By Luther Turmelle, North Bureau Chief
Saturday, December 17, 2011

When Dewey Manufacturing bid on a contract in July to supply the Transportation Safety Administration with pistol cleaning kits for the agency’s federal air marshals, the Oxford company had every reason to suspect it would be successful.
Four years earlier, the company had successfully bid on a contract with the same agency and had provided 10,000 of the kits. But this time around, owner George Dewey’s company was beaten out by a Virginia company that he claims is an American company in name only.
“This is our own government that is selling us down the river,” Dewey said, claiming that the 78-year-old Buy American Act, which requires government agencies to give preferential treatment to U.S. businesses when making purchases, is a sham.
“We have made trade agreements with 114 countries around the world. And these agreements supersede the Buy American Act; since 2007, the Buy American act has been waived 161,000 times.”
The company whose $44,000 bid beat Dewey Manufacturing’s $67,000 bid is I-Tek Inc., which is also known as Iris Kim. Although the company is based in Hampton, Va., internet records indicate the company’s primary business is exporting and that pistol cleaning kits that I-Tek provided to the TSA came from South Korea.
Kim Thompson, a spokeswoman for the TSA, said the agency didn’t need a waiver of the Buy American Act to award the pistol cleaning kit contract to I-Tek, because I-Tek provided the government with the information necessary to have itself certified as American-owned small business.
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5, whom Dewey contacted in an unsuccessful effort to appeal the TSA’s decision after the contract was awarded to I-Tek, said this case is a primary example of “how the Buy American Act is a shell of what it once was.”
“The loopholes in it are so big that the law has been changed dramatically,” Murphy said. “We ought to be checking out companies like this to make sure they’re not shell companies. Our government doesn’t do a very good job of seeing the whole cost of decisions like this.”
Failure to secure the contract with TSA had an impact that went beyond Dewey Manufacturing.
One of Dewey Manufacturing’s suppliers is Sperry Automatics, which makes brass parts that go into the pistol cleaning kits. Had Dewey landed the TSA contract, Sperry Automatics “would have had enough work to keep us working through the holiday season,” said Charles Pugliese, wpresident of the Naugatuck company.
But without the work from Dewey Manufacturing, Sperry is laying off two of its 18 workers because “the work just isn’t there,” Pugliese said.
“It’s a drop in the bucket to the government, but it’s a lot of money to us,” he said of $23,000 the TSA saved by going with the I-Tek bid. “It allows us to keep people working. It really hurts.”
Murphy blames lobbying efforts by large defense contractors and manufactures to keep lawmakers from strengthening the Buy American Act.
In 2010, he founded the Buy American Caucus to enlist like-minded federal lawmakers to strengthen the provisions of the act.
“The big national defense companies and manufacturers want to keep it the way it is so they will be free to move operations overseas and still do business with the government.” Murphy said.
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