- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

A House Armed Services Committee report states that the Pentagon sidestepped a key provision of a federal "buy American" law to award contracts for Army black berets to Third World factories, including one in communist China.
The report conflicts with the Defense Departments internal report, which said it did nothing wrong in bypassing American companies for factories in China, Sri Lanka, Romania and South Africa.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department plans to cancel three of the foreign-production contracts as early as today due to missed deadlines and shoddy workmanship, according to a source familiar with the beret-buying contracts. The source did not know if one of the canceled contracts pertains to the factory in China.
The source also said the General Accounting Office is prepared to testify that the Pentagon cut corners in trying to follow the law but still meet the Armys deadline for 1.3 million black berets by June 14, the branchs birthday.
The new disclosures come as Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, on Wednesday presents his first public explanation to Congress on his decision to put a black beret on virtually every soldiers head. The House Small Business Committee is also scheduled to hear testimony from top Pentagon acquisition officials to explain why they waived the buy American requirement for U.S. military uniforms to procure berets from low-wage Third World plants.
Gen. Shinsekis universal beret policy has drawn protests from the special operations community, which contends it cheapens the symbol of elite status for what had been the only beret-wearing units: airborne, Rangers and Special Forces.
A number of lawmakers also are angry over the Pentagon buying military gear from China, a potential foe that detained 24 American crew members for 12 days on Hainan island after the U.S. EP-3E surveillance plane collided with a F-8 Chinese fighter over the South China Sea.
The House Armed Services Committee staff report said the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) decided to waive the buy American law, or the Berry Amendment, last fall after Gen. Shinseki announced the policy in October and set the June 14 deadline for all soldiers to wear a beret. Only one American firm makes berets to Army specifications and it could not meet the deadline.
The agency had acquired the needed secretary of defense authorization. However, the waiver had a glaring omission, the committee report said. The Berry Amendment states that the secretary of defense must attest that "satisfactory quality and sufficient quantity of any articles clothing … cannot be procured as and when needed at United States market prices."
The House committee report, however, concluded, "None of the waivers addressed the test of meeting 'satisfactory quality. The legislation specifically states that the secretary must make a determination of satisfactory quality and sufficient quantity."
The committee staff came to a different conclusion than one reached by the Pentagon, which ordered an internal review of the beret purchases at the request of President Bush. The office of the Pentagons top acquisition official investigated the matter and wrote an internal report. It concluded, "Given the Army requirement for 1.3 million berets to be delivered by June 14, 2001, and to issue a second beret to every soldier by Oct. 2001, (the DLA) executed all procurement actions in a reasonable manner. No significant deviation from law, regulation or policy were identified."
The committee report says the Army plans to buy 4.76 million black berets for $30 million at per-cap cost ranging from $7.20 in Canada to $4.36 in Sri Lanka.
The Chinese factory is producing 617,936 berets for $4 million at $6.33 each. This is 3 cents more per hat than the 1.2 million berets being produced by the lone U.S. manufacturer, Bancroft Cap Co. in Cabot, Ark. The Pentagon has said that the Chinese factory has shipped or delivered more than half its berets.
Gen. Shinseki sought to make peace in the special operations community by announcing last month that the Rangers will keep an exclusive beret. Its new color will be tan instead of black.
But the agreement with the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga., has not settled the issue in Washington. Some House Armed Services members want to amend the fiscal 2002 defense authorization act to terminate the foreign contracts and cancel the entire beret handout.

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