U.S. lawmakers are calling on Congress to close loopholes that, if ignored, could lead to job losses for a Blaine manufacturer.
Lister Chain and Forge, at 3810 Loomis Trail Road, is the only domestic producer of anchor chains, according to a bipartisan letter 13 lawmakers wrote April 29. The letter, spearheaded by U.S. representative Suzan DelBene (WA-01) and signed by Rick Larsen (WA-02), asked Congress to change the language in the 2022 Defense Appropriations bill to close two loopholes that would allow the Department of Defense to outsource its anchor chains to foreign companies.
Lister Chain and Forge provides anchor chains to the majority of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard’s ships, according to the manufacturer’s website, but lawmakers say the Navy is trying to cut costs by outsourcing 4.02-inch chains for the remaining ships in a new class of over 20 fleet oilers. Current law requires the Department of Defense to purchase anchor chains in the U.S. if the chain’s diameter is 4 inches or lower. The previous contract manufactured 3-and-5/8-inch chains.
The second loophole, lawmakers argue, is the word “shipboard.” The Department of Defense is required to purchase domestic shipboard anchor chains, but since the chains are not used aboard the vessels, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers argues the anchor chains do not apply to this rule.
DelBene’s letter states this change will outsource more than 3,000 tons of steel, but the cost savings would only amount to .001 of the cost for the remaining new ships.
The two phrases that lawmakers now say are being used as loopholes were first included in the 1991 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. Less than a week in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order strongly encouraging federal government spending on American-made products.
Lister Chain and Forge president Mike Stobbart said this could affect jobs of the company’s 36 employees, many of whom live in Blaine. The 110-year-old company has operated in Blaine since 1988, the same year it began producing anchor chains for the Department of Defense. Stobbart said Blaine is the only location for its operations.
“We have always known of the size range limit, [but] this is the first time we have seen a design change to enable offshore purchase of a ship’s anchor chain,” Stobbart said. The company would be able to produce the anchor chains purchased outside of the U.S. with no change or investment required of the company, he added.
Stobbart said he appreciates DelBene’s efforts to protect the U.S. owned and operated company. He declined to comment further.
A spokesperson for DelBene’s office said these loopholes are part of a larger issue of the Department of Defense outsourcing contracts from American manufacturers overseas, and that the congresswoman has been working on this issue for years.
Advocates for closing the loopholes are also concerned that affecting the only U.S. anchor chain producer will weaken the country’s ability to defend itself during war.
“Congress needs to strengthen our domestic defense production capabilities by ensuring the Department of Defense abides by domestic content requirements for anchor chain and other unique shipbuilding components that are critical to U.S. national security,” George Williams, CEO of the American Shipbuilding Suppliers Association, said in a statement. “With only one remaining domestic producer of these chains, this is testimony to what can happen to others in the industry if Congress does not act soon to prevent foreign outsourcing.”
Both the American Shipbuilding Suppliers Association and Steel Manufacturers Association endorsed closing the loopholes.
“This fix will protect the sole remaining U.S. supplier of anchor and mooring chain, bolster American domestic steel production and ensure that we are able to manufacture this mobilization-critical item right here in America,” DelBene said in the letter.