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When Government Stands in the Way


Location: Washington, DC

It is not easy to keep track of a global supply chain. In between purchasing your product in a foreign country and getting it to your American factory there are thousands of laws and regulations created by the country of origin, the federal government, and state governments. Given the obstacles, it's somewhat amazing that business owners manage to keep it together and put out a finished product at a price the consumer will pay.

The federal government recently raided Gibson Guitar in Tennessee. Wood from India was confiscated. Weeks later, the wood is still claimed by investigators but no charges have been filed.

Was Gibson covertly shipping wood cut from endangered forests? Were they slipping it past the Indian government? That doesn't appear to be the case. In fact, the Indian government didn't try to stop the shipment. In fact, the wood had been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a third-party environmental group that approves wood products that come from properly managed forests.

If charges are filed, it appears that it will probably come under the Lacey Act of 1900. If you've ever traveled outside of the country, you've come into contact with the Lacey Act, whether you knew it or not. When you return to the U.S., you have to fill out a custom form declaring any flora or fauna that you are bringing home. Following a 2008 amendment of the act, this includes wood products.

Typically consumers are not brought up on charges of violating the law. Importers must fill out more detailed forms describing the products they are purchasing. Under the Lacey Act, importers must comply with all the relevant laws of the country they are importing from. In Gibson's case, the laws of India require that wood harvested in the country must be "finished" by Indian workers.

Gibson doesn't appear to have smuggled the wood out of India. In fact, it looks like the U.S. Justice Department disagrees with the government of India. This might be a case of our own government interpreting a foreign country's laws in a radically different way.

This all leads a bigger question: is the federal bureaucracy protecting American consumers and workers, or is it running on autopilot and standing in the way of job growth?

The Lacey Act was created to protect endangered birds by preventing importers from shipping their feathers into the U.S. Over time, the law has changed and grown. Where once the law was about protecting endangered plants and animals, now it is about enforcing laws established outside the bounds of the U.S. Congress never passed a law requiring imported wood to be finished in the country of origin.

The Lacey Act isn't the only law to grow outside of clear direction from Congress. Currently, the EPA has over 300 regulatory actions it is considering. You would think that Congress must have recently passed major environmental legislation, but the EPA is basing most of these actions on laws written decades ago.

Congress rejected the cap and trade plan to control greenhouse gases. No matter, the EPA is trying to use their existing authority to establish regulations that are shockingly similar to those found in the now-dead legislation.

For years, certain Internet companies lobbied for stronger government controls on the physical infrastructure that runs the world wide web. They never convinced Congress, but the FCC is going right ahead with new rules that again are shockingly similar to legislation that is going nowhere on Capitol Hill.

Here in the House of Representatives, Republicans are fighting back against an out-of-control bureaucracy. Each week that Congress is in session this fall, we will pass legislation to rein in a government agency. This week, we passed the TRAIN Act to help shed light on EPA rules that could costs hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

As we move through the fall and winter, the House will look at new health care rules and new labor rules that are leading to jobs losses or holding back job growth. When so many are looking for work, the government cannot stand in the way. This means a government that is led by elected legislators, not faceless bureaucrats and lawyers.

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