Favorite prop these days in his audit of federal...


August 24, 1993

AL GORE'S favorite prop these days in his audit of federal agencies is an ashtray. It's his symbol of what's wrong with Washington.

You see, when the bureaucrats want to order some ashtrays, they must first wade through a nine-page list of specifications for "ash receivers, tobacco (desk type)."

Each "Type I" ashtray must be "glass, square, 4 1/2 inches (114.3 mm)."

"A minimum of four cigarette rests, spaced equidistant around the periphery and aimed at the center of the receiver, shall be molded into the top. The cigarette rests shall be sloped toward the center of the ash receiver. The rests shall be parallel to the outside top edge of the receiver or in each corner, at the manufacturer's option. All surfaces shall be smooth."

Each cigarette rest must be seven-eighth inches (22.3 mm) and weigh no more than six ounces "when weighed by the dozen."

And each federal ashtray must pass a test that only bureaucrats could relish:

"The test shall be made by placing the specimen on its base upon a solid support (1 3/4 -inch, 44.5 mm, maple plank), placing a steel center punch (point ground to a 60-degree included angle) in contact with the center of the inside surface of the bottom and striking with a hammer in successive blows of increasing severity until breakage occurs."

Now, get this addendum: "The specimen should break into a small number of irregular shaped pieces not greater than 35, and it must not dice. Any piece 1/4 inch (6.4 mm) or more on any three of its adjacent edges (excluding the thickness dimension) shall be included in the number counted. Smaller fragments should not be counted."

And for the finale: "the ash receivers shall not break into more than 35 pieces when tested. . ."

Would the West crumble if the ashtrays shattered into 36 pieces? Would civilization collapse if federal workers used cheap ashtrays without the costly mumbo-jumbo?

If this is what it takes to order an ashtray, imagine what the specifications look like to order a space rocket -- or a $640 military toilet seat.

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