Congressman Pushing Legislation To Require National Park Gift Shops To Carry "Made In America" Items

A congressman from New York has introduced legislation that would require that items in gift shops and visitor centers across the National Park System be made in America. The Works Progress Administration reproductions Doug Leen creates in the form of posters, stickers, and notecards would fit the bill.

A congressman from New York hopes to bolster pride in America, and boost American manufacturers, by pushing legislation that would require gift shops throughout the National Park System to carry items made in America.

“When I walk into one of the gift shops at our monuments or national parks, it’s deeply deflating that nearly every item – from American flag mugs to Theodore Roosevelt teddy bears – comes with a ‘Made in China’ sticker,” said Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York. “If we want American manufacturing to thrive again, then we need to show that we believe in it. That’s why I’m introducing legislation to bring ‘Made in the USA’ back to our nation’s proudest sites.”

The legislation, the American Parks, American Products Act, was introduced last Thursday. It would require that all items sold in gift shops, and visitors centers within the National Park System be made in America.

According to the congressman's staff, a large number of items sold at national parks and monuments are produced abroad, many in China. The current U.S. trade deficit with China, his staff noted, is at a record high with a $273 billion trade gap between what the U.S. imports versus exports from China. The overall U.S. trade deficit is $497 billion and that was projected to grow in 2011.

According to ABC News, “Economists say that if every one of us spent an extra $3.33 on U.S.-made goods every year, it would create nearly 10,000 new jobs in this country.”

Congressman Israel's staff says the Park Service administers more than 500 concessions contracts, with a gross annual valuation of more than $1 billion.

However, his staff could not say Friday what it would cost park concessionaires and cooperating associations to switch from items made abroad to those made in America.

Back on Long Island in the congressman's district, union leaders praised the legislation.

“The Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, would like to thank Congressman Israel for his commitment to promoting American made products. His efforts will support the livelihoods of millions of hard-working Americans, including union members, who are capable of building, maintaining and servicing the American economy," said Roger Clayman, the executive director of the Long Island Federation of Labor. "There are 25 million people in our country who need full-time work, and there is plenty of work to be done."

New York, alone, has 22 units of the National Park System that were visited by more than 17.5 million people in 2010, according to the Democrat's staff.

In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the “Buy American Act” into law, his staff noted. The legislation created a preference for American goods in government purchases. The American Parks, American Products Act follows the precedent set by FDR of encouraging domestic manufacturing and job creation through government purchases, it added.


Great way to put gift shop clerks out of work.

I'm afraid there are gonna be a whole lot of empty shelves in gift shops. I try very hard to "buy American" in everything I shop for, but it's a terribly frustrating experience. I spend a lot of extra time looking at labels, and almost never find the prized "Made in U.S.A." logo on anything.

Even our food -- more and more of it -- is coming from overseas somewhere. I'm afraid my children and grand kids will soon be in the same shape with food that we're now in with oil.

I'll support this idea, impractical as it may seem. Someone has to try to do something. But let's not stop with just national parks.

I think the real question is if people want to pay the prices associated with only having products that are "Made in the USA"?
Why not stock both and let people make the decision. Are people too stupid to make a rational decision on this matter?

It's about time do hope this gets through.

The biggest problem with the legislation is going from a no "Made in America" requirement to a 100% MIA mandate all at once. This has the potential to really hurt concessionaires and Park-operated bookstores. I would be supportive of a structured introduction of MIA over a defined period of time. There also needs to be clear definitions of Made in America means. Is a guidebook written by an American author and printed abroad MIA? This is a very complex issue, one I'm confident Rep. Israel has not fully considered (though it probably makes him popular with many constituents at a crucial re-election time).

You raise some good points, Volknitter. There are many fine nuances to the congressman's proposal that indicate it might not have been entirely well-thought out.

Here at the Traveler we'll be glad to help point readers to "Made in America" items they can find in national park stores. If you make such items, or know of companies that do, have them contact us at . We'll see if we can't put together a list.

I wonder if there is a difference in the number of products made overseas between concessionaires and cooperating associations. Cooperating Associations are nonprofits while concessionaires are profit-making companies who pay to run stores in the park.
I also wonder if there's a different emphasis between the two groups. I know that Great Smoky Mountains Association runs bookstores, not gift shops. Of course, we have mugs and bears - what's the Smokies without bears?
When I enter a new park bookstore/gift shop, I always ask the staff "Who runs your bookstore"?
Danny Bernstein

I've worked in one of Xanterra's gift shops at the Grand Canyon. Many, but not all, the items were made overseas. The Native American items were not. One problem could be that not all items are available from American manufacturers. I can't think off hand of which items are like that, but I know I've read about the impossibility finding certain items that are American-made. I would like to see more emphasis put on American jobs, but when American companies outsource their jobs to other countries to save money, some responsibility needs to be on the hands of those companies.

