Published 6:34 PM EDT Oct 22, 2018
An Air Force official admitted the branch's multiple purchases of coffee cups that break easily and cost $1,280 each "is simply irresponsible," vowing to pursue ways to fix the mugs instead of continually buying new ones.
Buying and replacing the special mugs, which can reheat liquids aboard air refueling tankers in flight, has cost the Air Force $326,785 since 2016, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a letter.
The letter, dated last Wednesday to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, came after Grassley questioned "yet another report of wasteful spending in the Department of Defense" in an earlier letter.
In an Oct. 2 correspondence, Grassley asked Wilson about a Fox News report that found a squadron at California's Travis Air Force base had spent $56,000 on the metal mugs in the past three years alone, which service members kept dropping and shattering.
Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman, a squadron spokesman, explained the problem to Fox News.
"Unfortunately, when dropped, the handle breaks easily leading to the expenditure of several thousand dollars to replace the cups as replacement parts are not available," he said.
In her response, Wilson explained the cups are designed for use with a 34-year-old fleet, and that decreased parts production along with increased material prices had nearly doubled the cup's price from $693 in 2016 to $1,280 in 2018.
The Air Force at large has purchased 391 of the cups over the past two years, she said, totaling the $326,785 — an average of $835 per cup.
"You are right to be concerned about the high costs of spare parts, and I remain thankful to have your support in addressing this problem," said Wilson, detailing a new effort to 3-D print such otherwise costly or irreplaceable parts.
The Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office, founded in July, can 3-D print replacement the cup's handles for about $0.50 each, she said, negating the need to buy an entire $1,280 cup.
"It is simply irresponsible to spend thousands of dollars on manufactured parts when we have the technology available to produce them ourselves," Wilson said in the letter, adding that a review was underway to identify other printable parts for aircrafts.
Grassley, in a statement issued Friday, said he wasn't completely satisfied with the Air Force's response and vowed "to pursue this issue further.”
"While I appreciate that the Air Force is working to find innovations that would help save taxpayer dollars, it remains unclear why it cannot find a cheaper alternative to a $1,280 cup," Grassley said.
"Government officials have the responsibility to use taxpayer dollars efficiently. Too often, that’s not the case."
Earlier this year, Grassley dogged the Air Force over its purchase of $10,000 toilet seat lids for a cargo plane, a part which the service has since 3-D printed.
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