The Pentagon’s $65 Million Plane That Never Flew a Mission

The Pentagon’s $65 Million Plane That Never Flew a Mission

Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice

ProPublica provides a break from all the hubbub over tax cuts and health care with a nice little story about good old-fashioned government waste.

About 10 years ago, the Department of Defense and the Drug Enforcement Agency decided they needed a high-tech surveillance plane to monitor the heroin trade in Afghanistan. In 2012, a small airliner – an ATR 42-500, built in Europe – was delivered to a military contractor in Delaware to be crammed full with the latest technologies, such as “electro-optical infra-red video capability.” Five years and at least $65 million later, the plane was sitting in a hanger in Texas, stripped of its enhancements, having never made it to Afghanistan or flown a single mission. The DEA said it wants to auction the plane off to the highest bidder.  

What happened? The Department of Defense inspector general says that the drug-interdiction mission changed after the plane was ordered, with the DEA reducing its presence in Afghanistan starting in 2014 – but no one bothered to cancel the contract. As a result, the plane spent years being modified – and then unmodified – at a cost of millions of dollars.

Worse, ProPublica says the whole fiasco really cost closer to $86 million once all of the spending by both the Pentagon and the DEA is taken into account – and that figure could be even higher, but we’ll never know since the Pentagon didn’t track its spending properly.