I just checked the book I bought at Gettysburg. The book was printed in the USA, but the author is Australian. Good for American printers, not good for American authors? What if the little whatnots are designed by Americans but manufactured in China? What does or doesn't generate American jobs is complex.

How I wish it could come to be...but I agree that the shelves are going to be bare for lack of products that park visitors might want to buy, be able to afford, or have the taste for. I just returned from a visit to Churchill, Manitoba ("Polar Bear Capital of the World") where the gift shops have the same problem. At least the Canadians have a few appealing, affordable products (beautiful truly wild wild rice, small vials of maple syrup, and the art and handcrafts of First Nations and other Canadians) that make nice gifts.

I'd want to start by going through Congressperson Israel's office and check out the pens in the drawers, the cheapo congressional cufflinks they give to visiting constituents, or those silk ties he brought back from his last European junket, and so forth.

Nice idea, to ___encourage___ buying "made in USA" stuff. Not very realistic in the current world except for gathering a headline or two.

Rep Steve Israeli is a politician doing what politicians do. He's simply pandering to his union voters and their money with another piece of useless, impractical, if not risible legislation. If he had bothered researching the "Made in America" issue with the NPS's uniform acquisition folks, he would have learned something valuable. The story involves a more than thirty year history of how difficult it has been to comply with such a law while supplying uniformed employees with innovative, quality items at less than astronomical costs. It doesn't appear as difficult today to find items, but I can guarantee you, the NPS is paying good money - taxpayer money - to help keep the American clothing and shoe industry alive. One can only imagine the chaos and expense to concessioners and associations through "Made in America" laws. And think about the new bureaucracy coming out of the Office of Inventory Origin. More paper, more process, less product. When you can find equivalent inventory, just add the dealer cost difference, plus your new overhead, to the price tag.
Israel's thinking would work really well- a least for a few decades - in an East Germany where you could build a wall to keep your customers in and other products out. If POTUS is reelected, maybe Israel's idea will catch on in which case he'll have the last laugh.

I think Made in America is the way to go when ever I make it up to Montana and go to Glacier and Yellowstone I always buy Jams made right in MT. I also like to buy local carvings my dad has a pentant for bears. I know it cost more but hell I'm on vacation and I want local stuff not stuff I can buy on the internet and is made anywhere but here. When I go to Canada and visit their parks I want canandian stuff not stuff made anywhere else either so I am an equal opportunity made in the the place your park is at kind of person.


I spent last winter volunteering at one of our National parks. Our bookstore had some wonderful gift items from local natives along with U.S. published books.
During my six months in the park, I reached the feeling that Americanization of the parks could begin with the park service. For example, our uniforms and caps were made off-shore though they carried NPS logos.
The real disappointment was the day we got our new American flag to replace the tattered one we had. I eagerly opened the bag and unfolded the flag. My eye immediately caught the "made in China" logo. We don't even have American-made flags flying over our U.S. National Parks. Perhaps the congressman could include those kinds of things which certainly can be sourced in the country instead of off-shore. That might be a very good beginning place.

There is a big picture to this issue and it might be a bit concerning to many. When the Martin Luther King Memorial was outsourced to China and is now managed by NPS some might recognize a "Houston, we have a problem moment."
While touting increased regulations on everything as some high moral enterprise these same people find the temptation to great to naturally go where the best deal is. You can't just direct/restrict concessionaire to sell made in USA products without serious repercussions that many can't invasion. Look around at the state of things and some could see that things are greatly out of whack.

Many ideas for made in the USA:
Pendleton Blankets and other woolen items, Myrtlewood craft items,
and Native American items from nearby Native American Indian shops
Xanterra buyers are often a gross disappointment for creative ideas for
items they tend to mark-up over 100%

This is excellent. The next step will be to get national park concessions to stop selling food that is bad for the planet and bad for people's health. The National Parks should host climate friendly food in all outlets. These foods prevent disease as well.

