McClatchy Newspapers details the myriad problems that have grounded the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s new surveillance planes. In January, after less than 10 months of operation, the cascade of mechanical problems forced the DEA to ground the planes. The planes recently were scheduled to be “cannibalized” so the DEA could sell the parts and recover as much of its money as possible.
The story behind why the DEA sought out the three planes, only to become the second federal agency to give them up, illustrates the pitfalls of “black,” or classified, budgeting in which Congress approves tens of billions of dollars for intelligence agencies outside the public’s view. The twin-engine planes, manufactured by Schweizer Aircraft, likely came out of an even more shadowy funding provision known as “black earmarks.” Lawmakers often earmark projects to score sought-after contracts for companies back home. Black earmarks, however, receive almost no scrutiny. Even worse, there’s little accountability when the technology doesn’t work.