- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

The Pentagon is preparing to give small business a $50 million boost by awarding new contracts to supply the Army with 3.9 million berets over the next two years.
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) has designated the two Army beret contracts as a small business set-aside, meaning only small firms will be eligible to compete for the contracts, Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, announced yesterday.
"This decision is truly a victory for small business," Mr. Bond, ranking Republican member on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, said in a statement yesterday.
The Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia has confirmed the plan and verified that the contracts will be open for bidding until Oct. 9. It is estimated that the berets could cost about $7 each, making the contracts worth about $50 million, or $25 million per supplier.
The beret contracts "will make a real impact on the small-business community," Mr. Bond said. "I applaud the Pentagon's decision to give small manufacturers a fighting chance to produce berets for our servicemen and women."
The decision to outfit the entire Army in black berets has been a source of contention since it was announced by the Clinton administration last October.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki's decision to replace the Army's standard green cap was denounced as a blow to the morale of the Army's elite airborne Rangers, who had the exclusive right to wear the black beret as an emblem of honor for decades.
"To give that headgear to every soldier in the Army is disrespectful" to the Rangers, Jimmy Dean, secretary of the Special Forces Association, said in October. "A soldier must earn that right [to wear the beret], not be given it from off the street."
In addition to the Rangers wearing them, berets were also standard wear for other special units, including the Army's Green Berets and the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, who wear maroon berets. In a compromise, it was later announced that Rangers would switch to tan berets.
Gen. Shinkseki said he wanted to have the entire Army wearing the black berets by June 14, the 226th birthday of the Army, as "a symbol of unity, a symbol of Army excellence, a symbol of our values."
The beret dismay spread to Capitol Hill in March when it was learned that the DLA had bypassed a "buy American" policy to purchase the berets from a British firm with manufacturing facilities in communist China and other foreign countries. Under pressure from Congress, the Army halted distribution of the foreign-made berets and has mothballed 618,000 of them in a Pennsylvania warehouse.
In the deal announced by Mr. Bond yesterday, two beret contracts are to be awarded, with each of the two firms providing half of the berets.
Options to extend the contracts include an additional 1.35 million berets, to be delivered over a year, and second and third options of 984,000 berets, each to be delivered over a year. Total beret production, if DLA exercises all options, could mean a total 7.2 million berets produced by small manufacturers.

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