WASHINGTON — Congress on Thursday passed a federal spending bill that includes $11 million for U.S. textile industry research.

This story first appeared in the January 23, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The funding is part of the overall $373 billion spending plan, which had already passed the House but was hung up in the Senate for weeks.

A key stumbling block had involved attempts by Democrats and moderate Republicans to insert a provision into the bill that would block the White House’s overhaul of rules determining when workers are eligible for overtime pay. The provision had been inserted into the bill once before, but was removed late last year by GOP leadership as House and Senate Republicans struck a compromise on the spending bill.

The administration expects to release in March the changes to the overtime rules, which are opposed by organized labor but have been embraced by industries including retail.

The controversy over those changes had prompted the Senate to vote 48-45 on Tuesday to postpone the spending measure. However, because the spending bill contains crucial money for projects in many lawmakers’ home districts, Senators dropped the challenge Thursday. They approved the bill 65-28.

“It is regrettable we are faced with this choice,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.), an opponent of the overtime changes who voted against the spending bill.

The bill includes $1 million for Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s (R., N.C.) pet project, finding a chemical tracer to adhere to apparel and textiles to track their country of origin and determine if they’re being transshipped through third countries to avoid free-trade-pact rules.

The tracer idea was central to Dole’s maiden 2002 Senate campaign. A scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is already studying tracer technology with an earlier $200,000 Commerce Department grant. The new money will be used in the research to choose the best of three tracer concepts, but it’s still unclear when the technology will be available for commercial use.

The spending bill also included $3 million to fund apparel and supply chain research facility TC2 in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., which is also supported by companies including Lands’ End, VF Corp., Russell Corp. and Cotton Incorporated.

Another $7 million contained in the bill will go to the National Textile Center, a consortium of universities with textile research programs.

Cass Johnson, acting president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, said the textile research money will be well spent.

“Long-term, both initiatives are very important” to the industry’s competitiveness, Johnson said.

Meanwhile, the spending bill also contained a tidbit for domestic apparel producers who want to increase sales to government agencies. The provision would require Federal Prison Industries to compete with domestic manufacturers on contracts for supplies for federal agencies.

Steve Lamar, vice president of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, said the change should give U.S. apparel producers a shot at the $125 million in FPI government apparel business.

“FPI will be under pressure to compete on price, quality and delivery” like the private sector, Lamar said.