Amidst cuts, Army outfits chauffeurs

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The Pentagon

US Air Force

Facing the end of an era of untrammeled growth in defense spending, officials at the Pentagon have spent most of 2012 telling anyone who will listen how potential budget cuts will put national security in jeopardy. While funds for big ticket military items are under new pressure, however, there’s one thing the Pentagon still has pocket change for: its well-groomed chauffeurs.

On Friday, the Army formally solicited new bids to make the grey uniforms used by chauffeurs.  The request was first uncovered by our friend Mark Thompson, who closely tracks such bids for his entertaining Battleland blog at TIME.

The bid makes clear that even though the Pentagon has plenty to worry about these days — the threat of war with Iran, the chaos in Syria, and the continued conflict in Afghanistan, to name a few — someone there still has time to worry about the fine details of how the drivers of top generals and assistant secdefs are to be dressed.

In the solicitation, the fabrics of the uniforms are spelled out with precision:  coats and trousers must be 55 percent polyester and 45 percent wool, while shirts should be 65 percent polyester and 35 percent cotton. The cotton tie must be burgundy. Anticipating a rough winter, the solicitation included an order for 68 black V-neck sweaters. 

As Thompson points out, the details suggest the chauffeur force is heavily male.  The Army wants 203 men’s coats and 16 women’s coats, along with 408 men’s shirts and only 24 for women.  Nothing but the best will do: “new Equipment ONLY; NO remanufactured or ‘gray market’ items,” and all items must be covered by a warranty.  Sizes aren’t specified, apparently because there will be a personal fitting in the autumn. The solicitation does not specify how much the Army is prepared to spend.

According to the solicitation, the Army chauffeur corps transports “Senior Executive Staffs of the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Under Secretaries of Army and Air Force, Vice Chiefs of Staff Army and Air Force, Assistant Secretaries, and other Principal Officials of Headquarters Department of Defense (DoD).” 

What kind of cars will the Pentagon’s best and brightest be riding in? The solicitation doesn’t say, but it’s worth noting the Army has previously asked for bids to make four large SUVs — two 2011 Lincoln Navigators L 4X4 and two Ford Expedition XLT vehicles, all meant to seat seven passengers.

Only a few lawmakers have tried to make political hay by complaining about the Pentagon’s chauffeur system. In 1973, Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., called it “outrageous.” But judging from the Pentagon’s new order, even in a time of relative austerity, this is one expense the top brass feels it cannot do without.

Requests for comment to the Army and the contracting officer listed in the solicitation were not immediately returned. The Office of the Secretary of Defense referred questions to the Army.