Yet Another Call to Arms: Revitalizing the Bearings Industry
In addition to crises affecting the machine tool and semiconductor industries, the mid- 1980s also witnessed heightened concern in Washington about the condition of the U.S. ball and roller bearings industry. Such fears were not completely new as the competitiveness of this sector had long concerned defense planners. Government efforts to assist the industry on defense grounds date back to World War II and continued at intervals throughout the Cold War era. However, these efforts were ad hoc, and did not involve creation of a comprehensive government strategy for the bearings industry. Stimulated largely by recurrent crises in the industry, earlier government assistance efforts had done little to address the root causes of long-term decline.
By 1986, the situation facing the industry had worsened dramatically. A weakened bearings industry had now become enfeebled, forcing industry leaders to initiate a concerted push for government assistance. Working hand in hand with the Congressional Bearings Caucus and other supporters, the industry sought to follow the lobbying strategies employed by both the machine tool and semiconductor industries. Bearings lobbyists portrayed their industry as an essential building block for both national security and economic competitiveness. Without a government bailout, they argued, the United States would permanently lose this critical production capability. Given the importance of bearings to such critical military items as aircraft engines and heavy vehicles, the industry's decline could have profound repercussions for the U.S. defense posture.
While the bearing industry's strategy was similar to that employed by other sectors, bearing producers did not achieve similar results, Indeed, the push for a sector-specific industrial policy was a colossal failure. The only result of several years of effort was a limited Buy-American restriction enacted by Congress after several years of Pentagon delays.