This vote was on an amendment by Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., that would have allowed the Defense Department (DOD) to purchase fire-resistant rayon fiber from foreign countries, for use in uniforms. Currently the DOD will not be allowed to purchase this type of fiber past Jan. 28, 2013. The amendment was offered to the bill that authorizes DOD programs in fiscal 2010.
Isakson said a few years ago Congress mandated that the rayon used to create fire-resistant uniforms for the armed forces must be purchased in the United States if that is possible. But the fabric that makes those uniforms most effective is rayon, which Isakson said must be imported from Austria because no manufacturers in the U.S. make it.
“Environmental Protection Agency requirements to make rayon make it prohibitive in the United States, and there is no rayon produced in the United States. It is produced in Austria,” Isakson said. “The reason to request an exception and postpone the sunset in 2013 is because the military procurement in the outyears is now reaching beyond that. With the absence of a [waiver] for those years, they would have to zero out the purchase for those ,” Isakson said. “It has tremendous protection against burns and it has performed very satisfactorily and they want to continue to use it and there is no American competitor that can meet or exceed it.”
Jim Webb, D-Va., said Isakson’s amendment is premature because the DOD is currently reviewing the prohibition to see whether or not they will continue it past 2013.
“Removing the sunset clause would result in an indefinite extension of an exception that favors foreign suppliers of rayon over our own American companies,” Webb said. “The 2013 sunset clause was designed to ensure that American industry will be fairly treated during future competitions for contracts if industry can demonstrate an ability to manufacture materials that satisfy Army requirements for fire resistance and other features. Under the current arrangement, companies are losing jobs because they cannot compete to provide alternate materials. Our domestic manufacturers are now able to provide alternate materials that could satisfy Army procurement requirements. It is not in the best interests of the U.S. defense industrial base, our economy or the U.S. military to remove a congressionally imposed sunset provision at this time.”
The amendment was rejected by a vote of 40-54. All but seven Republicans present voted for the amendment. All but eight Democrats present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the measure went forward without language that would allow the DOD to purchase fire resistant rayon fiber from foreign countries past 2013.