The United States Marshals Services' Management of the Justice Prisoner
and Alien Transportation System

Audit Report 07-01
October 2006
Office of the Inspector General

Executive Summary

The Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS) transports prisoners and aliens in federal custody within the United States and overseas using primarily air transportation. JPATS also performs scheduling, security, and medical functions in support of prisoner transportation. Managed by the United States Marshals Service (USMS), JPATS serves not only the USMS, but also the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).1 JPATS also provides occasional air transport for military, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and for the federal government’s response to crises such as the hurricanes of 2005.2

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted this audit of JPATS to evaluate the USMS’s: (1) ability to effectively manage the risks inherent in prisoner movements to ensure safe and efficient transport, and (2) coordination with its three primary customers regarding the movement of prisoners and aliens.


JPATS was created on October 1, 1995, by the merger of the USMS National Prisoner Transportation System and the Air Transport Branch of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The merger resulted from a study by the DOJ’s Justice Management Division (JMD) conducted at the request of the Attorney General, who sought to consolidate similar programs that transported individuals on a regular basis.

In fiscal year (FY) 2005, JPATS completed 305,649 prisoner movements.3


Large Aircraft







Small Aircraft







Other Modes7














Source: JPATS

JPATS regularly serves approximately 40 domestic and international cities, plus other locations on an as-needed basis. Prisoner and alien movements are authorized for a variety of reasons, including pre-trial hearings and competency examinations; trial; pre-sentence study and observation; delivery to an institution to serve sentence; transfer between institutions; delivery of criminal aliens to a deportation center; removal of aliens; transfer of non-federal detainees; transfer of military prisoners; and other missions such as secured transport of witnesses, extraditions, national emergencies, and natural disasters.

Organizationally, JPATS is headed by an Assistant Director who reports to the Deputy Director of the USMS.8 Headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, JPATS maintains air fleet hubs in: (1) Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; (2) Alexandria, Louisiana; (3) Mesa, Arizona; and (4) St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands (U.S. Virgin Islands). The hub in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, manages the overall flight operations and transports prisoners under the jurisdiction of the USMS and the BOP. The hubs in Alexandria, Louisiana, and Mesa, Arizona, transport aliens under the jurisdiction of ICE.9 The hub in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, primarily services the USMS and, to a lesser degree, aliens for ICE. For the past several years JPATS has been planning for a new hub in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, which became operational in June 2006.

To help JPATS coordinate with the three main participating agencies (the BOP, the USMS, and ICE), the JPATS Executive Committee (JEC) was created in FY 2000. The JEC, chaired by the Assistant Attorney General for Administration, consists of the Assistant Director of JPATS, the Federal Detention Trustee from the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee (OFDT), and three members each from the USMS, the BOP, and ICE.10 The JEC meets on a quarterly basis to discuss issues facing JPATS and its customers.

JPATS transports prisoners and aliens by air through a fleet of three government-owned and six leased aircraft, as detailed in the following table.

 Source: JPATS

Staff and Funding Source

The staff of JPATS, as of FY 2006, consisted of 117 permanent employees and 212 contractors. Permanent staff includes 32 pilots, 25 security officers, and 13 maintenance personnel, with the remainder consisting of management and administrative staff. Contractors are primarily flight security officers under personal service contracts, flight nurses from the United States Public Health Service, and aircraft and building maintenance personnel.

Prior to FY 1999, JPATS was funded from the USMS’s annual appropriated budget. In FY 1999, JPATS began operating on a revolving fund instead of an appropriated budget, in part to ensure uninterrupted transport of prisoners and aliens through a “pay-as-you-use” concept. This means the agencies that use JPATS’s services – primarily the BOP, ICE, and the USMS – pay for the services they receive, and those payments are placed into a revolving fund that is used to pay for JPATS operations. Revolving funds do not have fiscal year limitations like most appropriated funds.

When JPATS began operating as a revolving fund in FY 1999, it charged its customers based on a cost-per-seat basis. In FY 2003, JPATS switched its method of reimbursement and now charges its customers by the number of flight hours rather than the number of seats used. This change improved the allocation of costs without affecting the prices paid by customers.

Because JPATS is entirely supported by its customers through a revolving fund, the “pay-as-you-use” concept relieves JPATS from the financial crunch at the end of the fiscal year that it experienced under an appropriated budget. However, our interviews with customers disclosed problems and issues associated with the exclusive use of a revolving fund in operating the program.