During periods of economic hardship we hear more concerns expressed as to why more souvenir products are not “Made in the USA.” It is also common for one to think that if a product is not “Made in the USA” the greater portion of the retail purchase dollar is being exported directly out of the country, which in the case of souvenirs is simply not true.
For nearly all souvenir items, less than $.15 or 15% of every retail dollar leaves the country to foreign suppliers. 85% of each retail dollar remains within our domestic economy providing for quality jobs and visitor services right here in the USA. It is also interesting to note that most souvenir importers and retailers are really net exporters. This is due to the fact that on average 50% or more of most souvenir items are purchased by foreign visitors who take the products home with them when they leave the country.
Due to global specialization in manufacturing there are very few high quality, competitively priced souvenir items that are actually manufactured in the USA; the supply sources simply do not exist in this country. Typically, a “Made in the USA” label means an increase in cost and retail that makes the product far less attractive to the retailers and their customers, thus the lack of domestic supply. People say they want “Made in the USA” souvenirs but are generally not willing to pay for them.
Legislating an absolute “Made in the USA” standard for merchandise retailing would be a disaster. Most of the popular products in the stores would disappear and what was left would see either a downgrade in quality and/or an increase in retail price. This would result in a weaker product offering, fewer sales, lost jobs in both the supply and retail trades, and a reduction in visitor services. In other words, an effort to have only “Made in the USA” labeled product in order to try and capture the remaining $.15 or 15% of the souvenir retail dollar would have a damaging effect on jobs and services much greater than any potential benefit to our domestic economy.

I work in a National Park gift shop. When a guest asks me what items are Made in USA, we gladly point them out. 99 times out of 100, that same guest will look at the price and decline...then they purchase the Made in China item because "it's cheaper."
If you're not willing to pay the higher price for a Made in USA item then don't complain.

Although I applaud Senator Israel and his efforts, it's readily apparent to anyone within this industry that his aspirations at a wholesale change to "Made in America" is pure hogwash.
Where to start? How about with the countless millions of dollars the NPS concessionaires pay yearly through their contracts to operate the facilities within the park system. These millions become but a pittance when the revenues drop drmatically due to the lackluster selection and exorbitant prices that will now be reflected in these facilities.
Lets not forget the thousands of employees of the concessionaires that will not be need, thus not being gainfully employed Americans due to the huge dropoff in revenue.
How about those wonderful Park Rangers who work for a pittance and are much admired. Not much need for them either should attendance wane due to lack of viable souvenirs.
Attendance at NPS hotels. Probably will be none. Linens, paintings, decor, and electronics in these hotels? All foreign made.
Apparently Congressman Israel is blind to the fact that the money we send over to China is a very small portion of the untold dollars we spend to get a product to market. I hope he and his staff understand that these US companies who buy from China employ sales people, clerks, forklift drivers (union by the way), accountants, receptionists, warehouse staff, machinery operators, finishers, truck drivers, and countless other positions. These folks are paid with good old Uncle Sams US dollars. They in turn spend these dollars right here in the good old US of A on the necessities of life. They pay doctors, lawyers, grocery stores, and car dealers for products and services. As a matter of fact, these folks also pay taxes. You know, those taxes that in turn pay for police officers, firemen, ambulances, and infastructure like schools and public utilities. Why don't we put these people out of work so they can collect from the goverments bosom the public dollars we so desperately need elsewhere.
I'm sure Congressman Israel and his staff have no time nor inteterest in viewing a financial picture of the true dollars we keep in the US by still doing business with China. Howe many keychains will the congressman and his family buy when they are $15.00 instead of $5.00? Probably a bunch as his salary and benefits are guaranteed for life. The rest of us will not buy a single piece.
I write this as I sit here typing away on a computer I bought at Best Buy (American company), with parts from China. They call it a Global Economy for a reason. Its not our fault union wages and capitalistic greed keep costs at an all time high for Made in the USA products. Sell a better and cheaper mouse trap and people will buy it.
I've no doubt Congressman Israel is smoking a Cuban cigar, while drinking Irish whiskey, and riding in the back of his German chauffered automobile while the rest of us Americans are out trying to earn a living.
I respect his quest, but he is doomed to destroy more than he'll ever create.

Anon at 5:16, I'm afraid you nailed it.

That's why WalMart exists.

I think this is good idea to institute over time. currently there are not enough competitive vendors making products in the US. It should phase in over 10 years. 10% a year should enable American entrepreneurs to tool up to the demand.

Check a previous article for some background.

I do recall that some of the cheapest and most basic souvenirs are kitchen magnets. The brand I see most at NPS sites is from Impact Photographics. Their manufacturing is in China, the US, and Korea. From what I can tell, the difference between place of manufacture is imperceptible. I suspect that a good many of the US made items are just assembled from parts made in China, and there lies the rub.

