DHS may want to partner with the Civil Air Patrol, GAO says

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The nonprofit Civil Air Patrol could support some of the Homeland Security Department's missions, but the department hasn't considered the possibility, the Government Accountability Office says.

The Civil Air Patrol, or CAP, is the volunteer civilian auxiliary of the Air Force, with 3,000 active mission pilots and 550 single-engine aircraft. In recent years it has, among other things, provided aerial images of disaster areas, done border reconnaissance and supported the Coast Guard during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It devotes most of its flying hours to training and youth programs, though.

CAP supports agencies at all levels of government--including some DHS components--but the department itself has not assessed whether CAP's capabilities and resources could be of use to it, the GAO says in a Nov. 1 report (.pdf).

Auditors point out that DHS has articulated the homeland security concept as a national enterprise where governments, nonprofits and the private sector all contribute. They also note that, considering the nation's fiscal problems, it's particularly important now to look at all possible resources.

CAP has received an average of $34 million annually in federal appropriations in the past six fiscal years. For missions that federal appropriations don't cover, agencies reimburse CAP at a rate of about $160 per flying hour, which pays for fuel and maintenance.

Of the three DHS components that auditors contacted, only the Federal Emergency Management Agency has considered CAP's suitability for its operations. FEMA officials told auditors that they are working with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate to develop aerial imagery requirements for CAP.

Coast Guard officials, meanwhile, told auditors they were concerned that CAP might not have suitable standards because it's a volunteer organization. But those officials couldn't name any incidents where CAP was unable to respond to a request or was delayed due to a shortage of pilots.

CAP provided 118 days of continuous support for the Coast Guard during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, patrolling the shoreline and spill containment barriers.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-13-56 (.pdf)

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