- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

As a founding member of the Congressional Defense Industrial Base Caucus, I stand with many of my colleagues who believe that Congress must take steps to preserve America’s ability to produce weapons and other military equipment essential to our nation’s security. As U.S. manufacturing jobs are lost in record numbers, domestic suppliers who produce critical items for the military are placed at grave risk. The defense authorization bill passed by the House last month tries to minimize that risk by strengthening the Berry Amendment — a 30-year-old statute which recognizes that certain domestic manufacturing capabilities are so critical to our military might that the products must be produced in the United States.

In recent years, Berry Amendment protections have been overlooked or waived to accommodate large defense contractors or “integrators” who claim a need for supplier sourcing flexibility. While the claims may have merit, such flexibility cannot, and must not, come at the expense of our domestic industrial base, and certainly not at the expense of our national security.

Modern warplanes cannot be built without titanium. An extraordinary metal, prized for its lightness and strength, titanium is one of the critical components responsible for the United States’ overwhelming success in Iraq and the safety of the servicemen and women who put their lives on the line each day.

In many ways, the U.S. titanium industry is emblematic of the 215 industries that make up the U.S. defense industrial base. It is one we cannot afford to lose.

Although titanium is produced in several countries, only four companies in the world are qualified to supply titanium for the manufacture of U.S. fighters, bombers and tankers. Three are midsized U.S. companies with one, RTI International Metals, headquartered in northeastern Ohio, while the fourth — larger than the three U.S. companies combined — is in Russia. Without adequate levels of protection for U.S.-produced titanium, this vital industry would be lost and the U.S. would become a supplicant to Russia for this critical material.

Military tank track and aircraft and off-road (Humvee) tires are another example. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company is the last remaining major U.S. tire manufacturer and the only domestic supplier of these military products. While our U.S. troops serving in Iraq would not be pleased to know that many of their Humvees are equipped with tires manufactured in France, it is not troop displeasure that makes this an important national security issue. It is the alarming reality that — but for Goodyear — our military would be reliant on all-terrain off-road tires from a foreign source.

From 1987 to 2002, more than 1 million U.S. defense-related manufacturing jobs were lost through downsizing and attrition. Boeing, for example, shed 70,000 U.S. employees in the past five years (going from 230,000 to 160,000) and was pressured to build planes outside the United States and expand operations in other countries, most notably, China. Overall, about 14 percent of Boeing’s production today is foreign, but the trend is to increase that number, as reflected by the production of newer 777s. Of these planes, nearly one-third are produced abroad.

As the integrators on whom the Department of Defense (DOD) depends move more business to foreign suppliers, the 250,000 American companies — the ones that supply critical goods and services to the DOD in their capacity as subcontractors to the large integrators — lose out.

Predictions for the future of this trend are not encouraging. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the U.S. aerospace industry will cut 179,000 U.S. jobs by 2010. Some of those will be lost to increased productivity, but an alarming number will be lost to other countries. As the jobs go, so do vital domestic manufacturing capabilities.

Globalization and fundamental competitive principles suggest that it is imperative for manufacturers to purchase goods and services at the lowest cost in order to remain competitive. But sales to the military must be viewed differently. A narrow focus on purchasing at the lowest cost does not reflect what is in the greater national interest. When it comes to national security, cost cannot be defined by price alone. Preserving our nation’s domestic manufacturing capability is a critical factor in the equation.

The House defense authorization bill seeks to balance the needs of large integrators, while protecting critical manufacturing capabilities and the highly skilled workforces they employ. The approach may work, but until we are certain, we must remain ready to revisit the issue — our national security depends on it.

Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio Democrat, is a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

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