The Department of Defense (DoD) announced on April 25 that it will ensure military recruits buy American-made athletic shoes when using an allowance provided by the government.
The Berry Amendment, which has been in effect since 1941, requires the military to buy equipment, including clothing and food, that is manufactured in the United States. However, the military has used foreign-made footwear in the past because there weren’t any domestically made shoes available on the market.
In a memo released last Friday, Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox said that once a domestically made shoe is approved, officials “should ensure that recruits are able to purchase these shoes, and only these shoes, using their one-time cash allowance.”
Instead of providing recruits with athletic shoes, the military gives them an $80 allowance to spend on a pair of their choosing. There is, however, a concern that this allowance system may allow the military to circumvent the Berry Amendment when purchasing other products that do have an American-made option. In the memo, Fox writes that this cash allowance system “falls outside of Berry Amendment restrictions.”
There is an ongoing audit by the Office of the Inspector General into whether or not the military was previously violating the Berry Amendment. It is also investigating whether the military was complying with the Buy American Act, a law passed in 1933 that compels the entirety of the government to buy American-made products. Results from the audit are expected to be released in September.
Another possible loophole in these two laws exists in the form of minimum purchasing thresholds. If an order is under $150,000, the military can legally buy from foreign manufacturers under the Berry Amendment. For the Buy American Act, orders must be less than $3,000. The Berry Amendment’s comparatively high threshold makes it easier for the military to avoid buying American-made products.
Though the memo acknowledges that there are still no American-made athletic shoes available, companies such as New Balance and Wolverine Worldwide —of which Saucony is a subsidiary—have expressed interest in supplying 100% domestically made shoes that would comply with the Berry Amendment. According to Made In America Expo, Wellco, Danner, and Capps Shoe have also said they could produce a Berry-compliant shoe. Having multiple companies supplying shoes would not only eliminate the possibility of one company having a monopoly on the market, it would also give recruits more options when choosing athletic shoes.
According to the memo, recruits will only have to buy American-made shoes if they are “at a cost and durability similar to that of shoes currently offered.” Recruits will also have the option, as they do today, of buying any type of shoe with their own money.
The shoe industry’s efforts to create Berry-compliant athletic shoes are finally allowing the DoD to adhere with domestic preference laws. In the future, the Department will be better able to support American businesses, care for American troops, and follow the law. Jobs will undoubtedly be created when shoe companies expand their domestic operations, and the companies themselves will be able to participate in a substantial market; since 2002, the military has spent about $180 million providing allowances for athletic shoes. Servicemen and women stand to benefit as well. The Berry Amendment was passed to protect domestic industry, but it also exists to ensure the military doesn’t have to rely on foreign materials any more than necessary. The more the military buys products made in the United States, the more likely it is that troops will continue to receive the supplies they need in wartime.