The final version of the National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision to require the Department of Defense to provide military recruits with American-made shoes, a longstanding effort that’s been praised by officials at shoe manufacturer New Balance, which employs 900 in Maine.
Maine U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin championed the change and announced its presence in the authorization act on Wednesday. The Maine legislators advocated for the benefit of New Balance, a sneaker maker that operates three manufacturing plants in Maine at Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway and has long campaigned in favor of the requirement.
The provision will go before the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in the next few days. The Maine legislators say the provision will be implemented over the next two years.
Collins and Poliquin are Republicans and King is an independent. They trumpeted the rule change as a win for American jobs and U.S. manufacturing.
In a statement, New Balance CEO Rob DeMartini said his company is “the only major company that still makes athletic footwear in the United States,” and he thanked the legislators for their efforts “on behalf of the hundreds of men and women in our five New England shoe factories.”
“We are grateful that the U.S. House and Senate has again agreed that our military’s domestic purchasing requirements as stated by law need to be followed,” DeMartini said.
Outgoing Maine House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, who long championed compliance with the Berry Amendment with New Balance being in his home district, used one word on Wednesday to show his appreciation — finally.
“At last, the Department of Defense is going to make good on its promise to American manufacturers like New Balance,” McCabe said. “It’s time that the Pentagon looks out for American workers and American jobs. This is a well-deserved win for the workers in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway and for the service members who will soon sport great Maine-made shoes.”
The Maine legislators say the change essentially subjects footwear to the Berry Amendment, the 1941 legislation that requires the defense department to give preference to American products.
The provision included in the final 2017 National Defense Authorization Act is similar to the Buy American Act introduced by Collins and King and the Stepping up for American Workers and Troops Act introduced by Poliquin, according to the release. Both of those bills were introduced earlier this year.
Previous language in the act allowed the Department of Defense to bypass the Berry Amendment. The department has said that no U.S.-made athletic shoes comply with Berry’s requirements, one of which is that all elements used in making the shoe are U.S. products.
In 2014, the defense department promised to start providing athletic shoes as long as the shoes complied, and in 2015 New Balance said it had developed a shoe that did just that.
Earlier this year, both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee approved changing the act to force the Department of Defense to comply with the Berry Amendment. Around the same time, Collins took the opportunity during a Department of Defense budget review to tell Defense Secretary Ashton Carter she was disappointed in the department’s continuing refusal to comply with the Berry Amendment.
In Wednesday’s statement, the Maine legislators said they will “relentlessly push the Department of Defense to fully implement this already-overdue provision.”
Staff writer Doug Harlow contributed reporting.