The United States Marshals Services' Management of the Justice Prisoner
and Alien Transportation System
Audit Report 07-01
Office of the Inspector General
JPATS faces risks in transporting prisoners and aliens that fall into two categories: safety of the flight operations and security controls of the program. To evaluate the safety of the aviation program, we interviewed employees of the flight operations and examined a variety of documentation that included:
We also assessed the security controls of the program by interviewing employees in the Security Branch; obtaining policies, manuals, and reports; and examining flight manifests. In this assessment, we focused on the following topics:
Overall, we found that JPATS has inadequate controls to ensure that it fulfills its safety and security objectives.64 Specifically, we identified the following significant security and safety issues: security crew size on airplanes was inadequate on 130 out of 1,028 flights we reviewed, security crews at JPATS hangers were chronically understaffed for [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] of the shifts we reviewed, and there was no reliable system for monitoring required rest periods for crew members. In addition to these significant findings, we identified other areas for improvement, such as maintaining credentials for pilots and tracking security incidents.
JPATS operates its air transportation as public aircraft and is therefore exempt from most of the regulations imposed on civilian aircraft by the FAA. Pub. L. No. 106‑181 (2000) defines “public aircraft” as “an aircraft used only for the United States Government,” and lists the “transport of prisoners, detainees, and illegal aliens” as one of the eligible governmental functions. However, JPATS has voluntarily implemented policies to mirror most of the requirements followed by civilian aviation operators. According to the officials we interviewed, JPATS followed these aviation policies to reduce the safety and security risks of an aviation program, and to reduce the liability of the government in the event of mishaps.65
JPATS has developed its own Flight Operations Procedures and Manual (FOPM), which contains the principal internal regulations relating to its air transportation. JPATS also seeks to adhere to FAA regulations on qualifications of flight-crew members, aircraft operations, reporting of accidents and incidents, survival equipment, training, and aircraft maintenance.
JPATS pilots must possess the following documents to prove their professional qualification: a pilot’s license, a current Second Class Airman Medical Certificate, and evidence of completion of an FAA-approved flight and ground school.66 The FOPM requires pilots to receive annual recurrent training for each type of aircraft flown. The FOPM further states that pilots who fail to complete the recurrent training will be barred from piloting a specific type of aircraft until the deficiency has been remedied.
The documentation of pilots’ professional qualifications is centrally maintained at JPATS’s Oklahoma City, Oklahoma office where a JPATS pilot has the collateral duty of maintaining the records. We reviewed records for 32 pilots: [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] from Alexandria, Louisiana; [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] from Mesa, Arizona; and [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The results of our review are as follows.
During our follow-up review in April 2006, the missing medical certificates and training records were located by JPATS.
Nevertheless, JPATS has no formal procedure or controls to ensure that the central files for pilots are complete. In our judgment, JPATS needs a system to ensure that complete records of pilots’ credentials are maintained so as to provide assurance that flight missions are conducted by qualified professionals. Complete documentation on pilots would also assist JPATS management in monitoring the training, health, and professional standing of its pilots.
The USMS classifies JPATS pilots in the High Risk group in terms of position sensitivity. According to the USMS policy, employees in the High Risk group are required to undergo a successful background investigation prior to their initial appointment, followed by reinvestigation every 5 years.
When we examined the personnel files of the 32 pilots, the files showed evidence of favorable results from background investigations by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). None of the files noted any security concerns from their personal background or prior employment that would disqualify them from performing their present duties. Furthermore, all but one of the 32 pilots were investigated or reinvestigated in a timely manner. The one exception involved a pilot who was also a military reservist, whose re-investigation was interrupted by a military tour to Iraq in 2003.67
To ensure that JPATS conducts its flights at airports that provide the necessary services and safety controls, the FOPM does not authorize any operations at airports that lack operating control towers and fire rescue systems. The FOPM states that deviation from this policy requires a waiver from the Chief of Flight Operations.
