Limits ease on foreign IT buys

Congress has lifted some restrictions on agency purchases of commercial IT items from foreign companies, even as it seeks more information about such buys. The move comes as a backlash is developing against offshore purchases of IT goods and services.

Lawmakers embedded the changes in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004 now awaiting President Bush's signature.

Section 535 of the bill exempts hardware, software and IT from the Buy American Act, which requires federal agencies to purchase domestic goods. But it has five separate ways agencies can obtain waivers of the domestic requirement, including one that allows foreign purchases when compliance is not consistent with the public interest.

The same section of the fiscal 2004 spending bill exempts imaging peripherals and other security and surveillance equipment from the Buy American Act.

In Section 645 of the catchall appropriations bill, Congress requires each agency to report the acquisitions it made last year from entities that produced goods outside the country, and to provide an itemized list of its Buy American Act waivers.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) late last year proposed legislation to curb offshore call centers. The General Accounting Office is studying offshore IT outsourcing at the request of Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.).

Bills also are pending in 14 states to limit offshore government purchases of IT services or to require overseas call center workers to identify their locations.

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