Precious Parts

$16 one year, $3,033 the next

The frequency with which the final costs of multibillion-dollar weapons systems balloon far beyond original estimates is an all too familiar Pentagon embarrassment. Air Force auditors think they have put a finger on a related problem: the multiplying price of mundane spare parts.

At Oklahoma's Tinker Air Force Base, watchdogs programmed their computers to detect increases of 300% or more in the cost of spare parts for aircraft engines charged by the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Group of United Technologies in fiscal year 1982. The results, said an auditor, were "staggering." Robert S. Hancock, an official...

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