The Pentagon has racked up a few late fees for metal containers it has rented and failed to return on time. Nothing serious—just a little more than $720 million during the past 10 years. Used for storage, building material, and shelter in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 20-foot containers can generate more than $2,200 each in late fees. "These are the kinds of things that happen when people are asleep at the wheel," a defense analyst tells USA Today.
Why the tardy returns? Because officials thought these wars would end sooner, says defense policy analyst John Pike. Late fees for the containers cost the Pentagon $128 million in 2004, then dropped to $17 million four years later, and rebounded to $30 million last year due to the surge in Afghanistan. Under budgetary pressure, the Pentagon has at least made deals for lower late fees. But "this is real money," says Pike. "And we've spent a lot of it on what amounts to fines for overdue library books."