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THE $668,000 FAX MACHINE

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Remember when the Pentagon paid $435 for a hammer and $640 for a toilet cover without even blinking - until such waste set off a nationwide backlash?

Thank goodness those days are gone forever - right?Well, think again.

Now congressional investigators have uncovered such continuing examples of fiscal folly at the Pentagon as a $999 pair of pliers, a $1,868 toilet cover and a $668,000 facsimile machine.

Ouch!

The facsimile machine is a particularly sorry reflection on the military mentality - or at least the mentality of the Air Force.

It seems that the Army and Navy also flirted with the idea of developing a combat-ready fax machine able to withstand a nuclear blast and operate under 3 feet of water.

Wisely, the other services thought better of the notion and backed off. But not the Air Force, which never seems to have wondered who would use a fax machine after a nuclear blast had incinerated everything else in the neighborhood.

Nor did the Air Force boggle at the fact that the price tag for developing and producing such a super fax included the provision of enough spare parts to last 20 years. The spare parts alone - nearly $40 million worth - cost more than the fax machines.

When is Congress going to make the Pentagon kick its addiction to needlessly costly gadgets and start buying more commercially available equipment off the shelf?