For example, the USMS curtailed its usage of JPATS and thereby temporarily reduced its contributions into JPATS revolving fund in both FYs 2004 and 2005 to cover shortfalls in its own budget. In addition, the BOP chartered its own medical airlifts because it found vendors who charged one-half the cost that JPATS charges for its small airplanes.11 The amount ICE pays to JPATS is high because ICE has to pay the cost for round-trip deportation flights to foreign countries, even though the return flight is usually empty. Prior to FY 2006, JPATS explored selling seats on these return flights to other federal agencies, but this option proved to be too expensive because potential customers were required to pay for the entire cost of the return flight, even if only one seat was filled. In FY 2006, the JEC approved a new pricing policy for return flights from overseas deportations under which agencies will be charged only for seats actually used and the remainder of the flight costs will be borne by ICE.

Inherent Risks in Management Controls

According to a USMS Directive, JPATS’s goals are to ensure that prisoners or aliens appear in court when needed, are transferred efficiently to a new correctional or detention facility, or are deported at the first opportunity.12 Given the variety of transportation needs and the nature of the individuals being transported, inherent risks exist in managing a transportation system like JPATS. The first objective in our audit was to evaluate the USMS’s ability to effectively manage the risks inherent in JPATS’s prisoner movements to ensure safe and efficient transport. To examine this issue, we reviewed budgetary issues, capacity planning, the leasing of aircraft, and the efficiency of scheduling prisoners and aliens onto JPATS flights. Further, as discussed in the subsequent section, we examined safety and security risks by reviewing the adequacy of JPATS security staffing and the adherence to crew rest requirements.

Budget Issues

According to a JMD official, a revolving fund is the ideal choice to operate a program when the level of required service cannot be predicted accurately. JPATS meets this criterion because the requirements of the federal judiciary are subject to frequent changes, and the number of prisoner and alien movements is difficult to predict. When JPATS operated with appropriated funds, the program ran out of money each year toward the end of the fiscal year and had to rely on an infusion of funds from the USMS to continue operations. Switching to a revolving fund was intended to eliminate end-of-year shortages and allow JPATS to continue operating as long as the customers are able to pay its expenses.

The original Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for JPATS’s revolving fund outlined the responsibilities of the participating agencies. The three major customer agencies agreed to Reimbursable Agreements as their guarantee to pay for the services received from JPATS. The customers also agreed to provide JPATS with annual estimates of anticipated movements as a part of the planning process for each fiscal year. Further, the customers agreed to keep all parties informed when the original estimates had to be modified. As the provider of services, JPATS agreed to develop cost estimates and pricing strategies based on the requirements of the customer agencies.

We reviewed this budgetary process and found that JPATS, along with the BOP and ICE, generally adhered to the stipulations of the MOU. However, the USMS did not adhere to the requirements of the MOU when it decided to unilaterally reduce its flight hours in FY 2005. This issue is discussed in detail in the chapter of this report entitled “Coordination Among the Agencies,” sub section “Proper Intervention by the JEC.”

Recognizing that the use of a revolving fund to finance JPATS operations has both advantages and disadvantages, we explored possibilities to minimize the disadvantages. One possible alternative to the revolving fund would be a “hybrid” budget model that combines appropriated monies with a revolving fund. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employs a hybrid budget model for its “Hangar Six Program.”13 If JPATS were to receive some appropriated funding under a hybrid model, it could budget these funds for fixed costs –salaries and benefits of full-time employees and office rent that support its infrastructure– and bill customers only for variable costs such as fuel, overtime, and aircraft maintenance. Such a model would significantly reduce the hourly rate that JPATS currently charges its customers. We recommend that the USMS and the JEC consider this hybrid funding model.

Capacity Planning

According to JPATS officials, the overall demand for prisoner and alien transportation has grown over the past six years, as shown in the following table.

Customer 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 Percentage
Change from
2000 to 2005

































Source: JPATS

Given that JPATS is focused on providing transportation services to its customers, it is important for JPATS to be a demand- or need-driven organization. This means that JPATS and its operations should be directly linked to the level of service that customers need in order to safely and economically transport prisoners and aliens. To assess JPATS’s ability to plan for capacity in order to fulfill customers’ needs for prisoner and alien transport, we interviewed JPATS officials and examined relevant documents in two categories. First, we examined whether JPATS has conducted long-range plans to address anticipated changes in passenger movements based on historical trends. Second, we reviewed flight manifest records to determine whether the capacity of JPATS’s air fleet is being optimally used to maintain an efficient operation.

