- Beretta leaves Maryland over gun laws, heads for Tennessee
- Neal Boortz defends Hillary Clinton for representing child rapist
- House task force to recommend National Guard on border, faster deportations
- Top federal judge uses pizza to explain complex Obamacare situation
- Obama, Biden overhaul job training programs
- Drought-plagued Californians turn to paint to keep lawns green
- ISIL now forcing Iraqi shopkeepers to veil mannequins in Mosul
- 11 parents of Nigeria’s abducted girls die
- Genetic mapping triggers new hope on schizophrenia
- Turkish P.M. Erdogan won’t speak to Obama, but he’ll take calls from Biden
Golden Hammer: Federal spending that stinks: The Interior Department’s $98,000 outhouse
Question of the Day
The latest example of misguided government spending smells a little funny — and it might not be just because of the cost to taxpayers.
The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management is taking heat for spending $98,670 to install a single outhouse at a trailhead in Alaska, the most recent example of federal agencies making questionable purchases in September.
The prefabricated Aspen Single, produced by outhouse manufacturer Romtec Inc., has a single toilet, operates without water and can hold 750 to 1,000 gallons of waste. But the company website puts the estimated starting price of the unit at $10,000, a little more than one-tenth of what the government paid.
That raises the question of what the rest of the money bought. Are transportation or labor costs really hitting tens of thousands of dollars to install an outhouse?
For spending twice the average U.S. annual salary on installing an outhouse at a 1,000 percent markup to list price, the Bureau of Land Management earns this week's Golden Hammer, a distinction from The Washington Times given for examples of fiscal waste, abuse and mismanagement.
After five companies competed for the contract, BLM hired Alaska-based Big Street Construction, a small company run by a married couple that is listed in federal databases as both owned by a woman and minority-owned.
Big Street Construction's headquarters are about a four-hour drive from the head of the Swede Lake Trail where the outhouse is destined to go. Costs of the contract, some details of which were first reported by the Web-based news site CNS News, were to cover transporting the outhouse and construction materials to the installation site.
However, the manufacturer, Romtec, is based in Oregon, and government paperwork lists it as the manufacturing location. That suggests that the unit itself is being transported to Alaska all the way from Oregon. The trip from Romtec's headquarters to the trailhead is almost 2,500 miles.
BLM officials could not be reached for comment Thursday — not an uncommon occurrence during the federal shutdown, when most government officials who communicate with journalists and the public have been put on unpaid furloughs.
Websites and databases also have been shut down. Any attempt to access BLM's website is redirected to its parent agency, the Interior Department.
A statement from the department — which oversees thousands of national parks — said remaining staff were focused on protecting lives and property.
Representatives for Romtec and Big Street Construction did not return calls seeking comment.
The National Park Service estimates that Denali National Park receives 400,000 visitors a year. The installation of the outhouse is expected to be completed by August.
The unit doesn't have internal plumbing but operates similar to commercial portable toilets: All waste goes into an "underground vault." Interior Department personnel then either have to let a separate contract for someone to empty the outhouse when it gets too full or face the unenviable task of doing it themselves.
Government purchases in September often face increased scrutiny, and fiscal watchdogs have long criticized federal agencies for going on shopping sprees in the final month of the fiscal calendar. Despite the fiscal clashes on Capitol Hill, many government departments are still taking a "use it or loose it" mentality to their budgets, fearful that the funding they receive from Congress will be reduced if they don't spend their allotted budgets by the fiscal year's end. Some agencies spend double their normal monthly average on purchases often of questionable need for taxpayers.
This isn't the first time the government has bought an expensive outhouse. In 1997, the National Park Service installed one at a park in Pennsylvania that was estimated to cost more than $300,000.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Phillip Swarts is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times, covering fiscal waste, fraud and political ethics. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and previously worked as an investigative reporter for the Washington Guardian. Phillip can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Christians flee Mosul after ISIL threat: Convert to Islam or die
- Ex-Gitmo detainee Moazzam Begg charged with terrorism
- Chicago shooting spree: 22 people shot in 12 hours
- U.S. bests Iran to advance to the Gold Medal match at the FIVB World League Finals
- Bill Maher blames Hamas for Gaza violence: 'Do you really expect the Israelis not to retaliate?'
Latest Blog Entries
TWT Video Picks
The president could pay the full price for ignoring Congress
- David Perdue defeats Jack Kingston in Georgia Republican Senate primary runoff
- IRS seeks help destroying another 3,200 computer hard drives
- D.C. appeals panel deals big blow to Obamacare subsidies
- 'Straight White Guy Festival' supposedly set for Ohio park
- Beretta moving to Tennessee over Maryland gun laws
- Gen. James Amos, Marine Corps commandant, slams Obama's handling of Iraq
- Pentagon team dispatched to Ukraine amid crisis with Russia
- BERMAN & MADYOON: An Iranian-Turkish reset
- MAY: Barbarians at Jordan's gate
- CARSON: Costco and the perils of mixing politics and business
Obama's biggest White House 'fails'
Celebrities turned politicians
Athletes turned actors
20 gadgets that changed the world
Fighting in Iraq