Why pick on the National Parks, why not Wal Mart?

Congressman Israel is trying to be bi-winning.
His idea is short sided and will only cause more negative impact on our already struggling economy.
Think of all the people he will put out of work, customs brokers, shipyard workers, crane operators, shipping company drivers, park service employees, and on and on.
USA made souvenirs would cost a small fortune and would be unaffordable to 99% of all park visitors.
Concessionaires and visitor centers would have massive layoffs and eventually go out of business.
The last thing we need is more Government rules to keep us spiraling downward.

I thought Charlie Sheen was a loon.

The park concessionaires cannot even find the labor force domestically to staff the seasonal positions they have in the parks and thus they import labor.
The supply sources for products that people want at a price that allows them to make a profit don't exist in the USA and thus they sell imported products.
The greater percentage of concession retail sales are to foreign visitors so their customers are imported.
Sounds like importing is the name of the game from start to finish.
What is really the problem here anyway, it sounds like $.85 - $.90 out of ever retail dollar remains in our domestic ecconomy. Maybe we need to change the definition of MADE IN THE USA.

We own one of the companies currently selling product to the National Park bookstores. The basic item itself is made in China. There are currently no manufacturers in the US making these items and since they are all handwork, there never will be. Once we receive the basic item (cost around $ .50), we then repackage it using local printing and local labor (we emply 6 people part time to do this), pass it on to the parks for around $1.50, where they retail the tiem for $4.95. The profit from this item supports jobs at the stores in the parks and also is funnelled back into the park for educational programs. So you can see that of the $5 in spending created, only a mere 10% went to China. (Actually less, because of that $ .50. $ .06 went to customs duty and $ .06 went to Fed Ex shipping)
We have created 4 jobs in our business which would all be lost if this misinformed act passes, and we are very small. There would be thousands of jobs lost if this passes - not jobs created -becausethe types of products lost are for the most part simply not made here nor would they be given the low valueof these items.
Also consider that a very high percentage of sales of these items is to foreign tourists, bringing more money into the country (selling a $5 item to a tourist for which only $ .50 left the country seems like a great deal to me).

Thanks, Tom. That provides a bit of real-world context to it, above the good idea/bad idea arguments.

Mighty American of all of you to find every excuse in the book to keep your neighbors out of work. the reason we are out of jobs is because very little is made in America. What is made in America, is overshadowed by cheap stuff coming from overseas. Our economy will never move forward with excuses. It starts with consumers demanding and buying American made producst whenever possible. I am with the Congressman. It is un-American to being buying a U.S. flag made in China. Do you think the Chinese buy Chinese flags made in America.....probably not, apparently they aren't as dumb as we are.

Mostly evrey thing I got form china is broken. I hate it all are jobs are going over seas.

we have a unevean trade balance with china we need to change that to where they have a even trade balance with the U.S.

I am a handcrafter. I make artisan jewelry and sell it both retail and to other shops and boutiques around the country. There is a wealth of individuals in this country that are micro businesses that make and sell their work- many of them at production scale. To hear that there aren't enough things in this country being made is ridiculous. Maybe there aren't cookie cutter things being made, but that is what makes them great.

Interesting discussion. I for one support the Congressman. There are so many reasons to find excuses not to do something, its difficult to change much except for finding ways to maximize profits. It is time we started making things in American again. If it takes some imagination and ingenuity, so much the better. One of the reasons we are importing so much of this "stuff" is because companies can undercut american wages and benefits, not to mention circumvention of environmental laws, workplace safety conditions, equal opportunity hiring, child labor laws, sexual haressment in the workplace, equal pay for equal work, well the list can get quite lengthly. It is a race to the bottom for the working person. We are living in an economy that is becoming more and more service oriented with low paid and part time employees. This is all justified by the "social darwinists", as the top 1% are the there through the natural selection process. The reason they are so important is that they, and they alone create the jobs the rest of us seek. This social theory was dreamed up (by Herbert Spencer if my memory serves my correctly), to support the robber barons of the 1920's. And we know what that led to. The fact is that the middle class is the job creator, not the 1%. No lets start making things in America again, not only will the gift shops in the parks do better (and accually sell more quality stuff), but so will the entire economy. We will all benefit from "Made in America". The National Parks are a great place to start in my own humble opinion.

If it takes some imagination and ingenuity, so much the better.

Then lets use some imagination and ingenuity rather than forcing people to do something they don't want to do. If the public wants American made, they will ask for it.

I think you are right Allison.

I am a handcrafter and have just inquired as to the buying process for one of the consessions and will see what results.