Border Patrol:

Procurement of MD 600N Helicopters Should Be Reassessed

GGD-00-201: Published: Sep 29, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) the Border Patrol's procurement of the MD 600N helicopter, including procurement specifications and selection factors; and (2) whether the experience has shown the MD 600N helicopter to be effective in safely supporting the Border Patrol's primary air operations mission.

GAO noted that: (1) the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) procurement in which the MD 600N helicopter was selected for the Border Patrol was intended to provide an aircraft capable of meeting a variety of air operations requirements, such as low and slow surveillance and transport of agents and mission equipment; (2) to obtain such a multipurpose aircraft, the contract solicitation listed three minimum performance criteria the aircraft needed to have; (3) the aircraft was required to operate at a speed of up to 130 knots, operate at high altitude with crew and equipment as outlined by the statement of work, and be capable of operating at least 2 hours under normal conditions; (4) the aircraft was also required to have seating for two pilots and two passengers; (5) only two aircraft were determined to be within the competitive range under these specifications; (6) some weaknesses were noted with both of the aircraft, although overall both were considered acceptable; (7) the contract was awarded to McDonnell Douglas based on the best value to the government; (8) the Border Patrol has purchased 11 of these helicopters for about $1.3 million each; (9) most Border Patrol pilots who have had experience flying the MD 600N and most sector chiefs expressed strong reservations about the suitability of the helicopter for supporting key operations missions; (10) pilots were concerned about the safety of the MD 600N, citing difficulty in performing emergency procedures and with other documented problems, such as malfunctioning of the engine control system and defective control cables; (11) the pilots also said that the MD 600N is generally difficult to operate and fatiguing to fly; (12) the amount of time the MD 600N helicopters were unavailable because of maintenance-related reasons also was a concern to pilots, mechanics, and most Border Patrol sector chiefs; (13) Border Patrol Air Operations records show the aircraft was unavailable about 50 percent of the time between December 1998 and March 2000; (14) responding to GAO's inquiry regarding these concerns, the current manufacturer of the MD 600N, MD Helicopters Incorporated (MDH), stated that all known problems with parts or components have been or will be corrected; (15) based on the problems they have encountered, and after almost 2 years of experience with the helicopter, most pilots, mechanics, and sector chiefs do not support acquiring more MD 600Ns for the Border Patrol fleet; and (16) most sector chiefs questioned the appropriateness of acquiring a multipurpose aircraft to meet the individual needs in each sector.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Based on findings from GAO's report, Border Patrol: Procurement of MD 600N Helicopters Should Be Reassessed (GAO/GGD-00-201) September 29, 2000, congressional appropriators cut $52,5 million in 2001 funding for the purchase of MD 600N light observation helicopters for the Border Patrol.

    Recommendation: Before any more MD 600Ns are purchased, the Commissioner of INS should require Border Patrol officials to address with MDH the safety, handling, and availability issues raised by pilots and mechanics.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Based on findings from GAO's report, Border Patrol: Procurement of MD 600N Helicopters Should Be Reassessed (GAO/GGD-00-201) September 29, 2000, congressional appropriators cut $52.5 million in 2001 funding intended for the purchase of MD 600N light observation helicopters for the Border Patrol.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of INS should require the Border Patrol to reassess its decision to purchase one multipurpose helicopter to meet a variety of air operations mission requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

 

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