U.S. ATF had to ditch $600,000 worth of surveillance drones: watchdog

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 25, 2015 11:29 AM

By Lindsay Dunsmuir

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent about $600,000 on six drones that had so many defects they were never used for video surveillance as planned, and were eventually ditched, the Justice Department's internal watchdog reported on Wednesday.

The Office of the Inspector General said it was "troubled" that the ATF, a Justice Department agency, spent money between September 2011 and September 2012 on drones that were rendered unsuitable.

ATF officials spent $315,000 on one gas-powered drone that was never used "due to multiple technical defects," the audit found.

In other instances, a $90,000 drone was found to be unreliable and another model had a flight battery time of only 20 minutes, less than half the time the manufacturer claimed.

The ATF did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The report did not name the manufacturer of the six faulty drones, which were eventually given away to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the report said.

After discovering these problems, the ATF suspended its drone program in June 2014. But a week later, another unit in the ATF spend $15,000 on five drones. The report did not say whether those drones had operational problems, but they have since been grounded pending further guidance, according to inspectors.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by David Gregorio)