• U.S.

Adjusting the Bottom Line

2 minute read

Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger was deep into a lengthy report before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the new Pentagon budget. He had just pointed out that the Department of Defense was the first to uncover such military expenditures as a $400 claw hammer and a $9,000 wrench when Maine’s Republican Senator William Cohen said, “I’m fascinated to hear all this, but I’m told there’s now a problem with a $600 toilet seat.” This, Cohen deadpanned, “gives new meaning to the word throne.”

The item in question was not precisely a toilet seat but a corrosion- resistan t plastic case that fits over a toilet. It is used aboard the Navy’s P-3C Orion antisubmarine planes. Republican Senator William Roth of Delaware, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which looks into suspected cost overruns, had been conducting an investigation of the accessory. Roth was tipped off by a contractor in Washington State who had been asked to bid on the toilet unit in January. When the contractor learned that Lockheed Corp. was charging $34,560 for 54 toilet covers, he wrote a letter to Roth contending that the units could be purchased at most trailer- home sales outlets for about $25.

In a cable to the Pentagon last week, Lockheed President Lawrence Kitchen insisted that his company had made only a 13.4% profit on the units. Nevertheless, he eventually lowered the price of the covers to $100 apiece and gave the DOD a $29,165 refund. “This action is intended to put to rest an artificial issue,” said Kitchen, “that detracts from the critically important ongoing review of the 1986 DOD budget.” Senator Roth, on the other hand, might have felt he was getting to the bottom of the whole defense- spending issue.

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