Customs Service:

Aviation Program Missions, Resources, and Performance Measures

GGD-98-186: Published: Sep 9, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Customs Service's Customs Aviation Program, focusing on the: (1) program's missions and how they have changed since fiscal year (FY) 1992; (2) annual level of resources and activities since FY 1992; and (3) adequacy of the performance measures Customs uses to judge the results of its aviation program.

GAO noted that: (1) since the establishment of the Customs Aviation Program in 1969, its basic mandate to use air assets to counter the drug smuggling threat has not changed; (2) originally, the Customs Aviation Program had two principal missions: (a) border interdiction of drugs being smuggled by plane into the United States; and (b) law enforcement support to other Customs offices as well as other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies; (3) in 1993, President Bill Clinton instituted a new policy to control drugs coming from South and Central America; (4) because Customs aircraft were to be used to help carry out this policy, foreign counterdrug operations became a third principal mission for the aviation program; (5) since then, the program has devoted about 25 percent of its resources to the border interdiction mission, 25 percent to foreign counterdrug operations, and 50 percent to other law enforcement support; (6) Customs Aviation Program funding decreased from about $195 million in FY 1992, to about $135 million in FY 1997--about 31 percent in constant or inflation-adjusted dollars; (7) while available funds have decreased, operations and maintenance costs per aircraft flight hour have increased; (8) Customs Aviation Program officials said that this increase in costs is one of the reasons they are flying fewer hours each year; (9) from FY 1993 to FY 1997, the total number of flight hours for all missions decreased by over one-third, from about 45,000 hours to about 29,000 hours; (10) the size of Customs' fleet dropped in FY 1994, when Customs took 19 surveillance aircraft out of service because of funding reductions; and the fleet has remained at about 115 since then; (11) the number of Customs Aviation Program onboard personnel has dropped steadily, from a high of 956 in FY 1992 to 745 by the end of FY 1997; (12) Customs has been using traditional law enforcement performance measures for the aviation program; (13) these measures, however, are used to track activity, not results or effectiveness; (14) until 1997, Customs also used an air threat index as an indicator of its effectiveness in detecting illegal air traffic; (15) however, Customs has discontinued using this indicator, as well as selected other performance measures, because Customs determined that they were not good measures of results and effectiveness; and (16) recognizing that these measures were not providing adequate insights into whether the program was producing desired results, Customs is developing new performance measures in order to better measure results.

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