- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2001

Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, told a House panel yesterday he was in the dark about the purchase of black berets from communist China for three months after the contract was signed in November.
Gen. Shinseki, who has taken harsh congressional criticism over his universal beret policy, said he tried to stop the China connection. He told the House Small Business Committee he first learned of the procurement in February and six weeks ago "recommended" that soldiers not wear made-in-China berets.
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a Pentagon unit separate from the Army, is buying 4.7 million berets for the Army for $30 million at Gen. Shinsekis request.
But the DLA director, Army Lt. Gen. Henry T. Glisson, later told the committee that he never saw or heard of a Shinseki recommendation against Chinese berets.
Gen. Glisson said he had told Gen. Shinsekis senior staff aides at the Pentagon about the China procurements early in the process. He said he did not know why the message never got through to the Army chief of staff.
"Sir, Ive never seen a memo from Gen. Shinseki," Gen. Glisson said, under pointed questioning from committee Chairman Donald Manzullo, Illinois Republican. who accused the DLA of violating federal law in awarding foreign beret contracts. His committee has been investigating why the DLA is buying berets overseas despite a federal law that says military uniforms should be made in the United States.
Gen. Shinseki told the committee, "Six weeks ago, we recommended that, in specifically to the production of berets in China the recommendation from the Army was that we not use these berets."
An Army spokesman said Gen. Shinsekis recommendation was not in writing and aides last night had not determined to whom he had voiced opposition six weeks ago.
Buying Army gear from a factory in China grew into a major embarrassment for the Pentagon, especially after Beijing detained 24 EP-3E crew members for 11 days and subjected them to interrogation.
The Pentagon sought to end the furor Tuesday night by announcing that Gen. Shinseki had decided that no soldier will wear any beret made in China. The plant had produced more than half of the 618,000 berets, which cost at $6.33 each, 3 cents more than an American-made beret.
But committee members remained upset yesterday at the fact the DLA waived a "buy America" law known as the Berry Amendment and signed contracts with six companies that operate foreign plants, including the one in China.
The Pentagon can waive the law if U.S. firms cannot provide the needed item in the quality and quantity desired.
Gen. Glisson testified that because Gen. Shinseki wanted each of 1.3 million active, Guard and Reserve soldier in a beret by June 14, the Armys birthday, the DLA had to seek foreign sources instead of relying on the one U.S. manufacturer who makes Army-specified, one-piece berets.
The three-star general said his agency followed the law. But other witnesses said the pressure to meet the Armys short-notice deadline spurred a series of errors.
David E. Copper, an acquisition auditor with the General Accounting Office, said Gen. Glissons agency never opened the contracts to competitive bids as federal law requires.
"In their eagerness to serve the customer, procurement officials chose to shortcut normal contracting procedures," Mr. Copper testified.
Said Gen. Glisson, "We did make phone calls, but we did not do an open competition." The general said the phone calls produced little interest from U.S. firms whose factories do not have the tooling to produce one-piece berets, but can produce a seamed beret.
Pentagon officials say they are now looking at a way American companies can form a consortium to buy the needed machinery to, at the very minimum, supply the Army with one million black berets yearly once the initial 4.7 million order is filled. The officials said the Army prefers a one-piece beret because it is easier to mold into a uniform shape atop the head.
In another break with federal rules, John Whitmore, acting administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, said Gen. Glissons agency never informed the SBA, as required by federal law, that it planned to seek foreign manufacturers. If he had known, Mr. Whitmore said, he would have filed a protest and tried to work with American apparel makers to submit bids.
After hearing that a number of rules were not followed, committee members reacted angrily.
"There's obviously been an avoidance of competitive bidding here," said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., New Jersey Democrat. "Were not going to accept what we heard here today."
The Tuesday night Pentagon directive from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also said soldiers will not wear berets made of any Chinese components. This appears to rule out the 240,000 berets being made in Sri Lanka with Chinese leather. The DLA also canceled three other contracts because berets coming from India, South Africa and Romania were substandard.
In all, there are now 2.2 million berets of a total 4.7 million on order that will have to be assembled in new factories.
Gen. Glisson testified that he will work with U.S. apparel makers to see if they can produce a beret to the Armys liking.
Gen. Shinseki told the committee that if he had known the Pentagon was bypassing American companies in order to meet his June 14 deadline, he would have extended the deadline.
"I would have adjusted," he said.
As it stands now, with contract cancellations and the rejection of Chinese berets, the deadline will not be met.
The four-star general said the black beret will symbolize the services transformation to a lighter, faster-deploying force and act as a cohesive element to bring together all units. Ex-Rangers protested the lost of their exclusive black beret. But Gen. Shinseki testified he detected no disgruntlement when he met recently with Rangers at Fort Benning, Ga.
"They don't have a problem with this and neither does the vast majority of the rest of the Army," said Gen. Shinseki, who was hailed by Mr. Manzullo as a "true patriot" who was wounded twice in Vietnam.


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