OIG Finds Flaws in Border Patrol Drone Program


“The $443 million CBP plans to spend on the Unmanned Aircraft Program expansion could be put to better use by investing in alternatives.” Office of the Inspector General

As border security has become a more prevalent policy issue, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Air and Marine (OAM) has deployed unmanned aerial systems (UAS or ‘drones’) to the U.S.-Mexico border. The use of UAS is an attempt to focus on areas more susceptible to illegal immigration, and reduce the burden on CBP ground forces.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently released its report on the CBP’s drone program titled U.S.Customs and Border Protection’s Unmanned Aircraft System Program Does Not Achieve Intended Results or Recognize All Costs of Operations. The report sought to evaluate the “effectiveness and cost of the Unmanned Aircraft System Program.”

The OIG took issue with CBP’s evaluation of UAS operation costs. According to the report, the actual UAS operating cost per flight hour is $12,225, which is almost five times CBP’s calculation of $2,468. The report’s biggest dispute with the UAS program was the lack of established goals or measurable data. Without these metrics, the OIG could not justify the substantial allocation of resources to the program. The OIG emphasized this viewpoint by stating “[t]he $443 million CBP plans to spend on program expansion could be put to better use by investing in alternatives.”

The report concludes with four recommendations to the CBP Commissioner:

  • Recommendation 1: “Conduct an independent study of the UAS program, before acquiring more aircraft, to determine whether (1) Additional unmanned aircraft are needed and justified; and (2) Future funding should be used to invest in the current program or invested in other alternatives, such as manned aircraft and ground assets, to enhance surveillance needs.”
  • Recommendation 2: “Require the Joint Field Command [JFC] to lift the limitations on Vehicle Dismount and Exploitation Radar [VADER] and allow the analysis expected in the original plan for the sensor’s operation.”
  • Recommendation 3: “Require OAM to revise its UAS Concept of Operations to include attainable goals for the program, along with verifiable performance measures.”
  • Recommendation 4: “Require OAM to develop policies and procedures to ensure that it accumulates and reports all costs associated with the UAS program and other OAM flight programs.”

CBP’s response to the report was to concur outright with Recommendation 3, stating that it had “already begun the process to revise its UAS Concept of Operations, which will include performance measures.” CBP also concurred in principle with the remaining three recommendations. CBP’s detailed responses which clarify their viewpoints and future intent are also included in the report’s Appendix B.

For more resources on Border Security, Immigration, and Unmanned Systems, visit the Homeland Security Digital Library (some resources may require HSDL login).


Article formerly posted at https://www.hsdl.org/blog/newpost/view/oig-finds-flaws-in-border-patrol-drone-program