Senator wants Pentagon to investigate Air Force’s $10,000 toilet seat cover
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley is pushing for the Pentagon’s oversight office to investigate whether the Air Force is paying $10,000 for a toilet seat cover used on a C-17 cargo plane.
On June 6, Grassley asked the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to look into the purchase of the toilet seat cover. But more than a month later, the senator said OIG has not responded to his request, prompting him to again press for answers along with “other possible examples of egregious and wasteful spending.”
The $10,000 cover was first revealed by Will Roper, the assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, during an interview with Defense One in May.
In the interview, Roper explained that the Air Force occasionally needs parts that are no longer produced by the manufacturers that once signed licensing agreements with the Pentagon. Even if the company no longer makes a specific part, the Air Force still has to go through that company because of intellectual property rights.
To illustrate the problem, Roper said that a 3-D printer can make a toilet seat cover for a C-17 cargo plane for just $300. A new one from the manufacturer, however, costs $10,000.
“You’ll think, there’s no way it costs that,” Roper told Defense One. “No, it doesn’t, but you’re asking a company to produce it and they’re producing something else. And for them to produce this part for us, they have to quit producing” what they’re making now.
He continued, “They’re losing revenue and profit. So although it looks like it’s a certain price in the GSA [Government Services Administration] catalog, the business case is what drives it up. I don’t think that company wants to stop building what they’re building” and restart the toilet seat line.
Roper is working with the Pentagon’s lawyers to look into how a third party could manufacture those spare parts instead.
In the meantime, Grassley hopes the OIG can shed light on the overpricing of other parts and make recommendations for how the Pentagon can spend fewer taxpayer dollars.
“Given the production lines issues cited by Dr. Roper, why not shift this work to a commercial manufacturer , where it could be produced to Air Force specifications at a reasonable price?” Grassley said last month.
In a statement to ABC News, Kathie Scarrah, OIG’s director of Legislative Affairs & Communications, said their office “has performed a large volume of oversight work associated with waste, fraud, and abuse related to spare parts pricing and has made numerous recommendations for corrective actions,” including criminal investigations related to pricing.
“In addition, we have issued 44 audit reports related to spare-parts pricing,” Scarrah said. “In the majority of those reports, we determined that the DoD did not receive fair and reasonable prices for spare parts and that the DoD did not perform adequate cost or price analysis when it purchased commercial and non-commercial spare parts.”
Scarrah told ABC News that the office has ongoing work related to pricing, and OIG is preparing a response to Grassley that will address their office’s work in this area.
She added that they have contacted the Air Force, which intends to provide a response to OIG, as well as Grassley, regarding the cost of the toilet seat cover specifically.