

"How many pacifists -- in other countries -- work on assembly lines feeding our U.S. defense base?" Mrs. Bentley asked, during an appearance before the Subcommittee on Investigations. "I have been a proponent of 'Buy American' ever since I came to Congress, not only for the strategic necessity . . . but because foreign workers and foreign companies don't pay taxes to replenish what we are spending."

Legislation sponsored by Representative Lane Evans, D-Ill., would prevent the Defense Department from waiving "buy American" laws unless it received approval by Congress. The waivers could be granted only on a case-by-case basis after Pentagon officials found the foreign purchase would not harm national security or the defense industrial base.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the Defense Department entered into reciprocal defense trade agreements with Israel and countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to reduce the large defense trade imbalance with the United States.

"Our high-tech edge on the battlefield has been heralded as one of our major achievements in the [Persian Gulf] war," said Mr. Evans. "But with this success, we should also be concerned about our growing dependence on foreign defense goods."

Both the F/A-18 fighter and the M-1 Abrams tank, used in Desert Storm, included components made by West German, British and Canadian companies, according to a report by the General Accounting Office, Congress' auditing watchdog.

Mrs. Bentley held up a copy of an article that appeared yesterday in The Sun, reporting how Japanese suppliers refused to provide the United States with key components during the military buildup in the Persian Gulf and the war against Iraq.

"We had to literally beg them, beg them," said Mrs. Bentley. "I think these facts, all brought together, are reason enough we have to change our procurement policy."

But Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said yesterday that there was "no truth whatsoever" to the news account. The U.S. military did not experience a shortage of Japanese-made parts, and the Japanese "did not hold back," he said.

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