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Sat., May 7, 2011, midnight

Editorial: County has purchasing model worth emulating

Remember those historic recruiting posters of Uncle Sam saying he wants you for the U.S. Army?

Forget them. The Army actually needs Cliff Hayes.

Hayes, the veteran police chief turned Kootenai County clerk, is doing his bit for transparency, and government solvency, by posting all county expenditures online.

Pizzas for lunch at daylong meeting, $62.22.

At least one county official says it makes him extra attentive to budget decisions, knowing every payout is going to be itemized and publicized, and he’d better be ready to justify it.

“I think that’s what Cliff’s goal was,” said James Martin, information services director, “full disclosure.”

But what if, say, the Pentagon did something like that? It might look like this:

Small plastic gear, $644.75.

The problem is, according to a recent audit by the Army inspector general, the same part, which the Army bought from Boeing for its CH-47 Chinook helicopters, cost other federal agencies only $12.51.

The IG sampled the prices Boeing charged the government for 23 parts and found conspicuous overcharges for 18 of them, the aforementioned gear being one example. Another was a ramp gate roller assembly for which the Army paid Boeing $1,680. Other agencies got it for $7.71.

Since preliminary findings were reported, Boeing has written refund checks for more than $600,000, but the IG estimates the overcharges on those 18 parts totaled more like $13 million – or 131 percent of what would have been a “fair and reasonable” price.

Not that overspending for parts on defense contracts is new. Remember the mid-1980s with those $435 hammers and $7,600 coffee pots?

Would the Defense Department be as likely to pay the contractor AECOM Government Services (which just reported $1.9 billion in quarterly revenue) $237 for a $14.88 vehicle side mirror if it knew its extravagance would be available for display with a mouse click?

What’s worse, the IG found that many of the parts the government was buying at inflated prices were already on hand in spare-parts inventories.

Bloomberg News quoted Deputy IG for Auditing Daniel Blair as estimating that correct purchasing practices would save the government hundreds of millions of dollars.

Here in the Inland Northwest, Hayes’ program may or may not last. Maybe the novelty will wear off. Maybe it will cost too much to carry out. But if it keeps generating some welcome circumspection around Kootenai County expenditures, then other government officials should borrow the idea – starting with the Pentagon.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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