HIGHTOWER: Pentagon Screwiness

And now here's your friendly U.S. Defense Department with another screwy idea!The Pentagon -- home of the infamous $600 toilet seats -- is at it again, buying everyday stuff at exorbitant prices. Take your common set screws, which any "Harry's Hardware" store will sell to you for 57-cents each. But a new report finds that our military procurement geniuses have been paying corporate contractors $75 each for the same screw. Likewise with tiny metal springs. You'd pay half-a-cent each for these, but the Pentagon shelled out $1.24 for each spring it bought. The same for electrical bells used in aircraft -- about $47.00 each at the hardware store; $714 each in military money.Believe it or not, these examples of gross overpayments come after congress passed a law reforming Pentagon purchases. The reforms allow certain so-called "commercial" parts to be bought out of company catalogs, rather than through time-consuming price negotiations. Problem is, the reforms also eliminated pricing standards, so suppliers are free to put any price they want on their catalog items.A Pentagon official says of the department's purchasing agents: "They just were not very good bargainers," adding that the answer is better training to produce "smarter buyers." Training? How much training does it take to suspect that $75 is a little steep for a screw? Instead of expensive training programs, what say we just send these buyers down to a local "Harry's Hardware" for a couple of hours?This is Jim Hightower saying ... Another answer to this gouging of taxpayers is to go after the gougers. Maybe the military purchaser doesn't know what an electrical bell costs, but the corporate contractor sure does, and that contractor is intentionally ripping us off by adding a 1400 percent markup. Put a couple of those guys in jail, and the system won't be so screwy.Source: "A $75 set screw? Pentagon reforms take an odd twist" by Julia Malone. Austin American-Statesman: March 19, 1998.

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