Based on the pattern of past growth and expected future demands, it is critical that JPATS adequately plans for its future capacity needs. By not planning for future capacity needs, JPATS could be caught off guard by changes in demand and customer needs and find itself in a position where it cannot transport prisoners and aliens in an efficient and effective manner.

An important element in any capacity planning effort is the ability to forecast or predict future needs. According to JPATS management, however, JPATS does not forecast or project prisoner and alien movements more than one year into the future.14 The closest that JPATS came to having multi-year forecasting capability was contained in its 1997 five-year strategic plan. The plan described the proposed development of a model to forecast and predict JPATS’s future transportation demands based on the number of prisoners and aliens in the federal prison system and those awaiting trial or adjudication. The purpose of the model was to link historical trends that affect demand with projections for future needs. However, the strategic plan was not adopted upon its issuance, resulting in the abandonment of the proposed forecasting model.15 According to the Assistant Director of JPATS, material in the 1997 strategic plan was believed to be obsolete by the time the plan was completed. Yet, we believe that the specific forecasting project was not obsolete, and the proposed model would have provided a mechanism for JPATS to assess its future needs in air transport and develop any necessary strategy and plans to fulfill those needs.

When we asked JPATS management whether it is actively planning for future capacity needs, the Assistant Director stated that JPATS does not plan for future capacity needs because aviation programs change frequently and are subject to many variables which would render such planning obsolete by the time it is completed. We disagree and believe that the difficulty in performing capacity planning is outweighed by the benefits including giving JPATS the ability to plan for future increases in demand and incorporate changes to its operations, if needed, in areas such as infrastructure, air fleet, or personnel.

Further, we asked the Assistant Director of JPATS what is being planned for JPATS to cope with the anticipated rise in prisoner and alien movements. He told the OIG that JPATS is capable of meeting the increase in customers’ demand for transportation services. Specifically, he said that JPATS would lease additional planes on an emergency basis and hire more contract guards to serve customers. In our opinion, this illustrates the need for longer-term capacity planning because leasing additional planes on an emergency basis is not only reactive, but is also more expensive compared to longer-term aircraft leases.

A consequence resulting from the lack of capacity planning has been the under-utilization of available seats on JPATS aircraft. We reviewed data from 1,034 flights between FY 2004 and the first quarter of FY 2006 (not counting empty return flights from overseas deportations). We found that 74 percent of the seats were filled on flights originating from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, but only about 49 percent were filled on flights originating from Alexandria, Louisiana, and 45 percent were filled on flights from Mesa, Arizona. On the daily night-loop flights that depart from Mesa, Arizona, each Monday through Friday, the under-utilization of seats was even more pronounced.16 Despite the more frequent processing of illegal aliens in the region, only about 43 percent of the seats were filled for the 81 flights we reviewed in FY 2004, and approximately 34 percent were filled for the 79 flights we reviewed in FY 2005.

Overall, we noted consistent low usage of seats in flights that transported aliens. While we understand that, given the needs of its customers, JPATS is not always going to fly at full capacity, there are steps JPATS can take to decrease the number of empty seats on its flights. For example, JPATS could consider reducing the number of night loop flights it offers. This would result in fewer, but more full, flights per week.

Investing in Aviation Resources

Currently, JPATS leases its large aircraft under a short-term contract. However, recent studies performed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the OFDT indicate that purchasing aircraft yields the most savings for an aviation program on a long-term basis. If funding for purchase is not available, the GAO’s 2004 study suggests that long-term leases provide more savings than short-term leases.17 Yet, at the time of our review, JPATS obtained all of its large aircraft using short-term leases. We believe that JPATS should explore the more economical option of long-term leases to meet its aircraft needs.

JPATS operates six large aircrafts obtained with a short-term lease awarded in late 2004 which it renewed in late 2005 for one additional year. According to our interviews with 23 JPATS pilots, 20 believed that these leased aircraft have operated well and have been maintained adequately by the contractor. Of the remaining three pilots, two provided a negative response, while one pilot did not answer our question.18

Although feedback from JPATS’s pilots was generally positive on the quality of airplanes leased under short-term arrangements, recent studies have shown that purchasing aircraft is the best option for aviation programs. In its 2004 report, the GAO explored the following methods of acquiring aircrafts: (1) purchase, (2) short- or long-term leases, and (3) lease-to-purchase, where the programs remit lease payments and eventually own the planes at the end of the lease. According to the GAO’s analysis, purchasing is the most economical option over the course of the aircraft’s useful life and short-term leases in one-year increments are the most expensive option.

