(Jan. 26, 2004) — One thousand ninety-one days. That's how many days into President George W. Bush's term it took for the government to come up with a policy designed to address problems in the U.S. manufacturing sector.
It's tempting to cynically chalk this up to election-year pandering. A big part of the U.S. manufacturing sector has been ill for every one of the 1,091 days of Bushdom II, and now, just 10 months before he runs for a second term, manufacturing policy finally appears on the administration's radar.
What took so long?
To start, until very recently, there was no one in Washington who understood the manufacturing sector. As humor columnist Dave Barry would say, we're not making this up.
“It was a thesis project for those in the [Commerce Department] to learn the role that manufacturing plays in the society,” a government contributor to the policy report told Manufacturing & Technology News. “There wasn't anybody here [at Commerce] who understood the importance of manufacturing” prior to the study.
Where do they find these people?
Now they're all seriously proud that they understand the complex problems facing U.S. manufacturers. There's the free trade vs. fair trade problems, the tax code problems, the rising health-care cost problem, the rising energy cost problem and a host of others. You can find it all in the Commerce Department's 88-page report, “Manufacturing in America: A Comprehensive Strategy to Address the Challenges to U.S. Manufacturers.” The report is downloadable at www.doc.gov.
Trade groups that lobby on behalf of manufacturers are mostly pleased, if for no other reason than the administration finally seems to be paying attention to their members' problems. And it looks like the administration wants to institutionalize the listening apparatus.
For example, one of the report's recommendations is that the government create an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Manufacturing and Services, as well as a new Office of Industry Analysis that can assess the cost competitiveness of U.S. industry, and a President's Manufacturing Council, to help implement the administration plan.
Clearly, this administration is in favor of creating jobs, at least inside the beltway.
Now this report will become part of the election-year debate. Speeches and promises will be made, rhetoric will fly, perhaps some substantive debate will take place. Voters will get a chance to decide whether Bush or one of his opponents has a better prescription for creating jobs and rebuilding the crumbling U.S. manufacturing sector against a rising tide of international competition.
Or maybe the whole thing will be washed over by other “front-burner” issues and forgotten, and U.S. manufacturers largely will be left to deal with their own problems.
Just like they have been for the past 1,091 days.
Memo to Washington: Thanks for your help.