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PARE DOWN PENTAGON'S STOCKPILE

For more than two years now, this page has been urging the Pentagon to whittle down its needlessly huge and exorbitantly expensive stockpile of excess military equipment.

We have done so because the stockpile includes large amounts of obsolete material, contributes little, if anything, to national security, and constitutes a needless drain on the taxpayers.So it's encouraging to see from a report by Knight-Ridder News Service that the Pentagon finally has come to the same conclusion.

The trouble is that Congress is so short-sighted and obstinate it won't let the Pentagon sell off part of the National Defense Stockpile and put the money into the Treasury.

The folly of Congress' resistance should be apparent from just a partial listing of the stockpile's contents, which include:

- 150,000 tons of tannin, used in tanning cavalry saddles and knapsacks - enough, in the words of one top Pentagon official "to re-fight the Civil War."

- 1.5 million pounds of quartz crystals, at the heart of antique radios.

- 3.3 million ounces of quinine, an anti-malaria compound supplanted years ago by superior medicines.

- 22 million pounds of mica, used as windows in camp stoves and to insulate radio vacuum tubes - technological artifacts from earlier in this century.

- 7 million pounds of thorium nitrate, a radioactive mineral that glows when hot - the key to keeping those kerosene lamps glowing brightly around the old campfire.

Altogether, the stockpile contains 50 million tons of materials valued at about $9 billion. That's about $7 billion more than Defense Secretary Dick Cheney says the Pentagon needs for a full-scale war. Nearly half of the 91 stockpiled materials do not meet Pentagon standards. About a third have been obsolete for at least 20 years.

This situation shows that the Pentagon has too much money and is throwing away much of it. Tighter defense budgets should be imposed as an inducement to less waste and more efficiency. But that won't happen until Congress gets out of the habit of caring more about spending than it does about saving.