Despite the savings that could be realized through purchasing aircraft, most federal air transportation programs have chosen operating leases, in part because of how these expenses are reported in an agency’s budget. According to the GAO’s analysis, operating leases seem “cheaper” because programs are required to record only the annual lease payment in the budget. By contrast, for lease-to-purchase options programs must record the net present value over the entire life of the contract, a significantly higher figure than operating leases.

The OFDT reached a similar conclusion in its 2003 study, Aircraft Replacement Procurement Strategy for the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS). In comparing the option to lease and purchase, the OFDT stated that although short-term leases appear attractive because of the low cost on a short-term basis, they provide no ownership of the assets at the end of the terms. The OFDT also identified the Boeing 737-700 as a possible candidate for purchase. This aircraft would cost $49 million, with a useful life of 30 years. The study by the OFDT compared the cost of purchasing six such aircraft with leasing similar type of planes, as follows.

  Type of
Age of
Estimated total cost over 30-year life cycle (with maintenance)

Boeing 737-700


$540 Million

Ten-Year Lease

Boeing 737-300

8 Years or Under

$840 Million

Source: OFDT

Based on the above analysis, the OFDT concluded that purchasing the aircraft would cost more in the short-term, but operating leases do not offer ownership of the assets and cost more in the long-term. Nevertheless, the OFDT conceded that because “funding is not available for the purchase of aircraft; therefore, leasing remains the only option to modernize the JPATS fleet.”

JPATS officials told the OIG that they recognized the benefits of purchasing versus leasing aircraft. However, they said that JPATS must rely on operating leases because of the exorbitant initial outlay of capital required to purchase planes. Of the various lease options, JPATS had attempted to procure its air fleet through a long-term lease in 2002 that would be cheaper than the current short-term leases. However, that attempt was unsuccessful and had to be aborted in 2003.19

As of the time of this audit, JPATS officials stated that they are renewing their efforts to procure leased planes on a long-term basis with assistance from JMD. Additionally, JPATS has announced a new contracting officer position, which would increase the total number of contracting officers from two to three and ensure more adequate staffing for such a major procurement project.

Scheduling Efficiency

The JPATS scheduling process for prisoners begins with an electronic request from the BOP or the USMS to JPATS’s Automated Prisoner Scheduling System (APSS). First implemented in April 2000, APSS is an automated scheduling system utilized by JPATS, the BOP, and the USMS to schedule and transport prisoners efficiently. The system electronically receives transportation requests from the BOP and the USMS, which includes basic data on the passenger, movement type and requirements, and medical or security issues. After evaluating the requests, JPATS schedules the passenger movements upon considering each movement’s priority.

We found that JPATS’s implementation of APSS has enhanced the ability of JPATS, the BOP, and the USMS in processing movement requests by automating the process and reducing the amount of manual word processing that was needed under the previous method. Prior to implementation of APSS in April 2000, JPATS relied on a manual scheduling method that required excessive data entry to generate trip reports. By storing requests in a database, APSS has enhanced the BOP’s and the USMS’s ability to create, modify, query, report, and archive prisoner transportation information. APSS has also reduced the amount of time needed to process transportation requests and ensured that flights are as full as possible. Although the actual scheduling of passenger movements is not “automatic” and requires review of various criteria, JPATS schedulers we interviewed unanimously endorsed the conversion from manual scheduling to APSS.

However, ICE does not use APSS to schedule alien movements, but rather uses the system after-the-fact to enter passenger data for billing purposes. Instead of electronically scheduling its passengers using APSS, ICE detention centers and Service Processing Centers forward passenger lists to JPATS hubs via facsimile on the day of the flight. JPATS staff forwards those lists to JPATS Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, where the names are manually entered into APSS after the flight.

As discussed earlier, flights containing BOP or USMS prisoners are generally more full than those for ICE aliens. When we asked ICE officials why they do not fully utilize APSS, they stated that the agency generally has too short of a lead time to electronically schedule aliens in APSS. According to ICE, its lead time for flights within the continental United States is the day of the flight and one week for foreign flights.

Although we recognize that the short lead time for domestic flights may not always allow for advanced electronic scheduling, we believe that the one-week lead time on foreign flights provides enough time to electronically schedule those passengers using APSS. Benefits from using APSS include less data entry and flights that were more full.

