Opinion

Opinion | Niki Tsongas

Military should be in US-made running shoes

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - March 31, 2014: New Balance Athletic Shoes on white background ; Shutterstock ID 303621221; PO: oped

Shutterstock/Olga Popova

Although the United States has been the leading producer of manufactured goods for more than 100 years, the industry has been declining for decades. Without manufacturing, the United States cannot remain the world’s engine of innovation.

Massachusetts has a number of innovative manufacturers that have made the often-challenging decision to keep their labor force in the United States. The success of these companies demonstrates that it can be done, but we need to pursue policies that support their efforts.

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One such policy is the “Berry Amendment,” which states that when our military has an opportunity to buy American, US soldiers should train and operate with American-made uniforms and equipment. Over the past 70 years, this law has ensured that American soldiers are defending our country in American equipment; it has helped keep jobs here on our shores, served as a powerful incentive to grow manufacturing production in America, boosted innovation, and ensured that US taxpayer money is spent on US-made goods to help grow the economy.

This policy has also benefited servicemembers by providing them with top quality uniform items and equipment. But for two decades, athletic footwear for new recruits has been exempted from this “buy America’’ requirement, despite a rebounded domestic shoe industry that employs thousands of American workers.

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The Defense Department recognized this resurgence in manufacturing in April 2014 and issued a new policy that eliminated the exemption and committed to providing recruits with 100 percent American-made athletic shoes, should they become available. The domestic shoe industry stepped up, but the Defense Department has not lived up to its commitment and has not implemented its 2014 policy change. This is wrong, and the Defense Department should eliminate the exemption.

Some have argued that requiring the Defense Department to abide by the Berry Amendment would provide an advantage to only one company, New Balance. And, while it is true that New Balance, which employs thousands in Massachusetts and Maine, invested heavily to research, develop, and manufacture 100 percent American-made athletic shoes, additional companies, like Saucony, owned by Michigan-based Wolverine Worldwide, have also taken a serious interest. Even Nike told President Obama that it plans to open factories in the United States. Furthermore, components for these shoes are produced at smaller companies around the country. With so much evidence establishing that US companies are interested in producing American-made athletic shoes, it is reasonable to expect that new recruits would have a variety of high quality options to choose from.

If athletic footwear was required to be US-made, any global shoe company could compete to provide it — if that company set up factories in America, hired Americans, and produced the shoes here. We’ve seen exactly that outcome in other industries, like America’s textile industry, which produces modern uniforms.

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In addition to the far-reaching economic benefits, our servicemembers would be stepping into high quality footwear that could reduce injuries. After thorough assessment, the Army Surgeon General’s Office advised in 2015 that recruits should begin basic training with new running shoes that are comfortable and fit properly.

That is why the Defense Department requires athletic footwear to pass rigorous testing for quality and fit. After testing and approving two American-made athletic shoes, Defense Department officials wrote that one of those shoes “scored higher overall than any other neutral/cushioned running shoe we have tested thus far.” That is quite an endorsement, since the Defense Department has been testing sneakers for more than 20 years. Even so, should recruits require something more specific, they can receive a waiver.

Understanding the incredible impact it could have on our manufacturing base, as well as the potential to provide recruits with a higher quality shoe, I helped lead an effort to ensure the Defense Department fully complies with the Berry Amendment. The first steps by the next generation of American soldiers should be taken in high quality American footwear, made on American soil, supporting America’s economy.

US Representative Niki Tsongas represents the Third District of Massachusetts and is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.
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