SKOWHEGAN — A New Balance executive says that a meeting Thursday at the Pentagon with the Department of Defense was a good step forward in getting American-made shoes to military service personnel, but he said the talks could have happened sooner.

Matt LeBretton, vice president of public affairs at New Balance, represented the company at Thursday’s session. A number of other footwear companies and interests also were present, hoping to move forward with discussion on requirements for the sale of athletic shoes to the military, he said.

“We are encouraged that a dialogue has begun with the DOD, though after the policy change in April we believe this step in the process could have occurred sooner,” LeBretton said Friday. “DOD officials briefed us on how they intend to implement this change. We are still reviewing what was discussed to determine next steps.

“Our initial reaction is that dialogue is finally beginning with DOD, which is a positive step.”

LeBretton also cited as crucial the help of Maine’s U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

The Defense Department announced in April that it will require new military recruits to use a cash footwear allowance to buy athletic shoes that are compliant with the Berry Amendment — a law that requires the Pentagon to buy certain products, including food and clothing, from American companies.

That requirement would include shoes made in three New Balance factories in Maine — Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway — once they become available in the marketplace.

In announcing the new policy, the Defense Department said all shoes must undergo a wear test before being certified as available to new recruits. However, manufacturers say that to comply, they still need more information from federal officials.

The problem, according to LeBretton, is that defense officials have yet to release details of what sort of wear-ability criteria and guidelines will be required to make the shoes military-ready.

“When they made the policy change in April, they required wear testing for any footwear but have yet to tell us what type of testing that will be or where or how it would take place,” LeBretton said.

Congress first established the domestic purchasing mandate, also called the Berry Amendment, in 1941; and for decades, the military complied by issuing American-made uniforms, including athletic footwear, for American troops. But citing a decline in domestic shoe manufacturing in recent years, the Defense Department skirted the policy by issuing cash allowances to soldiers — about $80 each — for their own purchase of training shoes, which meant the soldiers could buy footwear manufactured outside the United States.

New Balance sees the policy change as the closing of a loophole in the law and a move that benefits U.S. manufacturers.

“The administration needs to move more quickly to implement a law that has been on the books for years,” Collins said. “I urge the administration to cut through the bureaucracy to accelerate the pace of implementing this long-overdue reform.”

In a statement released Friday, Collins said she was pleased that Defense Department officials sat down with New Balance but said more needs to be done.

New Balance employs about 900 people in Maine and 3,000 across the country. Factories in Skowhegan and Norridgewock make more than 1.6 million pairs of shoes each year.

The Skowhegan plant has 323 employees and Norridgewock has 393.

Michaud said in a release late Thursday that continued progress on efforts to get American service members into American-made athletic footwear is encouraging.

“Today’s meeting is an important step forward, particularly for manufacturers like New Balance,” said Michaud, who also is running for governor. “I have worked on this issue closely with both New Balance and the Department of Defense for years, and I’ll continue working with them until all of our brave men and women are wearing the best in American-made athletic footwear.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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