- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001

Some members of the House Armed Services Committee plan to try to block the Armys black beret handout this year through legislation canceling the production contracts, a congressman said yesterday.
Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican and an Armed Services Committee member, said the move would come via an amendment to the 2002 defense budget bill written this summer, or in a stand-alone bill.
"I think there is a growing sentiment among our members that the Army is in a very difficult situation," said Mr. Bartlett, who, like many other lawmakers, is upset that more than 600,000 berets are being produced in communist China. He said the Army was "politically incapable of doing the right thing, which is to say we will cancel the black beret program."
"I would say there is a very high probability we will put something in the bill on the berets," Mr. Bartlett said in an interview. "I would think it would be to cancel the contracts of those made in China and not implement the berets for Army-wide use."
His remarks came after the Armed Services Committee met behind closed doors yesterday with Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff. Also questioned was Lt. Gen. Henry T. Glisson, director of the Defense Logistics Agency, which is buying nearly 4 million berets at up to $35 million for virtually all Army soldiers.
It was not clear yesterday whether Congress could act quickly enough to stop the Chinese production before the contract is fulfilled. China already has delivered more than half of the 618,000 berets that the U.S. Army ordered. Soldiers began receiving the new headgear this month. All are scheduled to have the headgear by June, meaning congressional action to rescind the program would result in troops exchanging the new berets for the foldable green caps they replaced.
Gen. Shinseki announced in October he would put a beret on every soldier as a symbol of the Armys transformation into a lighter, more agile force for the 21st century. Since then, the apparel decision has not gone as smoothly as top Army officials predicted.
The special operations community erupted in anger, saying universal berets cheapened the black berets given to elite Army Rangers, as well as maroon berets for airborne troops and green berets for special forces.
Then, The Washington Times reported that the Defense Logistics Agency, in order to meet Gen. Shinsekis June 14 deadline for black berets for all Army soldiers, had to award contracts to companies that operate low-wage factories overseas, including in China.
To meet the deadline, the agency invoked a legally available waiver to a federal law, known as the Berry Amendment, which requires U.S. military uniforms to be made of American components in domestic factories.
The twin complications of soldier protests and a Chinese connection prompted letters from lawmakers calling on President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Shinseki to cancel the program.
But the general stood firm and announced a compromise by which the Rangers would switch from black to tan berets.
Mr. Bartlett described the sentiment of congressional members as, "I dont want to micromanage, but this is a mess." The congressman said he does not know whether there are sufficient votes in committee to cancel the beret program.
Committee member Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, also has been a critic of the Armys beret decision. A spokesman said Mr. Hunter has declined to comment but may have a statement later on the issue.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, has called on the Army to suspend black beret handouts until a new civilian secretary can review the program. The White House announced yesterday it would nominate retired Brig. Gen. Thomas E. White as the next Army secretary. He now faces a Senate confirmation hearing.
Congressional sources said Gen. Shinseki spent much of his briefing yesterday justifying his beret decision. The sources said the witnesses refrained from using the word "China" when discussing where 618,000 berets were being made. Instead, they referred to the name of the British company that operates the plant there.
"They never could have anticipated they would have to make these in China at the same time they are holding 24 hostages," said Mr. Bartlett, referring to Chinas 12-day detention of 24 EP-3E American crew members on Hainan island earlier this month.
More than 75 House members signed a letter to Mr. Rumsfeld last month protesting the foreign purchases. U.S. apparel manufacturers contend they could have competed for a larger share of the nearly 4 million berets if Gen. Shinseki had not set such a tight deadline of June 14, the Armys birthday.


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