We identified one significant deviation from this policy. The Williams Gateway Airport in Mesa, Arizona, which serves as a JPATS hub does not have a control tower that operates on a 24-hour basis.68 Furthermore, the Airport relies on a local fire station three minutes away for aircraft rescue and fire fighting services. JPATS operated from this airport without a waiver for more than four years, from January 2001 to November 2005. JPATS began operating in Mesa, Arizona, in July 2000 as a pilot project to replace El Paso, Texas, as a hub for transporting aliens in the custody of the former INS. JPATS began this pilot project even though the Mesa, Arizona airport did not have a control tower that operated on a 24-hour basis. Consequently, JPATS Assistant Director issued a waiver in June 2000 for 120 days. The waiver stated that an extension could be granted if the inadequacies continued to exist at the end of the term.
During our audit, JPATS was unable to provide evidence of an extension to the June 2000 waiver. In November 2005, while our audit was in progress, the Chief of Flight Operations issued a new waiver so that JPATS could continue to operate from the Mesa, Arizona airport indefinitely despite the limited hours of the control tower. However, the issuance of a waiver did nothing to address the inherent risk in operating night flights through an airport that lacks the services of a control tower.
During our audit period, the control tower at the Williams Gateway Airport operated between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. daily. After 9:00 p.m., pilots must communicate directly with each other or rely on the control tower at the nearby airport in Phoenix to navigate local air space. The limited hours of the control tower at Mesa, Arizona poses a potential safety risk because the Mesa, Arizona hub schedules evening flights from Monday through Friday. These flights return to Mesa, Arizona around midnight.
Although no safety incidents had occurred in Mesa, Arizona as a result of this shortcoming, the risk of navigating the airspace without an operational control tower at night when visibility is considerably lower than during the day increases the potential that other aircraft in the area will not see the JPATS flight on its approach into Mesa, Arizona. According to JPATS management, it has requested that ICE change the evening flights with daytime flights, in part, to address the safety issues at the Mesa airport. However, ICE has not been willing to change its evening flights to daytime flights, because the evening flights enabled the agency to synchronize with the schedule of immigration courts and deport aliens immediately after the adjudication process is complete. Nevertheless, we believe that this safety concern needs to be addressed by JPATS management.
Adequate rest has been on the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) annual list of “Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements” every year since 1990. In an August 1999 testimony on pilot fatigue before the Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives, the Director of NTSB’s Office of Research and Engineering stated that it is difficult to attribute the cause of accidents directly to fatigue. However, the Director stated that scientific evidence “clearly reflects the critical need for adequate rest for those people operating safety-critical equipment.” As one of its 2006 Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements, the NTSB urges transportation operators to “set working hour limits... and provide predictable work and rest schedules based on current fatigue research, circadian rhythms, sleep and rest requirements.”
As a public aircraft program, JPATS is not required to comply with regulations on duty-period limitations and rest requirements imposed by the FAA on the civilian aviation industry. Nonetheless, JPATS has voluntarily complied with FAA regulations by promulgating JPATS Program Directive No. 4, JPATS Flight and Cabin Security Crew Duty Time, Crew Rest Limitations, and Pre-Mission Crew Duty Report Times. The directive outlines specific procedures and rules for JPATS pilots, Air Enforcement Officers, and Air Security Officers to ensure that they remain physically alert and vigilant while performing their assigned duties.
For pilots, JPATS directive sets limits on both the duration of their duty day and their total flight hours. Cumulatively, a pilot cannot fly more than 38 hours in any 7 consecutive days, 100 hours in any calendar month, and 1,000 hours in any calendar year.
Additionally, the directive dictates the rest period that pilots, AEOs, and ASOs are entitled to receive based on the length of their duty day. According to the most recent revision of the directive, flight and security crews are entitled to the following number of hours of crew rest.
DUTY DAY AND ENTITLED CREW REST
To avoid staffing a flight mission with employees who are too fatigued to effectively function in their duties, the directive forbids any flight or security crew members to accept assignments that would exceed the duty limits. Instead, crew members must notify JPATS’s Flight Following office when flight missions encounter unavoidable delays.72 Upon notice, the Flight Following office may adjust the next day’s flight schedule to allow for adequate rest or schedule a new crew.
Alternatively, in extreme situations JPATS may issue a written waiver of the mandatory crew rest period. Four persons are authorized to issue such waivers: the Assistant Director of JPATS, the Chief of Flight Operations, the Chief Inspector of Operations, and the Chief of Business Management.
