Air Force: We’re Screwed

The Air Force is using stimulus dollars to rebuild some family housing at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. Since they’re using stimulus dollars, they have to get a waiver for anything they say they can’t source to an American company. Among the list of items that can’t be sourced in America?


  • 1″ Collated Screws, Shank #10
  • 2-1/2″ Collated Screws
  • 3″ Ceramic Coated Bugle Head Course Thread Screws
  • 3/4″ Collated Screws, Shank #10

And it’s more than screws that Americans don’t make anymore, according to the Air Force. Lots of stuff that you or I might buy at Lowes (or better yet, a local hardware store). Things like “Residential Style Polished Chrome Toilet Paper Holders” and “24″ Bath Vanity Light Fixtures.”

Now, as Mike Mandel–who found the entry in the Federal Register where the Air Force granted this waiver to buy screws and other stuff from China–notes, the official data show that we do still make screws. So it may be the data aren’t catching our decline in screw-making, or it may be the Air Force didn’t look very hard for American-made screws.

I see four possibilities.

First, the Air Force could be lazy. The parts are really available, but they can’t find them.

Second,   U.S. manufacturers only make sophisticated parts, not towel bars and door stops.

Third,  these industries were doing great through 2007,   and have only gone offshore since the recession.

Fourth,  the official data didn’t pick up the offshoring in the 2000s.

And frankly, even if Americans no longer do make screws, that’s not as big of a problem as some more complex items that we’re on the verge of not making anymore: propellant chemicals, space qualified electronics, power sources for space and military applications (batteries and photovoltaics), specialty metals, hard disk drives, and flat panel displays (LCDs). Those are the kind of things that, when we stop making them, we lose the capacity to make them going forward (and open up our military machine to vulnerabilities).

Still, there’s something viscerally disturbing about not making screws in this country anymore. Sure, like underwear and socks, they’re probably all made in one Chinese city somewhere. But it seems like a key skill, like boiling water, that we no longer want to do anymore.

  1. JTMinIA says:

    My first reaction to this was that it had to be the first option (i.e., laziness), since anyone who builds houses knows that, while Fastenal is just a distributor and doesn’t count, Senco/Tyrex in Cincinnati makes every screw imaginable in huge quantities, etc, etc. But then I checked and it seems to be the third or fourth option, instead. While I wasn’t paying attention, Senco/Tyrex also outsourced production to China.

  2. DWBartoo says:

    Oh well, Americans are above making anything. Except for the ruling clsses who are bound(?) and determined to make a “killing” …

    Yes, our new “reality”, looking forward, does make the thoughtful feel a wee bit vulnerable.

    But then, what’s to worry?

    Everybody else in the world, those people who make things for us and even those who don’t … all just love us for our freedoms. Right?

    How long has it been since those who “decide” have built anything, made anything, or fixed anything, except the “law” and the “rules” (with a little help from their friends in pollytiks … so that they might pillage and plunder unhindered by the tiresome vexation of consequence)?

    Important stuff you’ve put a “heads-up!” on, EW, with this post …no screwin’ around.

    One imagines that not too many Beltway or BIG Money types give a damn …

    The question is whether the folks outside the beltway perceive ANY serious implications for a society that doesn’t make anything it needs.

    So long as America has fertile farm-land and the capacity to kill everyone on the planet several times over, t’ain’t nuthin’ to worry ourselves with, I reckon.


  3. California Sherry says:

    California has a nifty program to reduce energy use for homeowners below a certain income level. They seal doors, wrap water heaters, replace lighting fixtures, repair heating systems. And all the curly light bulbs and fixtures come from China. I’m not sure about the refrigerators. Something is definitely wrong with this picture.

    • PJEvans says:

      I listen to talk about it all day – the people at the company where I work who do that kind of thing are in the neighboring cubes. It’s hard to keep the contractors in line, apparently, and some of the customers are PITAs.

  4. donbacon says:

    So the stimulus stimulates China, which is stimulating.

    China was granted Most Favored Nation status (MFN) — now called normal trade relations (NTR) — over ten years ago, largely with support from U.S. farm states. China is a leading importer of soybeans and cotton. Both are commodities where the U.S. has export capacity.

    A country that grants MFN, or NTR, status on imports will have its imports provided by the most efficient supplier.

    The U.S. sends taxpayer subsidized soybeans and cotton to China, and China sends us screws, and most everything else that can’t be grown on a farm. I’ve seen the future and it’s agriculture.

  5. behindthefall says:

    It’s not just us, as far as I can make out from my place in consumerland: you can’t get a Swedish screw or a German cooking pot these days either.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Well, you can, but not at a discount or big box store.

      Outsourcing isn’t just the loss of homegrown products or foods. It’s the loss of how to make or grow them. It’s lost knowledge that they are necessary to daily life, as are jobs for everyone up and down the street, from bus driver to janitor to lawyer or CEO.

  6. scribe says:

    If you google around enough, you’ll find almost all the hardware manufacturing has been offshored to China. Your local Lowes and Home Depots would be empty if it were not for Made in China stuff.

  7. Deep Harm says:

    There are many vulnerabilities in the widespread offshoring of US manufacturing capabilities. Apparently, no one in the government cares except for a handful of “paranoid” emergency preparedness types.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It’s a bit like the military outsourcing cooking and the digging of latrines (not to mention guard duties, intelligence and what not). Those are daily routine tasks; they might be done cheaper by outsourcing, but only if you take outsourcers everywhere you go, which makes them a lot less cheaper – especially if they don’t speak Arabic or know how to pick up a rifle and stand to post.

    Anyone who has ever gone to summer camp for a weekend or a month, or volunteered in a soup kitchen, or sold hotdogs at a high school football game knows, however, such tasks teach essential skills – from kitchen hygiene and food cleanliness to teamwork, respect and sharing the load.

    When you stop making the most routine of things, you become unable to sustain your routines.

  9. prostratedragon says:

    It was learning about all that military outsourcing that told me how institutionally stupid we’ve become. Next thing to go will be our engineering capacity, which as eoh says requires a lot of everyday knowhow as much as calculus.

    • DWBartoo says:

      The most truly important aspect which permeates the intellectual capacities of this site, which capacities are profound indeed, is its firm grounding in practical, human reality.

      It is clearly evident in the consistently compassionate wisdom of EW and the Wheel House Gang regulars … standing in stark contrast to the heartless “expediency” of the vulture class and its political toadies, who have utterly NO interest in reason, humanity, or the planet itself … except as these may be twisted or bent to the endless greed and avarice of the ruling classes.


  10. thatvisionthing says:

    Can’t find it — but remember a scene in the movie War Games, when the kids are shown into the war room (I guess) — secret govt room full of high-tech computer equipment, and one of the lines was something like “now you know where the $100 screw drivers went” — ?? — the crazy prices paid for things like screwdrivers and toilet parts were actually accounting masks — ??

    just saying, anyone see the screws?

    • PJEvans says:

      Actually, I suspect the prices in contracts are crazy so that the government will actually get the items they’re paying for: companies would low-ball their bids, then use cheaper (and lower quality) substitutes, in order to make a small profit. It takes a lot of paperwork and inspectors – or should – to keep those companies honest.

  11. ToyotaBedZRock says:

    Well it could be that the local supply of screws comes from China. It would be ridiculous to ask them to search around for American screws. It would just waste more money.