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The Pentagon's half-hearted attempt at fiscal responsibility

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The following story came across the AP wire with the headline, "Pentagon starts to bargain hunt":

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Defense Department has unveiled its surprising new plan to start reining in its supersized budget: after nine years of unbridled war spending, the military will finally start bargain hunting.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at a Pentagon news conference Tuesday that the military will begin weighing whether something is affordable before buying it.

Contracts exceeding $1 billion will have to identify ways to keep costs down. And when looking to spend money, the military will try to do more to comparison shop, Gates said.

The initiatives are part of Gates' goal to find $100 billion in savings in the next five years so that the money can be used for troops and weapons modernization.

I'm not sure if the first sentence is a reflection on the AP or a complacent nation, but only in America during an age of trillion dollar deficits would "surprising" explain a program aimed at finding the best deal. And only in an era of bloated defense spending would "weighing whether something is affordable before buying it" be a new direction.

Yes, we're probably asking the same questions: why is this a new strategy, and why wasn't it being done before?

And even if you can shake those questions for just a moment and get excited about the "new" direction, the story throws in a qualifier: "'And when looking to spend money, the military will try to do more to comparison shop,' Gates said"

Yup, that's right. After all is said and done, the new program boils down to the military giving it the old college "try."

A better headline might have been: "Pentagon will make a half-hearted attempt to bargain hunt when it doesn't involve tough decisions."

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