Drones patrol the U.S. border to stop illegal immigration activities. However, records show that they are poorly managed and ineffective. According to an internal watchdog, the government should therefore abandon its $443 million plan for expanding the drone program.
For eight years since its inception, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has spent hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money. However, the report notes the agency had understated the drones' actual cost and it is unclear if such cost is warranted by producing the desired results.
The drone program of the agency operates 10 Predator B drones, with each drone incurring a cost of over $12,000 for every hour that it flies in the air. In reality, the program costs $10,000 more for every flight hour, according (PDF) to the Office of Inspector General, which is higher than what is claimed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
"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," said the OIG. "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."
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection launched its drone program with high hopes and huge promises. The DHS claimed that its drones would be spending 24 hours in the air every day and would thus save money as compared with the manned airplanes that were already being operated.
Despite the goal reduction from 24 hours to 16 hours a day, the drones flew only 22 percent of the latter.
"It really doesn't feel like Customs and Border Protection has a good handle on how it is using its drones, how much it costs to operate the drones, where that money is coming from or whether it is meeting any of its performance metrics," said Jennifer Lynch, a lawyer for the privacy and digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Eugene Schied, CBP's assistant commissioner, responded to the OIG report and wrote, "There have been countless successful CBP missions over the years."
DHS Inspector General John Roth concluded the report by saying, "We see no evidence that the drones contribute to a more secure border, and there is no reason to invest additional taxpayer funds at this time."