WASHINGTON—Nearly a year after the U.S. Department of Defense decided to enforce a “Buy American” directive for military athletic shoe purchases, American athletic footwear manufacturers are waiting for the Pentagon's final approvals.
“We are patient and optimistic,” said a spokeswoman for Boston-based New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. “We know it's going to be a long process.”
The “Buy American” mandate originates from the Berry Amendment, a law passed in the 1940s that directs DOD to buy all military clothing and shoes from domestic manufacturers.
DOD, however, long insisted that domestically made running shoes were inferior to those manufactured abroad. This meant that U.S.-based athletic footwear manufacturers such as New Balance and Big Rapids, Mich.-based Wolverine Worldwide (owner of the Saucony athletic footwear brand) were losing out on supplying the military an estimated 250,000 pairs of running shoes annually.
More than two years ago, shoe manufacturers began to negotiate with the Pentagon, New England members of Congress, including Maine Sens. Angus King (I) and Susan Collins (R), Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Niki Tsongas and then-Maine Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud. They aided the footwear makers, even offering to introduce legislation to force DOD to buy domestic athletic shoes.
Christine Fox, acting deputy secretary of defense, wrote Michaud on April 25, 2014, telling him that DOD would modify its standing allowance system for military recruits to buy their own athletic shoes.
“As Berry Amendment-compliant shoes come on the market, we will assess them for cost and durability to ensure they are comparable to other models available to recruits,” Fox wrote. “If one or more comparable Berry Amendment-compliant shoe models correspond to a shoe type category, only these shoes will be made available for purchase using the one-time cash allowance.”
DOD asked interested manufacturers to submit shoes for testing as a prerequisite for certification under the Berry Amendment.
New Balance submitted three pairs of shoes for testing at the U.S. Army installation at Fort Jackson, S.C., and testing began in January, the New Balance spokeswoman said.
A Wolverine spokesman said his company is working closely with DOD as the agency continues to develop its testing protocol.