TSA reaffirms decision on German firearm supplier

The Transportation Security Administration has reaffirmed its decision to have German firearms manufacturer Heckler & Koch supply as many as 9,600 .40-caliber handguns to U.S. commercial airline pilots who complete federal law enforcement training under the agency's guns-in-cockpits program.

A contract of three one-year options to supply H&K USP40 Compact Law Enforcement Model semiautomatic handguns was signed after the agency, under pressure from House Small Business Chairman Donald Manzullo, R-Ill., reevaluated all the bids it had received from firearms companies, especially those with manufacturing facilities in the United States. The maximum value of the contract is $3.3 million, H&K officials said Tuesday.

After a long, controversial search that upset many of the world's biggest gun manufacturers, TSA initially awarded the contract in July to H&K for its German-made firearms.

That prompted Manzullo, an outspoken advocate of "Buy American" laws to support U.S. manufacturing jobs, to argue that the agency arming U.S. airline pilots should have given preference to American-made weapons. Losing bidders included several American and foreign firms that supply handguns to U.S. military and police forces from U.S. factories.

Congressional and industry sources told CongressDaily this week a "mitigating" factor for Heckler & Koch was its timely announcement in August, during TSA's bid re-evaluation process, that it would build its first U.S. factory. The plant will be built on a 29-acre site in a Columbus, Ga., technology park.

Indeed, the company staged a groundbreaking ceremony Oct. 14 with Georgia GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Reps. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.

The $25 million factory is expected to create some 200 jobs, boost area retail sales and generate more than $402,000 in annual property taxes, with job figures increasing as new contracts are awarded, company officials said.

Among its first products will be handguns for the TSA program, although the firearms delivered to pilots this year and much of next year will come from the main H&K plant in Germany.

The U.S. facility also will produce assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers and small arms for U.S. military and police forces.

"Establishing an American manufacturing base has been our number one priority," Heckler & Koch Vice President Peter Simon said in a statement. "Our Georgia factory represents Heckler & Koch's commitment to the U.S. military and law enforcement communities, to America's war on terrorism and to the creation of skilled manufacturing jobs for Americans."

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