Air Force's $10,000 toilet seat covers now 3-D printed for much less

Sen. Chuck Grassley pushed for the Pentagon to investigate.

Following requests for an investigation from Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Air Force has clarified that it is no longer spending $10,000 for a toilet seat cover used on military planes.

Instead, according to Air Force officials,, 3-D printing now allows the Air Force to produce the spare part for just $300.

The $10,000 cover came to light during an interview that Will Roper, the assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, did 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 had 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 military 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.

The plane is question is a C-5 transport aircraft. The manufacturer of the plane's toilet seat cover stopped producing the part in 2001, the Air Force told ABC News.

Grassley began pushing for the Department of Defense's Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate the $10,000 purchases more than a month ago, but he said in a letter on Tuesday that the OIG had yet to respond.

Grassley said he had sought information on the toilet seat cover purchases along with "other possible examples of egregious and wasteful spending."

The cover isn't the only spare part that the Air Force is 3-D printing for less. At Travis Air Force Base, a team is working to 3-D print a handle for a hot cup, that would otherwise cost $1,220, according to the 60th Air Mobility Wing.

In a statement, 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 also intends to provide a response to OIG, as well as Grassley, regarding the cost of the toilet seat cover specifically.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Air Force is purchasing $10,000 toilet seat covers for military planes. The story has been updated to clarify that the Air Force currently uses 3-D printing to create the covers for $300 each. The initial story was based on requests from Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley to the Pentagon’s oversight office to investigate the expenditure. The Air Force subsequently clarified the current practice for ABC News.

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