Memo to the water department in Nappanee, Ind.: It's hard to say you're "buying American" when what you bought is stamped "Made in Germany."
Memo to water department workers in every other small town in America: Just because you're small and you're far from Washington, don't think a team of federal inspectors won't show up in your town if someone turns you in for not following the law. 'Cause if they'll show up in Nappanee, they can show up anywhere.
Tiny Nappanee is a small community of 6,650 near the Indiana-Michigan border. It's quiet, rural and picturesque, and has a substantial Amish population. (See our embedded map below.) One of the major attractions in town is called "Amish Acres."
When community leaders used a state-financed loan -- one that included federal stimulus money with "buy American" mandates -- to buy some new equipment for their wastewater treatment plant, someone dropped a dime to the Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General's hotline that not all of it was really made in the U.S.A.
The EPA initially said Nappanee had failed to buy American in seven of 32 cases the inspectors reviewed, but the EPA later accepted the city's proof that four of the seven met the requirements, and the city returned two other purchases and swapped them with American-made items.
That left just one purchase that didn't cut it, a set of super-duper fan-type machines commonly used to blow air into wastewater as part of the cleaning process. They were stamped "Made in Germany."
Despite that label, where the blowers were made is not so clear-cut. The city had bought the equipment from Kaeser Compressors, which builds the machines stateside on chassis made by Kaeser's parent company in Germany. Workers here in America then add the electric motor, belts and other internal workings. Roughly a third to half of the effort for making the blowers is done here in the U.S., Kaeser wrote in a letter the city gave to the EPA.
That was enough to satisfy the engineers in the EPA's Office of Water -- but not enough to satisfy the EPA's IG staff. They found in a report put out last week that Nappanee's blowers don't meet the standards under federal law, saying that "the chassis manufactured in Germany was essentially a blower without a drive system."
In other words, the IG's office says the thing is too put-together by the time it arrives from Germany to count as having been made in America.
The Inspector General is recommending that the EPA bosses disqualify Nappanee for the $1.8 million in stimulus funds.
Jennifer Peebles is the Washington Examiner's data editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @DCPeebles.
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Photo of Amish horse and buggy by flickr user ChicagoGeek, used under a Creative Commons license.