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Defense fraud

THE suspension of General Dynamics Corporation from new government contracts undercuts public support for large defense budgets. It comes at a time when the nation's intelligence services have prompted public doubts arising from recent spy scandals. It is essential that the Pentagon -- and the judicial system -- speedily follow through on inquiries into the allegations involving General Dynamics. The firm and four current and former executives, including James M. Beggs, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, have been indicted on fraud charges. Mr. Beggs has properly taken a leave of absence pending resolution of the charges.

Equally important, the Pentagon and Congress must follow through on procedures to prevent future misuse of public moneys. To its credit, the Pentagon appears to have gotten the message that the public is concerned that so many firms have profited in questionable ways from the massive defense buildup of the late 1970s and 1980s. According to a new report just filed with Congress, the Pentagon says there were some 346 suspensions or debarments of firms doing business with the military in the period

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from April 1 of this year to Sept. 30 compared with 236 during the prior six-month period.

There must be no toleration of fraud or misuse of public moneys in defense contracting -- or any government program, for that matter.

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