Congressman Mike Michaud has introduced H.R. 2955, the "American Shoes for American Servicemembers Act," which would clarify that the Berry Amendment has always and continues to apply to footwear. The Berry Amendment law has been on the books for decades and requires the Department of Defense (DOD) to buy certain categories of products from American companies, including food, clothing, fabrics, stainless steel, and certain tools.
"For decades the Defense Department procured American-made athletic footwear for our military's physical training uniforms, just like they procured American-made shoes for dress and combat uniforms," said Michaud. "But they recently stopped providing American-made shoes for our troops to train in, and that's just not right. We need to be doing everything we can to promote job creation in our country, especially during these difficult times. I've introduced this bill to clarify what everyone already knows -- that the Berry Amendment applies to athletic footwear and that the Department of Defense must comply with the law."
Michaud also sent a letter urging executive action on the issue to President Obama, who has the authority to force DOD to adhere to the Berry Amendment.
"I'm hopeful he'll take action on this and that a legislative solution isn't needed," said Michaud. "Federal contracting policies should benefit American businesses and workers to the greatest extent possible, which is consistent with the President's national address the other night."
In August, Michaud visited New Balance's facility in Skowhegan, where he heard directly for the company and its workers about their ability to make athletic footwear for the military. Despite this available domestic source, DOD continues to circumvent Berry Amendment requirements by requiring servicemembers to purchase their athletic footwear with their cash allowance. The American Apparel & Footwear Association, of which New Balance is a member, supports Michaud's efforts.
"For more than 70 years, the Berry Amendment has applied to footwear," said Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association. "Yet recent actions by the Defense Department have led to purchases of footwear that are not compliant with the Berry Amendment. We welcome the efforts of Congressman Michaud to spotlight these problems and clarify that the Berry Amendment always has and will continue to apply to all footwear purchased by the U.S. military."
The full text of the letter Michaud sent to President Obama can be found below.
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
I write to urge you to instruct the Secretary of Defense to issue American-made athletic footwear to our enlisted soldiers, something they should already be doing. I strongly support your recent call for more things to be stamped with "Made in America." In that vein, I urge you to instruct the Department of Defense (DOD) to comply fully with the spirit and intent of the Berry Amendment. Complete compliance with the Berry Amendment will boost U.S. footwear manufacturing and create jobs at a time when national unemployment is more than nine percent.
The Berry Amendment stipulates that DOD cannot procure food or clothing, among other items, unless the item is grown or produced in the U.S. Congress first established this domestic preference for DOD procurement in 1941, and for decades the military branches complied by issuing American-made uniforms, including athletic footwear, for our troops. In recent years, however, DOD has circumvented this policy by issuing cash allowances to soldiers for their own purchase of training shoes. In response to questions raised by my colleagues in Congress and me, DOD claimed that items bought with a soldier's cash allowance did not constitute procurement and, therefore, were not subject to Berry Amendment standards.
DOD's ability to avoid Berry Amendment requirements simply by issuing a cash allowance for certain uniform items is troubling, and their sudden decision not to issue American-made athletic footwear is disconcerting. Servicemen and women have dress uniforms, combat uniforms, and physical training (PT) uniforms. The apparel and footwear for each of these uniforms is American-made, except for soldiers' PT footwear. According to DOD's own Acquisition Regulations System (DFARS), the Berry Amendment definition of clothing includes footwear and should therefore apply to all shoes, including athletic footwear, required for servicemen and women. If military branches have decided to issue cash allowances in lieu of procuring PT footwear, they could easily do the same for other parts of our troops' uniforms.
Using cash allowances to avoid issuing American-made footwear is not consistent with congressional intent of the Berry Amendment. During the 1941 floor debate on the first provisions of the statute, Senator Alva Adams from Colorado said: "We should not send the soldiers and the sailors to fight garbed in foreign clothes or have him fed with foreign food if he can get within his own country proper food and clothes." Senator Adams' objectives were clear: American troops should have American food and clothing if there is a domestic supply of these items. New Balance currently makes Berry-compliant athletic footwear and has 5,000 pairs of these shoes sitting on their shelves. American-made PT shoes are available, and DOD should comply with the intent of the Berry Amendment and issue them to our troops.
To address DOD's willingness to circumvent the law, I will soon introduce a bill that clarifies that the Berry Amendment as currently written applies to footwear. Making clear in statute that soldiers' clothing includes footwear and therefore must meet Berry Amendment standards will give Congress additional leverage to force DOD to issue American-made training shoes for our troops. But, frankly, this situation does not have to be fixed legislatively. It can be fixed administratively.
That is why I urge you to instruct the Secretary of Defense to require all military branches to issue American-made athletic footwear to our troops. Requiring full DOD compliance with the Berry Amendment will ensure that our troops are trained in shoes made right here at home. It will promote the U.S. footwear manufacturing sector at a time when the industry is facing severe declines. More products will be stamped with "Made in America," and jobs will be created at a time when our country needs them most.
Thank you for your consideration of this letter. I look forward to working with you to create jobs by promoting the production of American-made goods, including all components of our brave men and women's uniforms.
Member of Congress