When consumers see the words “Made in America” emblazoned on a product, they know that this phrase denotes more than simply where the product originated. “Made in America” signifies that the product is high quality and that it was manufactured by skilled American workers. This is especially true of products made by Mainers, who are well known for their strong work ethic and high quality work. Given a level playing field, American workers can successfully compete in the 21st century global economy.
Unfortunately, a current Defense Department policy on the purchase of athletic footwear for military personnel unfairly advantages foreign manufacturers at the expense of the few remaining domestic manufacturers of athletic shoes, such as New Balance. Despite a 1941 federal law, known as the Berry Amendment, requiring that our Armed Forces use American-made uniforms and equipment whenever possible, the Pentagon continues to turn its back on both the law and our workers.
Instead of outfitting service men and women with American-made athletic shoes, as it does with every other uniform item, including boots and dress shoes, the Defense Department provides them with an allowance to buy shoes from any source, including low-wage manufacturers in China and Vietnam.
This misguided policy is especially harmful to the roughly 900 men and women who work at three New Balance factories in Maine, producing the best athletic footwear in the world. Like their colleagues at New Balance factories in Massachusetts, these skilled Maine workers cherish their status as the only company still making athletic shoes in America. As a 110-year-old company that makes shoes used by top athletes the world over, New Balance represents the very best of our manufacturing past, present, and future.
After years of urging a change in policy, I joined with Senator Angus King in authoring legislation in 2013 requiring the U.S. military to purchase American-made footwear for its recruits. In addition, senior Defense officials visited New Balance at our request to see firsthand that America produces high-quality athletic shoes at a cost comparable to what we are already allocating to our service members for such footwear.
These efforts appeared to bear fruit in 2014, when the Defense Department decided it would require recruits to use their allowance for “Made in the USA” athletic shoes. This announcement was a “win-win” for both our recruits and our industry. New Balance responded by investing in a new shoe design and equipment for three types of athletic shoes that would meet military specifications. Since then, however, the Defense Department has reversed this policy decision.
As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I raised this issue with Defense Secretary Ash Carter during a recent hearing on the defense budget. I expressed to him my deep disappointment in his department’s reversal of its commitment to provide American-made footwear to our new recruits and reminded him that, under the 1941 law, our military personnel are to be outfitted with American-made clothing and equipment whenever possible.
It is important to note that the Berry Amendment was not only enacted to support American businesses. It also ensures that our military will have the equipment it needs should foreign trade be interrupted by war.
Senator King and I have again teamed up to introduce legislation that will support American jobs by requiring the Defense Department to provide service men and women in the Armed Forces with American-made athletic shoes upon arrival at basic training. In announcing our bill, I observed that the President said in his State of the Union address that one of his top priorities is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing. We share this priority, and one way we can make that possible is to make sure that the athletic footwear purchased every year by military recruits is made in the U.S.A.