Drones used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to “guard” the U.S. border for nearly a decade are ineffective even though the agency has blown hundreds of millions of dollars on the failed program and wants Congress to keep funding it.
It’s yet another example of what government does best; waste money. In this case the frontline DHS agency—U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)—that operates the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAC) is actually requesting more money from Congress to keep the futile drone experiment going. Imagine a private business that for years blew huge sums on a failed enterprise asking investors to pour more cash into the same useless project.
That’s pretty much what DHS is doing and the details are offered in an audit published this month by the agency’s inspector general. The Border Patrol has used drones for around eight years, the audit reveals, at a cost of about $360 million. In fiscal year 2013 alone the agency spent $62.5 million to operate the program, or about $12,255 per hour. It gets better. DHS has lied about the cost of operating the drones, the inspector general writes in its report, by drastically downplaying the real figures. The “calculation of $2,468 per flight hour does not include operating costs, such as the costs of pilots, equipment, and overhead,” the report says. “By not including all operating costs, CBP also cannot accurately assess the program’s cost effectiveness or make informed decisions about program expansion.”
The inspector general goes on to blast the agency for its deceiving accounting practices involving drones. “In addition, unless CBP fully discloses all operating costs, Congress and the public are unaware of all the resources committed to the Unmanned Aircraft System program. As a result, CBP has invested significant funds in a program that has not achieved the expected results, and it cannot demonstrate how much the program has improved border security.” It’s a diplomatic way of saying our Homeland Security officials are embroiled in corrupt acts or, at the very least, misuse of public funds.
When CBP launched its drone program, it anticipated that there would be increased apprehensions of illegal border crossers, a reduction in border surveillance costs and improvement in the agency’s efficiency. The inspector general found that none of this has materialized. In fact, drone surveillance has been credited with assisting in less than 2% of CBP apprehensions of illegal border crossers. “CBP also planned to use unmanned aircraft to operate a radar sensor over the southwest border to increase awareness and analyze surveillance gaps, but sensor operations have been limited,” the report says. “In addition, the unmanned aircraft do not operate along the entire southwest border as has been reported.”
The report breaks down the different costs of associated with the UAVs and compares them to the much lower figures provided by DHS. For instance, during one year analyzed the inspector general found that maintenance costs ran $24,543,564 when DHS had reported only $9,458,567 for the same period. Satellite expenses were pegged at $1,952,000 by DHS when in fact, they were $2,986,077 and operational support was completely free, according to DHS estimates, though the watchdog confirms they were really $5,541,227. In all, the audit found that for that year (2013) Uncle Sam spent $45,399,538 to operate the drones while DHS claims it only cost $12,043,508.
It’s difficult not to conclude that this is a premeditated effort to cover up the exorbitant price of this failed program. This theory makes even more sense when taking into account that DHS, the bloated agency created after 9/11 to protect the nation from another terrorist attack, is asking Congress for an additional $443 million to acquire 14 more drones. “Given the cost of the Unmanned Aircraft System program and its unproven effectiveness, CBP should reconsider its plan to expand the program,” the report logically states. “The $443 million that CBP plans to spend on program expansion could be put to better use by investing in alternatives, such as manned aircraft and ground surveillance assets.”