The New Pentagon War is All About Go-Fasters

New Balance sneakers-Photo by Petar MiloševićNew Balance sneakers-Photo by Petar Milošević

Tensions are burning hot between the Pentagon and Congress over orders of American-made New Balance sneakers, which some lawmakers argue have been intentionally delayed by the Defense Department.

Officials at the Boston-based New Balance company have been outspoken in their opposition of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, a position they claim kept them from getting a fair shot at military business for athletic shoes. But when they stopped speaking out at it in exchange for a chance at a military contract, no order materialized, the Boston Globe reported in April.

While other issued military gear must be made in the United States in keeping with decades-old regulations, sneakers are not covered by this policy.

Rep. Niki Tsongas, a Democrat from Massachusetts, is seeking to change that in the defense budget bill for Fiscal 2017. An amendment that Tsongas co-sponsored with Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Maine Republican, would place sneakers under existing regulations by requiring the Defense Department to furnish them directly, rather than providing an allowance to troops for their purchase.

Full text of the amendment is here:

In the case of athletic footwear needed by members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps upon their initial entry into the armed forces, the Secretary of Defense shall furnish such footwear directly to the members instead of providing a cash allowance to the members for the purchase of such footwear.
In procuring athletic footwear to comply with paragraph (1), the Secretary of Defense shall comply with the requirements of section 2533a of title 10, without regard to the applicability of any simplified acquisition threshold under chapter 137 of title 10 (or any other provision of law).

This subsection does not prohibit the provision of a cash allowance to a member described in paragraph for the purchase of athletic footwear if such footwear—

is medically required to meet unique physiological needs of the member; and
cannot be met with athletic footwear that complies with the requirements of this subsection.

But now, another Congressman is attacking the amendment, claiming it represents a special-interest move that would restrict the DoD to purchasing only New Balance sneakers.

Rep. Mark Sanford, Republican from South Carolina, is introducing an amendment that would strike the provision by Tsongas and Poliquin in the interest of preserving free choice.

“Currently, all new Marine recruits get to pick their shoe of choice…but section 808 would whittle that choice down to one brand: New Balance,” Scott Jeffrey, Sanford’s press secretary, said in an email.

“Currently, DoD spends about $17 million per year providing cash allowanced to recruits.  This amendment would squeeze out their competitors (currently, ASICS and Brooks).  And the DoD has noted that providing the same amount of variety of recruits under section 808 would cost $333.5 million.”

Asics is a Japanese company, while Brooks is an English brand.

Sanford plans to speak at a Rules Committee meeting regarding his amendment today, Jeffrey said.

Sounds like the go-faster wars are just heating up.

About the Author

Hope Hodge Seck
Hope Hodge Seck is a reporter at Military.com. She can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.