Air Force squadron spends $56,000 on metal coffee cups

An Air Force squadron spent almost $56,000 on dozens of metal coffee cups and their replacements over the past three years, in the latest example Pentagon procurement pricing irregularities.

The cups are used by the 60th Aerial Port Squadron at Travis Air Force base in California because they can reheat coffee and tea on air refueling tankers in flight.

But, because of the container’s design, the handle breaks easily whenever the cups are dropped.

A hot cup sits on a counter inside a KC-10 Extender at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., in June.

A hot cup sits on a counter inside a KC-10 Extender at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., in June. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

“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,” Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman, a squadron spokesman, said.

The cups now cost approximately $1,220 each, according to Hodgman in a July news release. Two years ago, they bought 10 cups for $9,630. This year, they purchased 25 more for $32,000, which is actually a price of $1,280 a cup.

“It's always important to think about the problem that any piece of equipment is intended to solve,” Dan Grazier, of Project On Government Oversight, a government watchdog, told Fox News Tuesday. “If this cup is only meant to heat water for coffee or tea, then its purpose is to aid in the crew's alertness by providing caffeine. The exact same effect can be achieved with a few cans of Red Bull which would be far less expensive.”

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Grazier, who served in the Marines, added: “Lest anyone shrug this example of waste off as minor, considering the billions of dollars wasted by the government, the thousands of dollars wasted here combined with a few thousand dollars in a million other examples add up to the billions in waste across the entire government.”

The Pentagon Inspector General identified that a pin used on military helicopters was purchased for 853 percent over the fair and reasonable price.

The Pentagon Inspector General identified that a pin used on military helicopters was purchased for 853 percent over the fair and reasonable price. (Pentagon Inspector General)

Travis is working on a solution to the pricy handle, which involves 3D printing.

“The handle currently on the hot cup has a square bottom which creates a weak point on the handle so any time it is dropped, the handle splits shortly after impact,” said Nicholas Wright, a volunteer 3D designer and printer with the Phoenix Spark office at Travis.

“Our new rounded handle reduces that weak point. The handle we designed is stronger and capable of being printed at most Air Force bases.”

The Pentagon Inspector General performed a cost analysis and determined that the Defense Logistics Agency paid 1,049 percent over the fair and reasonable price for the bushing used on military helicopters.

The Pentagon Inspector General performed a cost analysis and determined that the Defense Logistics Agency paid 1,049 percent over the fair and reasonable price for the bushing used on military helicopters. (Pentagon Inspector General)

Wright estimates that replacing the new handles will cost them 50 cents each time, as opposed to $1,200 per cup, saving thousands.

It is awaiting approval from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center in Ohio.

The Marine Corps paid $64,000 for a $4,000 radio cable, according to a 2017 report.

The Marine Corps paid $64,000 for a $4,000 radio cable, according to a 2017 report. (U.S. Marine Corps)

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In July, it was reported that the Air Force had been billed $10,000 for a replacement toilet-seat cover for the C-5 Galaxy cargo plane.

Other examples of wasteful spending for replacement parts and other items abound, according to a July 12 letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa from Pentagon Deputy Inspector General Glenn Fine obtained this week by Fox News.

A 2014 audit found that the Defense Logistics Agency paid 1,049 percent over the “fair and reasonable” price” for a bushing used on military helicopters, Fine said.

The same audit also found that a pin used on the helicopters was purchased for 853 percent over the fair and reasonable price, he said.

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In another example, a 2018 report found that TRICARE, the Pentagon’s managed health care program, paid $1,360 for an electric breast pump.

“However, Walmart stores located near the TRICARE provider sold the same breast pump model for only $221,” Fine said.

Last year, Military.com reported that the Marine Corps was paying $64,000 for a radio cable that should have cost only $4,000. A Marine corporal who spotted the overcharge was credited with saving the government $15 million.

The problem is not new at the Pentagon.

Decades ago, the Navy paid a defense contractor $659 each for aircraft ashtrays.

Grassley called the $10,000 C-5 toilet seat lid a “potential spare parts rip-off of major proportions.”

The Air Force responded, saying that it had recently been able to cut the cost of a toilet cover to $300 using a 3-D printer.