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Air Force spends $1,280 per special coffee cup, Sen. Grassley wants to know why

An Airman holds a hot cup inside a KC-10 Extender at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 21, 2018. The base is working on developing a new handle for the cup which could save the Air Force thousands. (Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman/U.S. Air Force)
October 05, 2018

The 60th Ariel Port Squadron at California’s Travis Air Force Base is drinking their coffee out of $1,280 coffee cups and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley wants to know why.

Fox News reported that over the last three years, the squad tallied up a $56,000 bill for the metal mugs. Just two years ago, the price of the mugs was around $963, but has risen even higher due to the expenditure process. The mug makes it possible for crew members to warm their drinks during flights aboard a highly-regulated air refueling tanker.

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

Grassley said this is a “reckless spending of taxpayer dollars” and he is quite uncertain that any efforts are being made by the Air Force to cut extravagant expenses, CBS News reported.

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“Every dollar that is spent on overpriced spare parts or replacement hot cups is a dollar that should have been spent on ensuring our national defense. As Congress looks to authorize future defense spending, it is important to understand how the money is being spent, and why,” Grassley said.

Critics say ditch the mugs and find another source of caffeine.

“It’s always important to think about the problem that any piece of equipment is intended to solve. 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,” Dan Grazier, of Project on Government Oversight said.

Designers at the base said they are trying to resolve the issue with the mug handles breaking so easily.

“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. Our new rounded handle reduces that weak point. The handle we designed is stronger and capable of being printed at most Air Force bases,” Nicholas Wright, a volunteer 3D designer who works at Travis said.

According to Wright, the new handles would be replaceable for only 50 cents, saving the purchase of a new $1280 mug. The new design is pending consent from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center in Ohio.

“Imagine you have to replace 40 hot cups each year at ever-increasing prices,” he said. “It’s much cheaper for us to replace the handle on 40 cups at about 50 cents per handle rather than purchasing 40 cups for more than $1,200 per cup,” said Wright.

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This isn’t the first time the Air Force has been called out for frivolous spending.

The Air Force was confronted in July by Grassley for ordering toilet seat covers to replace the existing ones on the C-5 Galaxy cargo plane, at the cost of $10,000 each.

On July 12, Grassley received a letter to from Pentagon Deputy Inspector General Glenn Fine regarding a 2014 spending audit. The letter reported that the Defense Logistics Agency overpaid more than 1,000 percent what is deemed a “fair and reasonable” price” for a Military helicopter bushing.

The audit revealed that spending was 853 percent over the fair and reasonable price for a helicopter pin.

A report from this year showed that the managed health care program for the Pentagon paid $1,360 for an electric breast pump that can be bought at Walmart for $221.

In 2017, the Marines overpaid by $60,000 for a radio cable. There are many more examples of frivolous military spending, which continues to be a problem.

“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,” Grazier said.