Following an article from FOX News Senator Chuck Grassley discovered the US Air Force has spent over $300,000 on coffee cups since 2016
It was originally believed the Air Force spent $56,000 on in-flight warming cups in the last three years
In a response from Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson she stated that $326,785 was actually spent on the hot cups since 2016
The specially engineered hot cups cost $1290 a piece but reportedly have handles that break easily when dropped
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa has been trying to find out why the United States Air Force has spent $326,785 on in-flight coffee cups since 2016.
On October 2, Grassley sent a letter to US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson asking why there was $56,000 spent on coffee cups that can reheat liquids during flights in the last three years. According to the letter, the cups cost $1,280 a piece.
The ridiculous spending was brought to Grassley’s attention after noticing it in an article on FOX News. In the article it said that Travis Air Force Base, California, was working on a cheap way to fix the in-flight coffee cups with 3-D printing.
Despite the high price tag, the handles on these “hot cups” reportedly break easily when dropped. The unique high priced cups do not have spare parts, so the entire hot cup must be replaced.
In Wilson’s response to Grassley it was discovered the frivolous spending was much worse than he had originally thought. Instead of $56,000 in three years, the Air Force had spent over $300,000 replacing these hot cups since 2016. Wilson’s response to Grassley’s inquiry did not do much for explaining the cost.
Grassley: The 60th Aerial Port Squadron at Travis Air Force Base has reportedly spent $56,000 on replacing hot cups since 2016. How many cups have been purchased by the Air Force during this timeframe, and what is the total cost of these purchases?
Wilson: The item in question is a specially manufactured electronic water-heater that plugs into aircraft systems. Because it connects to the aircraft, replacements require FAA airworthiness certification. The Air Force has purchased 391 of these items since 2016 at a total cost of $326,785.
Grassley: Why has the price of the hot cup increased from $693 in 2016 to $1,280 in 2018??
Wilson: The average age of our KC-10 fleet is 34 years. In many cases, suppliers have either stopped producing certain parts for those older aircraft or have gone out of business. In addition, the Defense Logistics Agency attributes increases in the price of raw material for this particular item. Specifically, copper and chrome plating costs have increased 180% since 2016.
Grassley: What cheaper alternative for providing hot coffee to crew have been explored by the Air Force? Is this particular cup truly necessary, or are there other more cost effective options available?
Wilson: In July 2018, I directed creation of the Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office to further explore agile manufacturing (ED printing, cold spray, digital modeling, etc.) to develop and deliver parts as a fraction of the costs using traditional manufacturing. General Goldfein and I also directed this new office to complete a review of procurement to proactively identify items we may self-produce or other overpriced parts we need to stop buying without impact to the mission. The Air Force has recently demonstrated capability to 3-D print replacement handles for this item at a fraction of the cost of complete cup procurement.
Grassley: Will you be asking the Office of Inspector General to review spending on these high-priced cups to determine if the Air Force did an adequate job of looking at alternatives, and what would have been a better choice?
Wilson: General Goldfein and I have initiated our own review of parts procurement to identify aircraft parts that the Air Force can produce ourselves which current acquisition analysis show are overpriced and/or parts we can stop buying without impact to the mission.
Officials for the Air Force have attempted to stress that these hot cups can heat any liquid, not just coffee. However, it is hard to believe that a product for less than $1,280 a piece that can do the same task does not exist in 2018.