The Obama administration is using prison labor to help “advance its green energy agenda,” according to a shocking new report from the Washington Free Beacon.
“Hundreds of federal inmates earn between $0.23 and $1.15 per hour manufacturing solar panels at UNICOR facilities in New York and Oregon. The panels are then sold to a variety of government agencies, which are obligated by law to purchase them [emphasis added],” Andrew Stiles reports for the WFB.
Okay, how does any of this work?
Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (also known as UNICOR) was established in 1934 by President Roosevelt and is owned by the U.S. Department of Justice. The original idea behind the program was to provide federal inmates with a voluntary work-training program. But now the program is being used to provide “federal agencies with green energy technology such as solar panels.”
Proponents of the program argue that it allows the feds to buy American-made products at “an affordable price.”
The solar panels “are domestically sourced and produced, meeting the requirements of the Buy American Act, Trade Agreement Act, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” according to UNICOR’s website.
Okay, so then why did the agency enter into a five-year contract worth $219 million with a foreign company for the solar cells used to assemble the panels?
“It is a common trick employed to get around ‘Buy American’ restrictions,” Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) told the WFB.
You see, even if the parts are foreign, it’s technically “American” if it’s assembled on U.S. soil. And having an army of prison laborers means that it’s put together practically for free.
“It’s yet another outrage on what is happening with our tax dollars,” Rep. Huizenga added.
The biggest and most obvious problem here is the fact that none this benefits the private sector. The parts are foreign made, everything is assembled by prison laborers, and then the law requires government agencies buy from, well, the government agency.
Spokespersons for the prison labor program maintain that they are “preparing inmates for the green economy” and that the program “reduces the recidivism rate among prisoners.” However, as Stiles notes, a 2011 Congressional report says those claims are “are not conclusive.”And if you didn’t think the fact that prison labor is being used in “green energy’ investments was bad enough, consider the following: UNICOR actually has a long history of undercutting private businesses. How do they manage this? Easy: as mentioned in the above, federal agencies are compelled to purchase from them.
“A military clothing manufacturer in Tennessee recently lost out to UNICOR on a $45 million contract to make products for the Department of Defense,” Stiles writes, “As a result, the firm laid off about 100 employees.”
In fact, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has had prevent – on more than one occasion -- UNICOR from stealing business from the private sector in his home state.
“Why are we going to use taxpayer dollars to purchase materials that are literally taking business away from the private sector?” said Rep. Huizenga. “And let’s be honest, let’s pull the pin on the hand grenade. If this was Chinese prison labor, we’d be rejecting every single one of these imports.”