BBJ: Congress to DOD: Buy sneakers, buy American
As originally appearing in The Boston Business Journal

By James T. Brett

In mid-May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2017, and just this week, the U.S. Senate followed suit. The NDAA is the federal law that lays out the annual budget and expenditures for the U.S. Department of Defense, including all branches of the military.

Both the House and Senate versions of the act included language instructing the DOD to adhere to a long-established law known as the Berry Amendment. First passed in 1941, the Berry Amendment requires DOD to purchase — to the greatest extent possible — American-made clothing and textiles for U.S. soldiers. Unfortunately, for more than a decade, DOD has not abided by this rule with respect to training shoes for new recruits. Since fiscal 2002, DOD has instead provided new recruits with cash allowances to purchase training shoes, which are not required to be American-made. The explanation: DOD asserted that it was difficult to find suitable athletic footwear that was made entirely in the U.S.

However in recent years, American companies — such as New England’s own New Balance and Saucony — have made significant financial investments in equipment in order to produce footwear that is 100 percent American-made and therefore fully compliant with the Berry Amendment.

In adding this Berry Amendment language to the NDAA, Congress has sent a clear message that DOD needs to drop their reasoning for circumventing the law, buy American with regard to training shoes, and support U.S. manufacturing.

Here in New England, New Balance employs some 1,400 people at five different manufacturing facilities, including two here in Massachusetts. When and if DOD follows the Berry Amendment and purchases American-made recruit training shoes, American companies such as New Balance could compete for work to produce some 150,000 pairs of shoes for the military, potentially adding even more valuable New England jobs.

Inclusion of this important provision in the NDAA is the result of a strong bipartisan effort on the part of several New England lawmakers. Massachusetts Democratic Congresswoman Niki Tsongas partnered with Maine Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin to introduce the Berry Amendment legislation that was included in the House NDAA, and Maine’s Independent U.S. Senator Angus King ensured that similar language was included in the Senate version. These New Englanders have had the backing of their colleagues, including Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Representatives Katherine Clark, Stephen Lynch, Jim McGovern and Seth Moulton, and all should be commended for working in such a collaborative way to protect the interests of U.S. businesses and safeguard American jobs.

The law on this matter is clear, and it has been on the books for 75 years. The time has come for DOD to listen to Congress and follow the Berry Amendment — to ensure that our troops are wearing “Made in the USA” shoes as they train to defend our country and in doing so support American jobs. The New England Council commends Congress for addressing this important issue in this year’s NDAA and looks forward to the economic boost it will give our region’s footwear industry.

James T. Brett is the president & CEO of The New England Council, a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations in New England.

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