- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A government-operated service that transports prisoners and aliens in federal custody throughout the United States, Central America and the Caribbean does not have the means to ensure that safety procedures are being followed and lacks the ability to predict long-term capacity needs, according to a report released yesterday.

The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General said the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS), run by the U.S. Marshals Service and known to many as “Con Air,” also needs to reduce costs by maximizing the number of passengers scheduled for each flight.

“The overall demand for prisoner and alien transportation has grown over the past six years, but our audit found that JPATS has not yet developed a planning tool that allows it to project prisoner and alien movements more than one year into the future,” Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said.

“This lack of capacity planning has led to underutilization of available seats on JPATS aircraft because JPATS has not amended its flight schedules to maintain a more optimal use of its resources,” Mr. Fine said.

JPATS uses three government-owned and six leased aircraft to move prisoners and aliens for the Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In addition, it transports prisoners for military, state and local law-enforcement agencies as needed.

In fiscal 2005, JPATS transported 305,649 prisoners for a wide array of judicial proceedings, such as the removal of deportable aliens — including those who committed crimes in the United States. Many of its planes were acquired through government surplus programs or asset forfeiture. They represent the only government-operated, regularly scheduled passenger airline in the nation.

The inspector general’s audit said a review of data on 1,034 flights from fiscal 2004 to the first quarter of fiscal 2006 found that although 74 percent of the seats were filled on flights originating from one of the three hubs reviewed, fewer than half of the seats were filled on flights originating from the remaining hubs.

The report also said JPATS has been using short-term leases for its large aircraft since early 2005, despite studies by the Government Accountability Office and the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee that said purchasing the aircraft or entering into long-term leases could cut costs.

Although the audit said JPATS had developed adequate internal policies to ensure that it conducts its air transportation in a safe and secure manner, it added that JPATS “generally does not have the necessary systems in place to ensure that it adheres to its own standards on safety and security.”

The audit listed 15 recommendations to help manage the JPATS program. Officials at JPATS agreed with the recommendations and are in the process of implementing them.

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