So the Pentagon has eliminated just about all the waste it can, has it? So it can't trim any more fat without cutting muscle?

Just try telling that to those acquainted with the latest report from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, on needlessly costly flights by military personnel.Here's just a sample of what the GAO found: Instead of taking a commercial airliner, two officers had the Navy dispatch a sleek Sabreliner passenger jet from New Orleans to pick them up at Corpus Christi, Tex. last year and fly them to Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington. Then the plane returned - empty - to New Orleans.

What was so urgent about the trip? Nothing. The two officers were only on routine business. The special trip cost the taxpayers $3,700 more than was really necessary.

Only an isolated exception? Not really. The GAO survey of 153 randomly selected U.S. military flights for personnel in 1987 discloses that 72 percent cost too much because the military passengers failed to use less expensive commercial aircraft.

As a result, the taxpayers are out an extra $126,000 - and then some.

How much more? No one will ever know because weak management and lax record-keeping in the military kept the GAO from doing a complete investigation. So lax, in fact, is the record-keeping that there's room for wondering about the possibility of an intentional coverup. Though the Department of Defense requires travel request records to be kept for a year, the Air Force tends to keep them for only a month.

What other rules are possibly being broken? How much other waste is going undetected and uncorrected? This situation demands a much more thorough investigation than the GAO has been able to undertake. Clearly, Americans are justified in putting more pressure on the Pentagon to trim more fat.