White House touts ‘Made in America’ even as it seeks to cut office U.S. firms say helps them compete

As the White House champions a “hire American” agenda, the administration wants to slash funding for a small government office that many U.S. companies say they rely on to stay ahead of foreign rivals, underscoring how competing political interests are complicating President Donald Trump’s pledge to restore the manufacturing industry.

The Trump administration is seeking to nearly gut funding for a Labor Department bureau that monitors the treatment of foreign workers, a program that U.S. businesses and labor groups alike say helps American workers compete fairly in the global economy. The program is unpopular among some conservatives, who criticize its backing for groups that support labor unions.

The behind-the-scenes funding fight comes as the White House seeks to demonstrate its progress on Trump’s campaign promise to stop outsourcing jobs to foreign countries, hosting a series of events this week showcasing “Made in America” goods.

But experts say bringing back manufacturing in a substantial way would require dramatic shifts in trade policy, corporate incentives and international business deals. Those challenges are underscored by the business practices of the apparel brand owned by the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. The company relies exclusively on low-wage workers overseas, and executives say it is impossible to bring its production back to the United States on a large scale, as The Washington Post reported last week.

The debate highlights the difficult decisions Trump faces as he tries to fulfill his ambitious pledge to bring back manufacturing to the United States.

The biggest showpiece so far of his “hire America” agenda came in April at the headquarters of toolmaker Snap-on in Kenosha, Wis., when he signed an executive order stating that federal agencies should “maximize, consistent with law … the use of goods, products, and materials produced in the United States.”

Administration officials said they intend to boost the agenda further through deregulation and trade renegotiations.

One rule already on the books could help Trump push forward on his pledge.

A federal law signed last year by President Barack Obama allows U.S. customs officials to seize goods made with forced labor at the border. The law was formally implemented last month, allowing anyone to report imported merchandise believed to be made with forced or indentured labor.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on how it plans to enforce the rule. But the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has urged companies to closely examine their supply chains to ensure that slave labor or child workers are not involved.

Sarah Altschuller, a lawyer at Foley Hoag who specializes in corporate social responsibility compliance, said the law could be used to further Trump’s America-first agenda.

“You could see the administration come down quite hard on this, that it’s a way of saying, ‘We’re protecting the American workforce,’ ” she said.

The Washington Post’s Abby Phillip contributed to this report.

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