Cows' ear hair, other waste hit German taxpayer

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BERLIN, Nov 23 (Reuters) The German government wasted some 1.9 billion euros (2.82 billion dollar) last year on everything from defective brushes made of cows' ear hair to new seats for army trucks that are not roadworthy, auditors said.

The examples were cited in the Federal Audit Office's 2007 annual review of government spending, which found a lack of oversight in 85 percent of 40,000 cases it investigated.

''These were very troubling findings,'' Audit Office president Dieter Engels said in a statement yesterday.

The review showed that government dealings with the national rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, had cost the taxpayer 190 million euros -- most of it money Berlin paid the firm for a stretch of track that was never built.

Germany also spends millions renting computers for more than it would cost to buy them, pays twice as many staff as it needs to look after police uniforms, and maintains an underground air surveillance bunker that serves no military purpose, it said.

Germany's army, the Bundeswehr, spent 1 million euros on special brushes made from the inner ear hair of South American cattle to clear a dirty projection screen which had disabled a 16 million euro combat simulation centre.

But the brushes could not remove the flecks left on the screen by weapons systems, the report said. The centre has gone unused since 2004 -- though maintenance costs 1.5 million euros a year -- because lasers used in simulations could ignite the dirty screen.

The army has suggested building a 2.4 million euro mudroom to clean the weapons before simulations, but still has not worked out how to clean the screen, the auditors said.

The patent office spent 8 million euros over three years to rent computers it could have bought for one million euros less.

The army developed new seats for elderly personnel transporters that should be kept off the road. ''Even with the new seats the trucks are so unsafe they can't be used to transport people on public roads,'' the auditors' report said.

Reuters ARB DB0904

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