"A little neglect may breed mischief: for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost."

- Benjamin FranklinThe venerable Mr. Franklin would have been right at home on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has been conducting an investigation that warrants giving his well-known aphorism a new application:

For want of a bolt the tank was lost; for want of a tank the battle was lost; for want of the battle the war was lost.

In any event, the House committee has been looking into the way millions of substandard bolts and nuts have been used in military equipment from tanks and guns to rockets, including the space shuttle. Among the findings so far:

- The Pentagon has purchased so many of the weak and easily breakable nuts and bolts that it hasn't been able to track them all down.

- The defective nuts and bolts, containing too much boron and too little carbon, have rendered guns, tanks, planes, and trucks inoperative. If such equipment had been used in actual combat, the result would have been the needless loss of American lives.

- Although the Japanese manufacture and export many counterfeit bolts, they do not sell fake bolts in Japan. Korea, Taiwan, and Poland also have shipped defective fasteners into the United States through Canada.

This situation clearly suggests the need for legislation the committee has been considering. The bill would require laboratory testing and greater documentation to make it more difficult to substitute cheaper and less effective nuts and bolts.

It also suggests the committee needs to broaden the scope of its investigation beyond the military. Though the committee hasn't neglected the civilian sector, it needs to take a closer look to find how ordinary Americans have been endangered. After all, bad nuts and bolts can cause plenty of cars and bridges to fall apart, too.

In any case, let's get on with this investigation, which has dragged on for the better part of a year though the nature of the problem and the identity of the culprits are well known. Or, as Benjamin Franklin once put it:

"Plow deep while sluggards sleep. . . . Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."