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Jul
2015
8

New Balance Says Pentagon Dragging Its Feet; Soldiers Still Not Wearing American-Made Sneakers

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Massachusetts-based shoe company New Balance says that the military is dragging its feet on a promise it made to outfit soldiers with American-made shoes.  The promise came in April of 2014 when the military announced it would honor the Berry Amendment, a 1941 law requiring the Department of Defense (DoD) to give priority to American goods.  The Department of Defense had previously argued that sneakers were not part of the official uniform and therefore not subject to the Berry amendment.

More than a year later it seems little progress has been made. New Balance claims retaliation while the military claims the transition is moving at an acceptable speed.  Other apparel companies who have done business with the DoD have come to the military’s defense using the backhanded compliment that they really do move that slow.  

Matthew LeBretton, New Balance’s vice president of public affairs, says he believes the delays are “deliberate payback” for the company pushing for the changes:

“We’ve pushed and pushed to the point where we’re at now, and we’re still encountering tremendous resistance.  They’re not used to being pushed that way, and I think that’s engendered this animosity.”

Mark Wright, a spokesman for the DoD, explained that the military is still testing various shoes comply with the Berry amendment:

“We’ve moved right along since the new policy went into effect last year,” he said. “I don’t think this is being slow-rolled at all. We’re trying to respond to the needs of our forces.”

According to the Associated Press:

One variant of Boston-based New Balance’s proposed 950v2 sneaker has passed the military’s testing, after a previous version failed last year. Two other styles of the same shoe – covering the different foot and gait types that the military requires shoe companies offer – are still being tested.
No other shoe brand appears to be going through the testing

Rep. Niki Tsongas, wife of former presidential candidate Paul Tsongas who represents one of the districts in which New Balance has a factory, said the DoD needs to “step it up.”

“There have been signs of movement in the approval process, but it is time for (the department) to make more significant progress and reconcile what they perceive as challenges to moving forward,” Tsongas told the AP.

New Balance’s Matthew LeBretton said that the process is the most protracted that the company, who is the sole provider of shoes to the Navy, has ever been involved with.  He notes that the Coast Guard, overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, has already used New Balance to comply with the Berry amendment:

“It’s mind-boggling.  It certainly highlights that there is this institutional slowdown at the Pentagon.”

At the plant in Boston, workers are prepared to meet the new demand and are proud of what their product will be used for.  Plant manager Tim Luke says the company has invested tens of thousands of dollars in new equipment and training.  Despite the delays he say the plant “remains at the ready.”  

“There’s a huge pride factor in this. We recognize where these shoes are going to go.  By now, we have the process completely defined and refined so when the chance finally comes, we’re ready to go.”

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