DHS audit finds drone program ineffective at border security

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Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) drone program is ineffective and surveys less than 200 miles of the southwest border, according to an audit by the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Inspector General.

The program operates 10 Predator B drones at a cost of more than $12,000 for every hour a drone spends in the air, funding which could be put to better use elsewhere, according to the OIG.

The program costs $10,000 more per flight hour than what DHS claims, according to the OIG.

"We estimate that, in fiscal year 2013, it cost at least $62.5 million to operate the program, or about $12,255 per [flight] hour," the audit said. "The Office of Air and Marine's calculation of $2,468 per flight hour does not include operating costs, such as the costs of pilots, equipment, and overhead."

"Although CBP's Unmanned Aircraft System program contributes to border security, after 8 years, CBP cannot prove that the program is effective because it has not developed performance measures," the audit, released on Christmas Eve, said. "The program has also not achieved the expected results."

The OIG found that the Unmanned Aircraft System program (UAS) has not met flight hour goals, and that DHS lacks evidence that drones have contributed to more border apprehensions.

"[U]nless CBP fully discloses all operating costs, Congress and the public are unaware of all the resources committed to the Unmanned Aircraft System program," they said. "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."

Drones have flown along the border 80 percent less than what CBP originally imagined of "four 16 hour unmanned aircraft patrols every day of the year, or 23,296 total flight hours." In reality, drones were only in the air for 5,102 flight hours in 2013.

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