The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent “approximately $600,000” on drones it never flew operationally, according to an audit conducted by a Justice Department watchdog and released Wednesday.
Between September 2011 and September 2012, Inspector General Michael Horowitz reports, the ATF purchased a total of six unmanned aircraft systems in three different models.
Last June, less than a week after ATF suspended that drone program, the report states, the bureau’s National Response Team bought five small commercial drones for $15,000 without consulting with the agency’s relevant office. Those drones are grounded while that unit waits for more guidance.
Investigators said they were “troubled” that the agency spent that amount on drones that it ultimately did not use, advising ATF to “direct responsible officials” to do a proper analysis of its needs before it makes any further purchases.
ATF isn’t the only agency facing questions about its drones.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the only part of the Justice Department with an active drone program, but the audit found that it keeps all 17 of its drones at a single site and has “only one pilot team” sufficiently trained to fly the aircraft.
“The FBI had begun addressing these challenges by training additional UAS [unmanned aerial system] pilots and establishing a goal to deploy UAS to additional FBI field divisions over the next 5 years, although we found that the FBI had not fully developed plans to implement this goal,” the report said.