WASHINGTON - In the 1980s, the military had its infamous $800 toilet seat. Today, it has a $17,000 drip pan.
Thanks to a powerful Kentucky congressman who has steered tens of millions of federal dollars to his district, the Army has bought about $6.5 million worth of the “leakproof’’ drip pans in the last three years to catch transmission fluid on Black Hawk helicopters. And it might want more from the Kentucky company that makes the pans, even though a similar pan from another company costs a small fraction of the price: about $2,500.
The purchase shows the enduring power of earmarks, even though several scandals have prompted efforts in Congress to rein them in. And at a time when the Pentagon is facing billions of dollars in cuts - which include shrinking the Army, trimming purchases of fighter jets, and retiring warships - the eye-catching price tag for a small part has provoked sharp criticism.
The Kentucky company, Phoenix Products, got the job to produce the pans after Representative Harold Rogers, a Republican who is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, added an earmark to a 2009 spending bill. While the earmark came before restrictions were placed on such provisions for for-profit companies, its outlays have continued for the past three years.