- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

The Pentagon bypassed a "buy America" law to meet the Army's rush demand for 3 million black berets and awarded contracts to firms manufacturing the headgear in communist China and other Third World countries.
The beret purchase has become a contentious topic inside the Army special operations forces.
Former Army Rangers, whose elite units exclusively wear the black beret, are lobbying members of Congress to overturn a decision by Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, last October to issue the black headgear to all soldiers.
The Rangers are hot because China, in the midst of a huge military buildup, is regarded by U.S. military planners as a potential adversary as it broadens its influence in the Pacific, and threatens Taiwan, an old American ally.
"I think it's embarrassing for our country for our soldiers to wear uniforms made in communist China," says a Senate defense aide. "We've got to help Gen. Shinseki find a way out of this."
Protests have grown so fierce that President Bush asked the Defense Department to reconsider. But it's not clear whether the Pentagon will. An Army spokesman says the department has not asked the Army to supply any information. Asked yesterday by a reporter about the commander in chief's review, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said: "I have not asked the Army to do anything particular about that."
Three ex-Rangers yesterday completed a 700-mile protest march from Fort Benning, Ga., the Rangers' headquarters, to Washington. They will hold a rally tomorrow at the Lincoln Memorial.
Gen. Shinseki says unearned berets for everyone represent the Army's transformation into a lighter, more agile force for the 21st century.
As it turns out, his urgent deadline to have every soldier in the Army wearing a black beret by June 14 spurred the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency to waive the so-called "Berry Amendment," a federal law that for years has required the Pentagon to buy clothing made in U.S. factories of 100 percent American components. The agency then awarded contracts totaling $23 million for 1.3 million black berets to seven companies, five of which are producing the headgear in low-wage Third World plants. The Army eventually plans to buy 3 million black berets.
The decision is not a happy one with American apparel makers, either. They say Gen. Shinseki's "arbitrary deadline" prevented them from tooling up to meet the Army's huge order. The four-star general wants each of the 474,000 soldiers wearing the black beret by June 14, the Army's 225th birthday.
"It's a disgrace," says Marc Lamer, a Philadelphia lawyer who represents a U.S. manufacturer. "This had to be done this way because this guy decided on a quick deadline."
Mr. Lamer, who represents a firm that protested the contract awards, says only one American manufacturer currently has the machines to make a one-piece wool beret, as the Army demanded. Such tooling is no longer in production and what is left is scattered around the world, he says.
But Mr. Lamer says that if the Army pursued a "normal type of procurement" with sufficient notice instead of one month, U.S. manufacturers would have had time to purchase the needed equipment and submit bids.
"Their justification for doing all this was the urgency, because they had to have berets arriving by April," he says. "There was no time for an American manufacturer. The deadline was simply the chief of staff of the Army deciding he wanted them when he wanted them."
A Defense Logistics Agency spokeswoman said yesterday, "In this case, since the total capacity of the only known domestic producer of a specified beret could not meet the required delivery, the waiver was granted to allow for foreign acquisition."
The spokeswoman confirmed that thousands of U.S. Army berets are being made in China as well as Romania, Sri Lanka and other countries.
An Army spokeswoman had no immediate comment yesterday.
Under the "Berry Amendment," virtually every piece of military clothing is made in America with American components.
Mr. Lamer's client is Michele Goodman, president of Atlas Headwear Inc. in Phoenix.
She originally protested the Pentagon's decision to bypass the Berry Amendment. But she withdrew the case because her firm makes a two-piece sewn beret, while the Army wants a one-piece beret.
Ms. Goodman says that, with more time, her company and other apparel makers could have persuaded the Army to accept a different type of beret.
"The machines they use now to make the one-piece are antiquated. They are no longer made," she says. "Eventually, the Army is going to have to go to something different. This was a very good option."
She says her beret would cost about $4.75. She says the ones made in China cost $7.
Steven Lamar, director of government relations for the American Apparel and Footwear Association, says the Pentagon rarely waives the Berry Amendment. Usually, it's done when no U.S. company makes the item.
"Our concern was they shouldn't be waiving the Berry Amendment to fill this item," he says. "The urgency for this item is arbitrary. It's not like, 'we all need berets because of this military action we're going to do.' "
The Army previously has purchased all its berets for airborne, Special Forces and Rangers from one manufacturer able to handle the relatively small orders.


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