Grassley wants to know more about Air Force’s hot cup tab

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wants more information about an air base’s penchant for coffee cups that cost more than $1,200 each.

“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," Grassley wrote to Air Force Secretary Dr. Heather Wilson on Thursday. "Your response does not indicate if alternatives to this specific water-heating cup have been explored or discovered,”

Grassley said in a statement to Fox News that he wants to know what alternatives exist and why the Air Force didn't choose them from the start.

He added: “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 to 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, as Fox News previously reported, originally questioned the procurement in an Oct. 2 letter to Wilson. Grassley’s letter cited a Sept. 26 Fox News report that in the past three years, the 60th Aerial Squadron at Travis Air Force Base in California had purchased dozens of cups for nearly $56,000. The cups can reheat liquids on board the Air Force’s fleet of cargo aircraft.

The squadron reported that the cups have handles that break easily when dropped. Since replacement handles aren’t available, the whole cup has to be replaced. In 2016, the squadron said that it purchased 10 hot cups for $6,930, with the price for each surging from $693 to $1,220 in 2018 (The result: a total expenditure of $32,000 for 25 cups.)

“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,” Wilson told the senator in a letter dated Oct. 17.

Wilson said the item in question is a specially manufactured electronic water heater that plugs into aircraft systems.

She told Grassley that the Air Force has purchased 391 of these items at a total cost of $326,785 since 2016 — an average per-item cost of around $835.

“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 her letter to Grassley.

Fox News’ Robert Gearty contributed to this report.