Presidential nominee Joe Biden (D) promised during a speech in Michigan on Wednesday that he would “crack down” on companies that sell equipment to troops labeled as made in America that were really coming from China or elsewhere, but did little when he was vice president.
Biden pledged, “I’m going to crack down on companies that label products as made in America even if they are coming from China or elsewhere.”
He then blamed Trump for some company selling deployment bags to troops that were made mostly in China. He said:
You know we found out that on Trump’s watch, a company selling deployment bags to active-duty troops being deployed falsely claimed its product was made in America, when in fact, it was really made mostly in China. Trump didn’t do anything to respond. I’m not going to let that happen on my watch. We are going to have an office at the White House dedicated to making sure everyone is playing by the same made in America rules. And one more thing, when I say we are going to use the purchasing power of the federal government to reinvigorate domestic manufacturing, I mean it.
However, while Biden was vice president for eight years, the Obama administration did close to nothing when it came to at least one clear case where it could have helped American companies and equipped troops with American-made equipment.
As early as 2011, lawmakers alerted the Obama administration multiple times that the Pentagon was circumventing the 1941 Berry Amendment requiring that military apparel be made in America, by giving troops stipends to purchase athletic shoes that were likely made in China or Vietnam.
Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers argued that instead of spending an estimated $15 million a year on those stipends, the Pentagon could equip troops with athletic shoes made in America, such as from New Balance or Saucony — who were still making shoes in America unlike their larger competitors.
Lawmakers argued this would save American shoe manufacturing jobs in New England and outfit U.S. troops with American-made shoes in compliance with the Berry Amendment. However, their pleas fell on deaf ears for years.
In 2011, then-Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) introduced the “American Shoes for American Servicemembers Act.” He said alongside a public letter to President Obama on September 16, 2011:
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.
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.
In 2012, Michaud asked Obama again, even giving him a pair of athletic shoes made in the U.S.
In 2013, Michaud and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced another bill. Michaud said in a statement:
This is something the Obama Administration can do right now to boost the economy and ensure that our military is outfitted from head to toe in American-made uniforms.
It’s long past time that the Defense Department complies with the letter and spirit of the law. It’s not only the right thing to do, it could provide a shot to the arm to companies like New Balance that employ hundreds of Mainers in Norway, Norridgewock and Skowhegan.
Also in 2013, a bipartisan group of 15 senators urged the Obama administration to take action. They wrote Obama in an April 19, 2013, letter, “We urge you to insist that the footwear worn by our troops is top quality and made in America in keeping with the intent of the law known as the ‘Berry Amendment.’”
In January 2014, the Obama administration took a tiny step forward by soliciting research to assess the availability of American-made shoes fully-compliant with the Berry Amendment, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
In April 2014, the Obama administration appeared to finally do something: It called on the Pentagon to assess Berry Amendment-compliant shoes as they came onto the market, and eventually require that recruits buy them if they matched the shoe type they needed.
However, two years later, the Obama administration had not made good on that promise, according to lawmakers.
“Let me just express to Secretary Carter my disappointment in the department’s reversal of its commitment to provide American-made athletic footwear to new recruits,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said at an April 2016 hearing to Obama’s then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
“Under the longstanding Berry Amendment, our troops are supposed to be outfitted with clothing and footwear that is made in this country, and that’s why I have recently introduced legislation that has been cosponsored by several of my colleagues to require the Department to follow the law,” Collins said.
A month later, in May 2016, the Obama administration even issued a veto threat against the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act — a massive yearly defense policy bill — citing in part provisions that would have equipped recruits with athletic shoes and arguing that it would likely “disproportionately” benefit one company.
The veto threat, issued on May 16, 2016 said:
The Administration objects to section 808, which would require the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps to provide athletic footwear directly to recruits upon their entry into the Armed Forces instead of providing a cash allowance for the purchase of such footwear, at the choice of the recruit. Because it is likely that only one company could benefit disproportionately from such DOD purchasing requirements, this provision essentially serves as preferential arrangement for a particular company.
Mandating that a specific article of clothing be provided to new recruits is unprecedented and, in the case of athletic shoes, runs counter to research that indicates a strong correlation between the variety of athletic shoes available, fit, and comfort, and reduced injury rates. Forcing DOD into a ‘one size fits all’ approach to athletic footwear may contribute to a higher incidence of injury to new recruits during one of the most critical times in a member’s military training. DOD places the health of our service members above all other considerations.
The bill passed anyway and Obama ended up signing it on December 23, 2016 — less than a month before leaving office.
In March 2018, the Pentagon awarded New Balance a $17 million contract for athletic shoes for military recruits, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing. The contract would support roughly 1,000 workers at shoe factories in Maine and Massachusetts, according to the organization.
The organization wrote in a blog post:
It has been a long time coming. The company had spent years lobbying DOD to close a loophole in the Berry amendment, a 1941 rule requiring clothing for American soldiers to be made domestically, that exempted footwear purchasing.
The organization also alleged the Obama administration “dangled a competitive shot at a military contract” if it did not criticize the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
It concluded, “And here we are, in March 2018, and the DOD under President Trump is picking up that thread. And putting New Balance sneakers on our soldiers’ feet.