In addition, we believe the JPATS scheduling process could be enhanced by providing security officers with an electronic manifest to be used during flight missions. Currently, security officers at the hub print out the flight manifest report from APSS before flight missions in order to schedule a crew of security officers and to take the manifest aboard the aircraft to verify the passenger list along the stops. We noted that scheduled passenger lists on flight manifest reports are frequently updated manually by the security crew on the day of the flight due to last-minute changes. We believe that an electronic manifest would improve the security officers’ ability to update the actual number of passengers loaded and unloaded at each stop, as well as determining available seats to cope with unexpected new passengers throughout the flight mission.

Safety and Security Risks

We also evaluated the adequacy of JPATS’s controls to minimize safety and security risks inherent in transporting prisoners and aliens. To determine whether JPATS has sufficient controls in these areas and identify areas for improvement, we interviewed JPATS and agency officials and reviewed relevant documentation and data.

Safety Controls

We reviewed safety and security controls by examining JPATS’s policies in these areas and testing whether it was adhering to them. JPATS is a public aircraft operation and therefore, according to the FAA, is not subject to FAA regulations.20 However, JPATS voluntarily follows most FAA rules and has also developed its own Flight Operations Procedures and Manuals (FOPM) to reduce safety risks.

The FOPM requires JPATS to operate at airports with adequate services, including an operational control tower. Deviations from this policy require a waiver from the JPATS Chief of Flight Operations. We found that JPATS complied with this requirement, except in Mesa, Arizona. JPATS has a late flight each weeknight that returns to the Mesa, Arizona, hangar around midnight. The control tower at the Mesa, Arizona ’s Williams Gateway Airport shuts down each day at 9:00 p.m. Although no safety incidents had occurred in Mesa, Arizona hub as a result of a lack of operational control tower for the return flight, the risk of navigating the airspace without an operational control tower increases the potential that other aircraft in the area will not see the JPATS flight on its approach, which may lead to a collision.

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.

Additionally, we reviewed documentation on pilots’ credentials required by the JPATS FOPM and were able to locate the pilot licenses for each of JPATS’s 32 pilots. Moreover, with one exception, the pilots’ background checks were favorable and up-to-date. The exception involved a pilot whose re-investigation was interrupted by a military tour in Iraq as a reservist in 2003. However, we found that four JPATS pilots did not have current annual medical certificates on file, and four pilots did not have their most recent training records on file.21

Another important safety control is crew rest. Under a JPATS Program Directive, pilots, full-time Air Enforcement Officers (AEOs), and contract Air Security Officers (ASOs) are entitled to a specific number of hours of rest depending on the length of the flight duty, as shown in the following table.22

Duty Period in Hours 1 to 14 15 16 16 or more
Entitled Crew Rest in Hours











Source: JPATS Program Directive No. 4, Revision 5

JPATS’s policy addresses crew rest by adjusting the daily flight schedules, assigning a new crew, or, in rare instances, issuing waivers to allow employees to fly without their prescribed rest periods. We found that JPATS does not maintain records to show whether it is adhering to its crew rest policies, including the specific instances when it has issued waivers.

Despite the lack of a system to track crew rest, we reviewed time-and-attendance records for a sample of 27 employees, representing a total of 1,248 flight assignments. We found 57 instances where JPATS crew members appeared to have not received the entitled rest prescribed by JPATS policy.23 While the number of instances appears small in our sample (4.57 percent), we believe that the absence of an effective system to monitor the crew rest requirement presents a weakness in management controls that should be addressed by JPATS.

We also reviewed a variety of documentation related to the safety of JPATS flight operations and found no accidents resulting in fatalities since the program began in 1995. The only noteworthy aviation safety event was an accident in October 2003 that involved a tire explosion on a leased JPATS aircraft that landed at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. All passengers on board were evacuated without injuries, and an internal investigation by JPATS concluded that defects within the leased aircraft caused the mishap.

Security Controls

Security on JPATS flights is a critical issue when transporting prisoners and aliens. JPATS’s Cabin Security Crew Policy and Procedures Manual (Cabin Manual), most recently updated in January 2004, addresses security issues related to the transport of prisoners and aliens. [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED]

Because JPATS does not maintain information on security crew size in an electronic database, we found no easy method to assess whether JPATS is adhering to this ratio on any given flight. In lieu of more definitive records, we analyzed flight manifests to determine whether JPATS was complying with the required [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] ratio. In total, we reviewed a sample of 1,028 flights and found 130 (13 percent) that exceeded the required security ratio. We believe this deviation from JPATS policy should be corrected because it exposes JPATS operations to potential security threats when transporting prisoners or aliens.

