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The military, whose tales of fiscal excess include such anomalies as the thousand-dollar coffee maker, has done it again.

In an effort to save money, the Army has spent $44 million since 1979 to build 12 identical heavy-duty car wash facilities for military vehicles. But the General Accounting Office has found that the attempted standardization has actually driven costs up.The GAO report faulted the Army Corp of Engineers for failing to provide the guidance necessary to ensure each car wash would meet the needs of the particular military installation where it was located. For example, water cannons used to loosen mud and dirt from vehicles are unnecessary at a facility planned at Ft. McCoy, Wis., where sandy soil in the area doesn't stick to the vehicles. Freezing winter weather also limits use of the water cannons. Eliminating the pre-wash water cannons at the fort would save $780,000.

Army engineers readily acknowledged the feasibility of giving planners more flexibility. Still, the question remains as to why Army officials couldn't figure it out for themselves.

Part of the answer may be that the flow of taxpayer dollars to the military has been so steady and so plentiful that the incentive to find cost-saving measures simply wasn't there.

More ought to be done to make the military accountable for such waste. Otherwise, it will be taxpayers who are taken to the cleaners.