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A Surplus Announcement


The extraordinary publicity accorded Presidential press conferences invariably manages to lend a sense of urgency and drama to Administration announcements which they frequetly do not deserve. This is particularly true of the official chagrin Mr. Kennedy lately expressed over the grotesque size of the postwar emergency stockpile of strategic materials. Darkly, the President mentioned waste and profiteering, and encouraged Senator Symington's investigating committee to exorcise these ghouls as best it could.

Certainly the stockpile is something to worry about. For years the government has been accumulating (under no less than four different sets of contracts) some 76 items, many of which were once considered invaluable in case of war but which now seem absurdly gratuitous. Assuming that preparing to fight a three-year war is now rather less realistic than preparing to recover from a three-week one, the government has on its hands an immense surplus of no longer "critical" material.

The trouble is that practically nothing can be done about the surplus, which is why the President's excessively public shock seems extremely ineffectual. He has promised not to take any action that would disturb commodity prices, which, by the way, means that he can not liquidate any of the stockpile investment. The best, in fact, that he or the Symington Committee can do is to urge that Congress approve more sales from the stockpile and that future purchases under government contracts be made more consistent with the conditions of nuclear warfare.

If there is a danger in the President's making an important issue of a problem on which he is clearly unable to act immediately, it is that suggestions of scandal allow too many people to play the heroic investigator. Nothing delights congressmen seeking reelection more than the prospect of uncovering corruption in the executive branch. The stockpile question is a tricky one, and efforts to fix the blame for it on specific administrators are unlikely to answer it effectively.

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