In addition to security on flights, JPATS assigns [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] security guards at its hubs and hangars [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED]. We found, however, that JPATS was unable to schedule sufficient security officers at hangars on a routine basis. [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED] While security aboard its flights is JPATS’s foremost objective, leaving the hangars understaffed or unstaffed increases safety and security risks to its facilities on the ground, including equipment, aircraft, employees, and contractors.


Coordination Among Participating Agencies

Successful transport of prisoners and aliens requires coordination among all the parties involved in JPATS operations. In our second audit objective, we evaluated the adequacy of JPATS’s coordination with its customers by determining whether JPATS had a mechanism for coordinating all participating agencies at an administrative level to ensure that the concerns of all parties are addressed. Further, we interviewed the Assistant Attorney General for Administration, who chairs the JEC, and the Federal Detention Trustee as well as representatives from the USMS, the BOP, ICE, and JPATS to obtain their perspectives on coordination.

Overall, we found mixed results in our examination of the coordination between JPATS and its customer agencies. We believe that the JEC serves as the primary mechanism for participating agencies to meet and discuss matters of mutual interest. For example, in 2005 the JEC appropriately intervened to address a situation that had the potential of adversely affecting coordination. In early 2005, the USMS unilaterally decreased by 150 its projected flight hours of 1,850 because of a budgetary shortfall. This was contrary to the 1998 MOU that requires customers to notify JPATS and the other participating agencies of changes to their estimated usage. The reduction of available flights required the BOP to delay movements of certain prisoners or re-schedule their movements through its bus system, which was already experiencing budget restraints and staff reduction.

When the JEC learned of the USMS’s actions, it convened an emergency meeting to address the situation. The matter was resolved when the JEC directed the USMS to follow through on its commitment to its projected flight hours and reimbursement to JPATS. As a result of the JEC’s intervention, the USMS’s actions did not significantly affect other customers.

A situation that we believe requires the attention of JPATS management involved the BOP at the JPATS hub in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. JPATS uses the BOP Federal Transfer Center, located at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to house prisoners on a temporary basis while they are in the process of being transported around the country. During our site visit in the summer of 2005, we found that this facility was operating at full capacity with 1,350 male inmates and 118 female inmates. The approximate average stay for these prisoners ranged from 10 to 13 days in FYs 2004 and 2005. According to JPATS management, there is no benchmark for how long a prisoner should stay at the FTC. Because the facility operated at full capacity, the lack of bed space affected JPATS’s ability to transport prisoners, especially those that required layover housing.24 JPATS becomes less efficient and more costly when overnight housing is lacking. Specifically, if JPATS does not have access to beds for housing prisoners overnight, it cannot group prisoners destined for the same location on a single flight and thereby take advantage of economies of scale.

To address this problem, the OFDT worked with the USMS to obtain an agreement with a local county correctional facility that had an additional 240 beds available. Although this resolved the problem of insufficient bed space for in-transit prisoners, we believe that JPATS should establish a benchmark for the length of layover stays at the FTC. Furthermore, JPATS should work through the JEC to examine how it can help reduce the length of stay for in-transit prisoners being housed at the transfer center.


Our audit report contains 15 recommendations to the USMS regarding JPATS related to better management of the revolving fund, capacity planning, and scheduling. We also make several recommendations related to the safety of JPATS’s flight operations as well as security controls. We believe that implementation of these recommendations can improve the efficiency and security of JPATS operations.

  1. In this report, we use “customers” to denote the three principal agencies that use JPATS on a regular basis: the USMS, the BOP, and ICE.

  2. JPATS transports prisoners and aliens by air through its own fleet of service-owned and leased airplanes. Although JPATS assists in the scheduling of ground transport for the BOP and the USMS, it does not own or operate the motor vehicle fleets used by those two agencies. JPATS also is not involved in any aspects of the ground transport of aliens under the jurisdiction of ICE.

  3. According to JPATS, within each mode of transportation, a movement is the transport of a prisoner or alien from an initial departure location to the destination, regardless of how many intermediate stops are made.

