Watchdog report: $86 million counternarcotics plane never flown

Watchdog report: $86 million counternarcotics plane never flown

A plane bought and modified by the Pentagon and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan is four times over budget and no longer headed to that country, according to an inspector general report released Wednesday.

“Even though collectively the DEA and [the Department of Defense] have spent more than $86 million on the Global Discovery program, we found that, over seven years after the aircraft was purchased for the program, the aircraft remains inoperable, resting on jacks and has never actually flown in Afghanistan,” a Justice Department inspector general report reads.

In 2008, the DEA bought the plane for $8.6 million for the Global Discovery program, a joint Pentagon-DEA project to modify a transport aircraft for use in Afghanistan. The modifications include surveillance and other capabilities needed for a combat environment.

The project was originally supposed to cost $22 million and be done by December 2012.

As of July, the Pentagon and the DEA have spent $86.6 million on the program, according to the report. Of that, $67.9 million has come just from the Defense Department, including $1.9 million to build a hangar in Kabul that has never housed the aircraft.

The DEA stopped aviation operations in Afghanistan in July without the plane ever having flown there, according to the report.

“The aircraft has never flown in Afghanistan as originally intended and, because the DEA removed all aviation operations from Afghanistan in July 2015, it likely never will,” the report says. “Moreover, despite the DEA’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, as of March 2016, the DOD continued to spend appropriated funds in an effort to make the aircraft operational and flyable.”

A DEA official told the inspector general the plane will instead be used in the Caribbean, Central America and South America when it's ready, according to the report.

The inspector general found a number of failures by the DEA, including the DEA failing to follow federal acquisition regulations, not entering into a clear memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Pentagon and spending $2.5 million on costs such as travel, training and plane maintenance that were “unallowable and unsupported” by MOUs with the Pentagon intended to fund other aircraft maintenance.

In a written response included in the report, the DEA agreed with eight of 13 recommendations but said the inspector general was taking a “narrow” view of the MOU in saying what costs were unallowable and unsupported.

“Many of the audit report conclusions have been based upon [the Office of Inspecter General's] interpretation of the intent of the MOU between DEA and DoD,” the DEA wrote. “DEA understood that under the MOU, funding could be used to support aviation operations in Afghanistan. Further, DEA remained in regular contact with DoD regarding all matters involving the MOU, including this interpretation about the use of funding.”

Still, the DEA promised to review the costs.

“While DEA disagrees with OIG’s assessment of its analysis of DoD funds for aviation support to Afghanistan, DEA will make every effort to address the items identified as unallowable,” the response says. “DEA acknowledges that, as with any program, human error may have occurred in the application of some of the expenditures.”