New Balance A Few Steps From Its Dream Of U.S.-Made Footwear Requirement For Military

Image courtesy of S A N D Y D O V E R Creative

It’s been a long time coming, but New Balance’s marathon efforts to get the Pentagon to require military members to buy only shoes made in America may finally be paying off.

Here’s some background info: New Balance wants the Pentagon to change its current rules, which currently lets each service division choose how to buy running shoes.

Army and Air Force recruits get a stipend to buy their own footwear from any company they want, while the Navy requires recruits to only buy New Balance, which assembles its shoes in the U.S. New Balance wants every part of the military to be like the Navy, and has been lobbying the Pentagon, along with the American shoe industry, to change the rules for years.

New Balance points to a 1941 statute called the Berry Amendment, which requires the Pentagon to buy its food, clothing, and other items from U.S. producers.

Included in part of a massive new defense bill the U.S. Senate is debating this week is a provision that would require the Pentagon to bring its footwear policy in line with the Berry Amendment (h/t Bloomberg). That’s a win for New Balance, and a loss for companies like Nike, which manufactures its shoes overseas.

The House already passed a version of this bill with an identical provision. The White House is opposed to the provision, saying in a statement [PDF] that “[b]ecause it is likely that only one company could benefit disproportionately from such DOD purchasing requirements, this provision essentially serves as preferential arrangement for a particular company.”

Nike is also against the provision, naturally, as it would mean getting edged out of the military market.

“As a U.S. company with 26,000 employees across the country, Nike believes our servicemen and women should continue to have access to the best possible athletic footwear to fit their foot type and to meet their training needs,” a Nike spokesman told Bloomberg.

There would be competition for New Balance, says Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, a Democrat from New Balance’s home state of Massachusetts who introduced the legislation in the House. She wrote in a Boston Globe piece this week that the provision wouldn’t bestow preferential treatment on New Balance, because companies like Saucony and Wolverine could step up to the plate and compete, and that it’s “reasonable to expect that new recruits would have a variety of high quality options to choose from.”

Sen. John McCain, who leads the Senate Armed Services Committee, voted against the buy-American provision in committee. He’s planning to introduce an amendment this week that would strike the running shoes language from the bill, a congressional aide told Bloomberg. If that effort fails, the final bill including the requirement will likely end up on President Barack Obama’s desk.

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