Made in the USA: Providing Our Soldiers with Top-Quality, American-made Footwear

 

The men and women of America’s armed forces exemplify the very best of our nation’s values – courage, devotion to duty, and a commitment to freedom. The men and women of New Balance exemplify the very best of our nation’s manufacturing heritage – a strong work ethic and unsurpassed skills. A provision the Maine Delegation fought to include in the new 2017 National Defense Authorization Act ensures that those who step forward to serve our country have top-quality American-made athletic footwear during their training.

On Dec. 14, I was delighted to join Senator Angus King and Representative Bruce Poliquin at the New Balance factory in Skowhegan to celebrate our success working together to incorporate our “Made in America” component of the crucial defense bill. The legislation passed the Senate and House by overwhelming margins and was signed into law. This is a significant victory for American jobs and manufacturers like New Balance, a 110-year-old company with three factories and some 900 workers here in Maine. Like their colleagues at New Balance factories in Massachusetts, the skilled Maine workers cherish their status as one of the only companies still making athletic shoes in the USA.

Our provision, which survived strong opposition from special-interest groups, mandates that the Department of Defense treat athletic footwear issued to military recruits as subject to the Berry Amendment, as it does other uniform items. The Berry amendment, passed in 1941, requires the U.S. military to provide its personnel with American-made and sourced clothing and other essential military items. Despite this long-standing law, and despite the fact that it issues American-made items such as combat boots and service uniforms, the Department of Defense has not previously provided new recruits with athletic footwear that is compliant with the Berry Amendment, instead issuing them vouchers that could be used for foreign-made shoes.

I have long sought to require the Department of Defense to comply with the law and allow domestic manufacturers like New Balance to compete for contracts to provide domestically produced athletic footwear to our servicemen and women. In 2013, I hand-delivered a letter I authored with Senator King to then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, urging him to treat athletic footwear like nearly every other clothing item and procure it from American manufacturers. More than two years ago, Senator King and I joined together to author legislation to ensure that the Pentagon provide American-made athletic footwear just as it does American-made combat boots and service shoes. In addition, at my request, senior Defense officials visited New Balance to see first-hand that America produces high-quality athletic shoes.

In April of 2015, the Defense Department announced it would require recruits to use their vouchers for “Made in the USA” athletic shoes. More than a year later, however, the Defense Department had not purchased a single pair of American-made athletic shoes, despite significant investments by New Balance in equipment, design, and worker training to produce military-grade shoes.

Such foot-dragging by the Pentagon was unacceptable. Building on the Buy American Act Senator King and I introduced in the Senate, and Representative Poliquin’s Stepping up for American Workers and Troops Act, we were successful in adding our legislation as an amendment to the annual defense bill. I will relentlessly push the Pentagon to fully implement our “Buy American” provision.

Jobs will undoubtedly be kept or created when American shoe companies expand their operations to participate in a substantial market. Since 2002, the military has spent about $180 million providing allowances for athletic shoes.

Our servicemen and women, and our national security, stand to benefit as well. With World War II already raging across Europe and Asia in the spring of 1941 and America’s entry looming, the Berry Amendment was passed to ensure that the military doesn’t have to rely on foreign producers any more than necessary. The more the military buys products made in the United States, the more likely it is that our troops will continue to receive the supplies they need in wartime.

Throughout my service in the Senate, I have advocated for policies and trade agreements that support the manufacturing industries that are such an integral part of Maine’s history and bright future. Our “Buy American” provision in the National Defense Authorization Act is a significant victory for American jobs and respected American manufacturers like New Balance.