By Mike McGraw
Call it a condom conundrum.
At a time when the federal government is spending billions of stimulus dollars to stem the tide of U.S. layoffs, should that same government put even more Americans out of work by buying cheaper foreign products?
In this case, Chinese condoms.
That's the dilemma for the folks at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has distributed an estimated 10 billion U.S.-made AIDS-preventing condoms in poor countries around the world.
But not anymore.
In a move expected to cost 300 American jobs, the government is switching to cheaper off-shore condoms, including some made in China.
The switch comes despite implied assurances over the years that the agency would continue to buy American whenever possible.
"Of course, we considered how many U.S. jobs would be affected by this move,” said a USAID official who spoke on the condition that he would not be named. But he said the reasons for the change included lower prices (2 cents versus more than 5 cents for U.S.-made condoms) and the fact that Congress dropped “buy American language” in a recent appropriations bill.
Besides, he said, the sole U.S. supplier — an Alabama company called Alatech — had previous delivery problems under the program.
It's clear that Alatech's problems over the years, which apparently have been resolved, may have driven U.S. officials to seek much less expensive foreign-made condoms in the first place.
But that's cold comfort to Fannie Thomas, who has been making AIDS-preventing condoms in southeastern Alabama for nearly 40 years in the small town of Eufaula.
“We pay taxes down here, too, and with all this stimulus money going to save jobs, it seems to me like they (the U.S. government) should share this contract so they can save jobs here in America,” Thomas said.
Thomas and others at the Alatech plant said there aren’t many alternatives for them if it closes down, which is a likely result of the contracting switch.
In fact, the government is close to accepting condoms from two offshore companies: Unidus Corp., which makes condoms in South Korea, and Qingdao Double Butterfly Group, which makes them in China.