Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Air Force Halts Purchase of $1,280 Cups Following Grassley Oversight; Grassley Seeks More Information

Oct 25, 2018

WASHINGTON – After U.S Sen. Chuck Grassley’s October 2 letter inquiry into why the 60th Ariel Port Squadron at Travis Air Force Base purchased cups that cost $1,280 each, the Air Force suspended its purchasing of the exorbitantly-priced cups; however, several important questions remain unanswered.

Today, Grassley sent another letter to Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson seeking additional information, including what alternative options are there to replace the $1,280 cups and why didn’t the Air Force choose those options to begin with. This follows Secretary Wilson’s October 17 response to Grassley’s original letter.

“In my previous letter, I asked what cheaper alternatives had been explored, and if this water-heating cup was truly necessary. In your reply, you indicated that the Air Force is exploring ways to use 3D printing and other technology to cut costs on spare parts, and conducting a review of procurement to identify overpriced items. Your response does not indicate if alternatives to this specific water-heating cup have been explored or discovered,” Grassley wrote.

“I applaud the efforts by the Airmen at Travis Air Force Base who noticed wasteful spending, and took it upon themselves to come up with a better solution. However, when I see the prices the Air Force is willing pay for a toilet seat lid and coffee cup, I remain concerned that there are not adequate protocols in place to prevent reckless spending on parts from the start.”

Grassley’s extensive oversight work throughout his career has included a dogged pursuit for answers from the Pentagon over decades of wasteful spending and its inability to produce a clean financial audit.

Earlier this year, Grassley sent a letter to Department of Defense Principal Deputy Inspector General Glenn A. Fine seeking answers on why the department was wasting $14,000 of taxpayer money on individual toilet seat covers. Grassley has also worked to hold the Defense Department accountable for its excessive and largely unaccounted for spending in Afghanistan, including a $43 million gas station.

You can view the letter here and below.

 

Dr. Heather Wilson

Secretary of the Air Force

1670 Air Force Pentagon

Washington, DC 23010

 

Dear Secretary Wilson,

Thank you for your prompt response to my October 2, 2018 letter regarding the Air Force’s purchase of water-heating cups. While I appreciate the straightforward answers to my questions about how many cups have been purchased and why the cost has increased so dramatically, your response prompts further questions.

In my previous letter, I asked what cheaper alternatives had been explored, and if this water-heating cup was truly necessary. In your reply, you indicated that the Air Force is exploring ways to use 3D printing and other technology to cut costs on spare parts, and conducting a review of procurement to identify overpriced items. Your response does not indicate if alternatives to this specific water-heating cup have been explored or discovered. The expenditure of $326,785 in the last two years to buy 391 cups – or an average of $836 per cup – seems excessive, unreasonable and wasteful, especially when commercially available technology, such as a thermos, would seemingly serve the same purpose at a fraction of the cost.

In addition to the response you provided to my previous letter, information related to the purchase and use of these water-heating cups was provided to the media. In the future, I would appreciate that information related to my inquiries that is provided to the press also be provided directly to me.

Therefore, a response is requested to the following questions:

  1. The Director of the Air Force Office of Public Affairs noted to Fox News that the Air Mobility Command is no longer purchasing these cups.
    1. Is it true that the Air Force will no longer purchase water-heating cups, even in situations where a broken cup cannot be repaired using 3D printing? 
  2. What could the Force use to provide Airmen with hot coffee and other beverages or food items in lieu of the water-heating cups, and why wasn’t this option previously selected?
  3. Your previous letter indicated that a new Rapid Sustainment Office was created in July 2018 for the purpose of finding ways to “develop and deliver parts at a fraction of the costs using traditional manufacturing.” You indicated this office will also “complete a review to proactively identify items [the Air Force] may self-produce or other overpriced parts [the Air Force] need[s] to stop buying without impact to the mission.”
    1. When do you expect the results of the review of overpriced spare parts to be completed?
  4. When the results of the review are available, I respectfully request that I be provided with those materials.

I applaud the efforts by the Airmen at Travis Air Force Base who noticed wasteful spending, and took it upon themselves to come up with a better solution. However, when I see the prices the Air Force is willing pay for a toilet seat lid and coffee cup, I remain concerned that there are not adequate protocols in place to prevent reckless spending on parts from the start. A response is requested to these questions by no later than November 9, 2018.

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