RICHMOND

They do cold case series on television and in detective novels, and once in a while, a cold case gets hot -- and solved.

But when it's cold, except in fiction, it pretty much stays that way until something pops up and a memory clicks. The decisive hint that leads to solving the mystery comes, as often as not, from the civilian side -- a tip.

Apparently the FBI doesn't believe in cold. The agency's search for Jimmy Hoffa would be funny if it weren't for the fact that he was a human being and no one knows what happened to him.

For the FBI, Hoffa's burial place has become an obsession, even as much of the rest of the world shrugs its shoulders. What everyone ought to care about, though, is what we're paying for this bone that the FBI cannot stop worrying.

In 2006, the FBI dug up a whole farm looking for Hoffa's remains, and the taxpayers shelled out $225,000. One source estimates that over the 40-year persistent hunt, we've been stuck with a total bill of at least $3 million.

The recent dig at Oakland Township near Detroit occupied 40 agents who probably could have found more constructive anti-crime things to do, $500 an hour for heavy equipment and a team of trained dogs. Hard to imagine the bill coming in at less that the farm fiasco in 2006.

So, we spent something like $300,000 on the idea that a pile of bones might lead to a killer who might be alive and could then be prosecuted, providing he could be found? Perhaps more time and effort should have been spent looking for Whitey Bulger while he was still a viable candidate for prison instead of an old man.

In the meantime, hundreds of Head Start kids across the nation were sent home early this year because their budgets were cut. And they'll go back late in the fall. They are alive, well and in need of learning.

A Washington member of the House of Representatives retired recently after 36 years in Congress, and he'll be collecting a pension of $107,268 before taxes are deducted. In the meantime, 16.1 million American kids live in poverty, per statistics for the year 2011.

We've spent $60 billion in Iraq and $100 billion in Afghanistan just on reconstruction of war's destruction. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA has designated $9.8 billion for debris removal and infrastructure repair in New Orleans and the city is not whole yet.

Members of Congress may make as much as $174,000 a year, not counting the extras given committee chairs, etc. (In 1789, Congressional pay was $6 a day -- and only for days actually worked. They've come a long way, baby.)

In the meantime, 16.7 million American children live in homes troubled with what is technically known as "food insecurity." In plain English, it means they don't have enough nutritious food for their present and future health. They are hungry.

Five elected members of Congress from Oklahoma voted against the bill that would send aid to the East Coast victims of Hurricane Sandy. They were ready for help from the feds, however, when a vicious tornado devastated their city of Moore. In the meantime, the great feat of sequestration cut the budget of the Federal Office of Emergency Management by $928 million.

The Internal Revenue Service, which has supposedly reined in outgo in the past two years, spent $4.1 million on a training convention in 2010. How does it feel to consider that every dime of the taxes you've paid over a lifetime would not be enough to pay for those three days?

In the meantime, on a particular night in January 2012, 633,782 Americans were homeless. Apples and oranges? Yes. Do we have priorities? Maybe.