2 Senators Want to Know Why Pentagon Paid $999 for Pliers

From Associated Press

A few years back, red-faced Pentagon officials admitted they were buying $436 hammers and $640 toilet seats.

Reforms went into effect.

Now they're buying $999 pliers and $117 soap dish covers.

Two Republican senators want to know why.

"We have been informed by defense officials that overpricing and other systemic problems are as prevalent today within the supply system as they were in the mid-1980s," Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and William V. Roth Jr. of Delaware said in a letter to the Defense Department's inspector general. The letter was released Friday.

The two senators urged the department to audit its purchasing records to determine whether the prices were reasonable in comparison to commercial market rates.

The audit also should provide some indication of whether the "exorbitant price phenomenon of spare parts purchased by the Defense Department is still with us," the lawmakers said in the letter.

Accompanying the letter is a sampling from the military services' shopping list: $999.20 for pliers for Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma; $1,500 for a hydraulic hand jack for the Navy Aviation Supply Office in Philadelphia and $117 for a soap dish cover for a defense supply center in Columbus, Ohio.

The list also includes $1,868.15 for a toilet seat cover for the C-5 cargo plane.

The cover, according to Pentagon documents, is made of fiberglass-reinforced honeycomb, polyurethane plastic and stainless steel to withstand "a corrosive environment through the lifetime of the aircraft."

In addition to those purchases, the Pentagon paid $120.40 for a stainless steel, lacquered Dixie Cup dispenser. The dispenser retails for no more than $25 apiece.

Defense Department spokesman Jim Turner said Inspector General Susan J. Crawford was concerned with the issues raised in the senators' letter and planned an audit.

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