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End base-closure giveaways

Suppose a sporting goods chain closes two stores in your community. Top executives order the store managers to survey the stock on hand and determine if the inventory could be put to use at one of the company's other stores.

Imagine that store manager John Doe, bristling over the store closure, decides that he'll leave a treadmill, a set of free weights and a Tae-Bo video in the store just in case it might lure a new tenant to the space. Wouldn't that be considered theft? At the very least, wouldn't it be mismanagement?

A new Air Force Audit Agency report, obtained by Deseret News Washington correspondent Lee Davidson through a Freedom of Information Act request, revealed this very occurrence. Except, the loosy-goosy inventory handling occurred at two Air Force bases in the process of being closed. Instead of determining if the equipment was needed at other installations, base officials at McClellan Air Force Base in California and Kelly Air Force Base in Texas gave away some $13 million worth of goods to local governments to help them attract new tenants to the soon-to-close bases.

Had Air Force auditors not intervened, the bases also might have given away another $12.8 million worth of equipment improperly.

According to auditors, the improper giveaway likely was not done intentionally but resulted from mistakes by overworked managers and because of some difficult-to-use computer systems that were used to check whether the equipment was needed elsewhere.

To some extent, such errors can be explained. But what cannot be explained is why base officials believed they were free to give away millions of dollars of equipment when they themselves likely knew that it had not been determined if the gear was, indeed, surplus and that could be given to local governments. After all, the equipment did not belong to the military installations. It belonged, ultimately, to the taxpayer.

This report pointed out what appears to be a pervasive problem for the military: keeping track of inventory. In a day and age in which bar code technology is available to small business owners, it is unfathomable that the military cannot account for its equipment and that computers systems are not networked to perform what most businesses would consider a basic bookkeeping procedure.

Luckily, the audit did have a good outcome. Both Kelly and McClellan bases have strengthened their screening processes, which should end the problems.

Yet, one wonders how much equipment would have gone out the door unchecked if the bases' generosity hadn't been stemmed by the audit process.