The Homeland Security Department ordered so many drones it can’t keep them all flying and doesn’t have a good plan for how to use them, according to a new audit that the department’s inspector general released Monday. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine has a fleet of nine “unmanned aircraft systems” and is awaiting a 10th — though it doesn’t have enough ground support and doesn’t have a good plan for prioritizing missions.
But American law enforcement agencies are increasingly turning to them for use in detecting or preventing crimes at home. At the same time, they are butting heads with civil libertarians who worry about intrusion into innocent citizens’ private lives.
CBP should have been able to fly more than 10,000 hours of missions per year, but in the year under review the agency flew less than 4,000 hours.
Underscoring the ad hoc approach, the agency doesn’t have a dedicated budget for running drones, and has had to siphon money from other areas to keep the program afloat. Yet the underfunded fleet continues to grow.
Since fiscal year 2004, when CBP conducted its first pilot study of using drones, the federal government has spent $240.6 million on the program, with each Predator B drone costing about $14 million.
Investigators also said CBP, at the behest of the State Department, has held “discussions with another country on the use of unmanned aircraft.”
The agency also said it won’t expand beyond 10 drones — “unless directed to do so by a higher authority.”
SOURCE: WASHINTON TIMES