  4. See Appendix III for JPATS air movements by fiscal year and by customers, as well as a breakdown of deportations to foreign countries.

  5. In FY 2005, a total of 858 requests were made to transport non-federal prisoners through JPATS; these requests generally came from state or local law enforcement agencies. See Appendices IV and V for non-federal prisoner movements in FYs 2004 and 2005.

  6. Other agencies include prisoners moved for the military or for other civilian federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

  7. Other modes include commercial air, cars, vans, buses, and air charters.

  8. A significant change of personnel occurred during our audit, when the Assistant Director of JPATS retired in January 2006. Between January and April 2006, a USMS headquarters official served as the acting Assistant Director of JPATS. Since April 2006, the Chief of Business Management Branch of JPATS has been serving as the acting Assistant Director. In this report, the “Assistant Director” refers to the official who served in that role until his retirement in January 2006.

  9. ICE transports aliens through JPATS to detention facilities and immigration hearings throughout the continental United States, and to Central America and the Caribbean for deportations. JPATS provides only a portion of the transportation needs of ICE. According to ICE officials, although JPATS provided 95,292 movements in FY 2005, ICE used commercial airlines as well as chartered flights to meet the remainder of its alien transportation needs. In FY 2005, ICE purchased 62,017 tickets from private sources at a cost of approximately $63.7 million.

  10. According to the Federal Detention Trustee, the OFDT participates in the JEC because JPATS’s operations and the transport of prisoners affect day-to-day detention bed-space requirements.

  11. When chartering medical flights through other vendors from FYs 2003 through 2005, the BOP spent a total of about $19.8 million during the three fiscal years.

  12. USMS Directive 16.3.

  13. Hangar Six flights transport FAA officials, take National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) personnel to crash sites, and provide transportation for air marshals in emergency cases. Non-FAA customers pay Hangar Six for services received.

  14. According to JPATS officials, before the start of each fiscal year JPATS obtains from its customers projected prisoner movements for the upcoming fiscal year and budgetary information for the upcoming three years. These projected movements are used to establish the JPATS budget and revolving fund. However, in our discussion regarding capacity planning we are focusing on forecasting models that extend beyond one year.

  15. Upon the expiration of the five-year strategic-plan in 2002, JPATS did not develop a new strategic plan.

  16. The “night loop” flight originates in Mesa, Arizona, in the late afternoon and proceeds to several locations in the western United States to move aliens to detention centers and pick up aliens being transported to drop-off points near the Mexican border for deportation. The flight returns to Mesa, Arizona late at night.

  17. In June 2004, the GAO issued its report, Federal Aircraft: Inaccurate Cost Data and Weakness in Fleet Management Planning Hamper Cost Effective Operations. This report examined seven federal aviation programs in terms of data accuracy, methods of acquiring aircraft, and operational and safety standards.

  18. Of the two negative responses, one pilot stated that the contractor is probably doing the minimum requirements on maintenance to get by, while the other pilot said that the contractor appeared to not take actions on minor maintenance issues until these developed into more significant concerns.

  19. JPATS began the solicitation for a long-term lease of large aircraft in 2002. The initial solicitation and a subsequent revision resulted in two protests. One protest involved disagreement with the performance requirements specified in the solicitation, while the other protest involved restrictive competition.

  20. Pub. L. No. 106‑181 (2000) defines public aircraft as an “aircraft owned by the Government,” and states that “transport of prisoners, detainees, and illegal aliens” is a qualifying governmental function.

  21. The missing medical and training certificates were all located upon a follow-up visit in April 2006.

  22. JPATS voluntarily implements a policy on crew rest, even though it is not required to do so as a Public Aircraft program. A direct comparison of rest requirements between JPATS and civilian operators is not possible because of the methodology employed by each. JPATS, for instance, includes pre- and post-flight activities in calculating duty periods for pilots; the FAA excludes these in its policy.

  23. Although the time-and-attendance records represented the best available information in lieu of a specific tracking system, we could not definitively determine from these records the amount of time spent by crew members on a flight mission. The amount of time that a crew member spends on a flight mission is necessary to calculate the entitled crew rest.

  24. When JPATS picks up BOP or USMS prisoners at a location, the final destination for those prisoners may not necessarily be on the itinerary for that day, but rather on the itinerary for a flight the next day or several days later. In such circumstances, JPATS needs to house the in-transit prisoners until they arrive at their final destination. The BOP Federal Transfer Center is used for this purpose.

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