JPATS has not developed a system to monitor the duty periods of flight and security crew members and their entitled rest periods. To test adherence to the crew rest policy, we reviewed the time-and-attendance records of pilots, AEOs, and ASOs stationed at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Alexandria, Louisiana; and Mesa, Arizona.73 We tracked flight assignments for these employees for two periods: from October to November 2004, and from April to May 2005. We examined a total of 1,248 flight assignments and identified 57, or 4.57 percent, where the crew members might not have received the entitled rest periods.
REVIEW OF CREW REST
In 55 of the 57 instances, the employees missed their entitled crew rest between 15 minutes and 5.75 hours. The two remaining cases involved two security officers whose duty periods exceeded 16 hours and thus were entitled to 24 hours of crew rest the next day. However, they accepted new flight assignments and missed their entitled crew rest by 16.75 hours.
According to the Chief of Flight Operations, JPATS rarely issued waivers for crew rest because of the increased liabilities associated with flight missions staffed with employees not sufficiently rested. However, JPATS was unable to provide the exact number of such waivers because it has no method of tracking issuances of such waivers. According to the Flight Following office, the crew rest waiver, once issued, is attached to the log of the applicable flight and there is no separate file to segregate the waivers and document such occurrences.
Compounding the complexity of crew rest procedure is the separate handling of waivers for flight and security crews. Waivers for pilots are maintained by the Flight Following office; waivers for the security crew are the responsibility of the Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal (CDUSM) stationed at the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma hub. However, the CDUSM told us that he did not have a recordkeeping system for crew rest waivers issued for the AEOs and the ASOs.
Furthermore, the CDUSM stated that implementing the crew rest policy is difficult for practical reasons because the need for a waiver often arises when a flight mission returns late, typically after normal business hours. Of the four officials qualified to confer waivers, three are stationed in Kansas City, Missouri. Consequently, those individuals typically grant waivers via telephone to facilitate the flight schedule for the following day. However, they do not always follow up the verbal waivers with written authorization. Even when written waivers have been received, the CDUSM conceded that he did not have the administrative support to help him create and maintain a historical file for review and analysis.
Our interviews with JPATS pilots, AEOs, and ASOs yielded a wide spectrum of opinions on JPATS’s crew rest policies. Of the 23 pilots we interviewed, 19 believed that the management has complied with the crew rest policy, while the remaining 4 believed otherwise. On the other hand, 15 of the 18 AEOs and 22 of the 33 ASOs we interviewed believed that they have been over-scheduled beyond the crew rest policy.
One AEO stated that he functions well with fewer then five hours of sleep each night. Several ASOs stated that they had been conditioned to long working hours from their prior experience as law enforcement officers. In contrast to those views, other employees told us the long working hours have exacted tolls on their health and personal lives. Many employees said that their mandatory crew rest has been routinely violated and they have not always received the required written waivers.
The type of flight missions conducted by JPATS also complicates the adherence to crew rest policies. One supervisor stated that it is possible for security crew members to recover from long working hours by resting on the return leg of overseas deportation flights. These missions consist of transporting aliens to a foreign destination, then returning to the U.S. with an empty cabin. Because there are no aliens to monitor on the return flight to the hub, some security guards can rest. According to the supervisor, some guards have told him that if they have recuperated this way, they should be able to accept the next day’s flight assignment despite the late return of such flights.
To assess the safety records of JPATS, we reviewed information from the NTSB as well as JPATS Safety Officer. Our review on the safety records of JPATS disclosed no aircraft accidents that resulted in fatalities.74 As of March 2006, the NTSB database contained one accident and two incidents involving JPATS from March 1997 to January 2006, as detailed in the following table.
NTSB INVESTIGATIONS OF JPATS ACCIDENTS AND INCIDENTS
The JPATS Safety Officer provided us information on other events related to aviation safety. According to his information, the six events occurred from 2001 to 2004, as shown in the following table.
