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Athletic shoe vouchers for Army, Navy and Air Force recruits could be used to purchase only American-made footwear under a bill introduced Thursday by two senators from Maine.
They argue it would not only help domestic manufacturers such as New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., a Boston-based company with offices and plants in Maine, but it might also save money.
The footwear battle, which has gone on for years, involves a decision made in 2002 to provide vouchers to new service members to purchase athletic shoes rather than provide military-issued shoes. Comfort, safety and varying tastes were cited as reasons for the change.
About $15 million is spent each year on the vouchers.
Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King Jr., an Independent, introduced S 1051, which would require the military to either directly buy domestic shoes or restrict the vouchers to be good only for U.S.-made shoes complying with a 1941 law, the Berry Act, which requires preference be given to American manufacturers for clothing on any contract valued at $150,000 or more.
The bill includes one exception: Foreign-made shoes could be purchased for valid medical reasons.
In a statement included in the Congressional Record as she introduced the bill, Collins said the Defense Department is spending 100 times the minimum contract value required to buy from U.S. producers. It is time for DoD to treat athletic footwear like every other uniform item, including boots, and buy them from American manufacturers, she said.
Military officials have defended letting new service members pick their own shoes for comfort and safety, but Collins said the military buys domestically made boots and other uniform shoes with no adverse effect upon recruits.
Collins and King will try to get their restriction added to the 2014 defense authorization bill when the Senate Armed Services Committee begins writing that measure in mid-June. King is a member of the committee.