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MILITARY ACCUSED OF TRASHING GEAR

A lobbying group says millions of dollars' worth could have been sold.

Millions of dollars' worth of gear, including combat boots, helmets, vests and aircraft parts, is being junked by the Pentagon rather than stored or sold as surplus to suppliers who sometimes sell it back to the military.

Of roughly $1.8-billion worth of equipment the Defense Department downgraded to scrap from January through June, at least $330-million worth came from categories of gear the Pentagon most frequently buys back from surplus dealers, according to the National Association of Aircraft & Communication Suppliers. Those include parts for aircraft, weapons and communications systems, the group said.

The $1.8-billion represents the amount the Pentagon originally paid for the items. The resale value can amount to pennies on the dollar but still would total millions of dollars.

The association, a lobbying group for surplus dealers, is worried the military's recent decision to shred retired F-14 Tomcat fighter jets is the start of a broader effort to destroy Pentagon leftovers that surplus dealers once bought routinely. Iran is aggressively seeking F-14 components for its own aging Tomcat fleet.

The trade group said it supports tougher government screening of surplus buyers to help prevent military gear from getting into the wrong hands, said Peter Beaulieu, the group's president and vice president of Associated Aircraft Manufacturing and Sales in Fort Lauderdale.

However, the group said some F-14 parts that also could be used on other U.S. military aircraft and commercial planes should be sold to surplus dealers.

Beaulieu said it can be faster for military bases to repurchase parts on the surplus market than to get them from within the military or new from manufacturers, he said.

From November 2003 to May 2004, the Pentagon awarded nearly 400 urgent contracts to the trade association's members for replacement parts for aircraft, the group said.

"We're their ultimate warehousing source," Beaulieu said.

In a new lobbying campaign, association members and other surplus buyers are urging Congress to force the Pentagon to do a better job separating sensitive surplus from items considered safe to sell, rather than lumping both types of surplus together and destroying them.

The allegations of Pentagon waste during the war is hitting a nerve with some lawmakers.

"I have received reports that usable items such as sleeping bags and gloves, and auto parts such as mufflers, are being scrapped because DRMS has stated that it is unable to identify them," Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., wrote to Lt. Gen. Robert Dail, director of the Defense Logistics Agency. The DRMS is the Pentagon's Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service.

Shadegg said he also is concerned about the loss of government revenue from surplus sales and about harm to small businesses in the surplus industry.

The DRMS sells military surplus through an Arizona contractor, Government Liquidation. In fiscal 2005, the Defense Department earned $57-million from surplus sales.

A spokeswoman for the Defense Logistics Agency, Dawn Dearden, said the military is only destroying surplus it no longer needs. The Pentagon is aware of the dealers' concerns, she said.

The agency has reviewed its rules for handling surplus but hasn't decided whether to make changes, she said.

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