JPATS RECORDS OF AVIATION ACCIDENTS AND INCIDENTS
According to JPATS Safety Officer, the safety records of flight operations underwent a difficult phase after JPATS deactivated its service-owned large planes in March 2002. JPATS faced a dilemma: the program had released its own planes for sale, but had not yet procured a leased fleet on a long-term basis as planned. In order to continue its mission of transporting prisoners and aliens, JPATS began operating using leased planes from a Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA). The BOA facilitates the contracting process through pre-negotiated agreements between service provider and receiver. Consequently, the BOA is ideally suited for procurement when an unexpected need arises. Several JPATS management officials stated that JPATS tried but did not succeed in procuring large aircraft through the BOA from nationally recognized commercial airlines, because the number of the aircraft required by JPATS, six, was too small to justify the transaction from a business standpoint. Vendors who responded to JPATS’s request had inventory of aircraft that were not of the highest quality. According to a JPATS quality assurance specialist in aircraft maintenance, the airplanes provided through the BOA all had the required airworthiness certificates to validate their operability.76 Nevertheless, these planes were not maintained to the high standards as the large planes that JPATS once owned.
Of the six aviation safety events reported to us by the Safety Officer, five involved planes supplied under the BOA. The most significant event involved a 2003 accident in Chicago cited above, which required JPATS to evacuate everyone aboard the aircraft. Although no personal injuries resulted from the incident, the aircraft sustained damage. The investigation performed by JPATS concluded that the explosion was the result of faulty components. Nevertheless, the vendor filed a claim against JPATS that is not resolved as of March 2006.
In late 2004, JPATS ceased to operate planes obtained through the BOA. JPATS now obtains large aircraft under a short-term lease. 20 of the 23 JPATS pilots we interviewed believed that the current leased large aircraft operate well and are adequately maintained by contractors.77
JPATS publishes its policies on security controls aboard flight missions in its Cabin Security Crew Policy and Procedures Manual (Cabin Manual). The Cabin Manual, last updated in January 2004, defines key security officers of the flight missions, outlines the crew structure, and promulgates policies on scheduling, crew duty limits, dress codes, perimeter security, boarding requirements, and medical regulations.
JPATS employs full-time Air Enforcement Officers (AEOs) and contract Air Security Officers (ASOs) for operational tasks. Besides maintaining order inside the passenger cabin during flight missions, the ASOs also maintain security at the hangars [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED]. Of the two functions, security aboard the aircraft takes precedence over the security of the hangar and JPATS [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] reassigns ASOs from hangar security to flight missions when a staffing shortage occurs.
Security Crew During Flight Mission
The Cabin Manual recommends a specific ratio between security officers and passengers. [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED]
Some ICE officials [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] security crew [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] for deportation flights involving aliens whose only offense is an immigration violation. However, some of the security officers whom we interviewed told us of instances when they learned that deportees had criminal records in their home countries. Because [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED].78 [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED]
Besides the security crew, the cabin staffing of JPATS flights typically includes a flight nurse from the U.S. Public Health Service and employees from the customer agencies. For example, the BOP generally assigns two of its employees to facilitate the transfer and exchange of inmates. Similarly, ICE assigns employees to accompany aliens on its flights. For overseas flights, JPATS sends a flight engineer to address any mechanical issues the aircraft may experience outside the United States.
Prior to each flight mission, the SOIC schedules the required number of ASOs to ensure adequate coverage, delegates specific roles to them, and assigns them a seat inside the cabin.
The SOIC records the flight mission principally by completing an SOIC Daily Log. Currently, the log consists of two parts: the top portion lists the names of the cabin crew members; the lower portion records the actual number of passengers received and discharged at each designated stop along the flight mission. At the conclusion of the flight mission, the log is attached to the Automated Prisoner Scheduling System’s manifest report and stored for archive purposes at the hub offices.
Presently, data from the logs are not entered into any automated information system. As a result, it is not possible for JPATS management to determine whether it has met its objective of staffing full flights with an adequate size security crew. According to the Chief Inspector of Operations, a major challenge in staffing the flights has been the unreliability of the ASOs. Personal-service contract guards are not full-time employees; consequently, JPATS cannot compel them to report for duty. JPATS management knows that last-minute absences of the ASOs have occurred on occasion, resulting in flights with a security crew not sufficient to yield the recommended ratio of officers to passengers. However, JPATS management has no data to establish whether absenteeism of the ASOs is serious enough to have an adverse impact on flight security.
To test the adherence to the policy of staffing flights to yield the recommended ratio between security officers and passengers, we reviewed the logs to obtain information on the crew size as well as the seat utilization reports for the number of passengers aboard the aircraft from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Alexandria, Louisiana; and Mesa, Arizona.79 The following table displays the results of our review of a total of 1,028 flights.80
RATIOS OF PASSENGERS TO SECURITY CREW MEMBERS
Overall, we found that in 87.4 percent of the flights we reviewed (898 of 1,028 flights), the average passenger-to-crew ratio exceeded the recommended ratio [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED]. JPATS officials explained that the Security Branch always tries to staff the large aircraft with a crew as [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] as possible, even when the plane is not full upon departure. This strategy ensures that the crew size would be adequate if the plane becomes filled in later segments due to last-minute additions to the passenger list. However, our testing found 130 flights in our sample where the security crew size did not meet the recommended ratio between security officers and passengers.
Security Crew at Hangars
The current JPATS policy states that each JPATS hangar should be protected by [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] security guards [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED].83[SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] Because of staff shortages, however, JPATS rarely staffs hangars with the required number of security guards. Instead, the hubs have adopted different work schedules to address a shortage of guard services. [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED]
HANGAR SECURITY SHIFTS SCHEDULE
To evaluate hangar security staffing, we reviewed the number of security guards scheduled for the various shifts based on the scheduling reports from the Security Branch for the hangars in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Alexandria, Louisiana; and Mesa, Arizona.85 We reviewed a total of 2,472 shifts from the scheduling reports for these locations and found that all three sites were chronically understaffed, [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED].86
SECURITY STAFFING LEVEL AT JPATS HANGARS
Officials from JPATS explained that security of flight missions always has priority over hangar security. When ASOs fail to report for flight missions, contract guards originally assigned to hangar security will be called upon to assist in flight missions. Although we understand the need for adequate security aboard JPATS flights, the absence of a sufficient number of security guards at hangars exposes both the hangars and the aircraft to potential harm.88
JPATS uses several types of documentation to report security incidents. The Cabin Manual instructs security officers to report incidents using the Field Report, Form USM-210, and attach a completed copy to the weekly flight packet. A copy of the report is to be forwarded to the supervisor of JPATS’s Security Section. If security guards use [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] to subdue a prisoner or alien, they must also file a Firearms Discharge Report, Form USM -133. According to the Chief Inspector of Operations, all reports relating to JPATS security are centralized with a CDUSM stationed in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Firearms Discharge Report, Form USM -133
Field Reports, Form USM -210
We reviewed a total of 117 reports of security-related incidents that occurred in FYs 2004 and 2005; 112 of these were submitted on Form USM -210 and the remaining 5 were submitted by electronic messages. We examined all 117 reports to determine what types of incidents they documented and whether they had received proper supervisory review. All but 14 of the reports had evidence of supervisory review. The table below shows our findings.
REPORTS OF INCIDENTS: FYS 2004 AND 2005
At first glance, this table suggests that flights originating at Mesa, Arizona and Alexandria, Louisiana had fewer incidents than flights originating from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. However, our audit found that the file maintained by the CDUSM was incomplete. For instance, during our field work in Alexandria, Louisiana we obtained copies of four Forms USM -210 relating to an incident aboard a March 3, 2005, deportation flight to Honduras that the CDUSM did not maintain in his files.
Our review showed a deficiency in JPATS’s current system of reporting security incidents. After employees have completed Form USM-210, the supervisor at the hub reviews the reports and forwards a certain number to the CDUSM at the hub in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for further review. Because the Cabin Manual does not specify the criteria that the supervisors should use in deciding which reports require further review from the CDUSM, it is impossible to determine the total number of incidents that actually occurred.
We also believe that information on the USM-210 reports may be useful if it is entered into a database for future reference. For example, security incidents involving prisoners and aliens aboard JPATS flights could be entered into a module in APSS. If an agency requested transportation for an individual with a history of security incidents, schedulers using APSS would be able to identify prior security issues quickly and alert the Security Branch prior to flight missions.
JPATS generally has adequate policies on aviation safety and security. However, our audit revealed that the program has inadequate controls to manage adequately the safety risks associated with operating an aviation program and security risks of transporting prisoners and aliens. JPATS cannot reliably track its adherence to its policies on crew rest and the size of the security crew onboard planes. Additionally, JPATS cannot properly account for the credentials of the pilots and the number of security reports filed. To address these and other issues, JPATS should implement reliable controls to adhere to its own security and safety objectives.
We recommend the USMS:
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