SAN DIEGO - Poway-based General Atomics, the makers of the Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, could earn $443 million if a contract with the Border Patrol is fulfilled to deliver to the agency 14 more UAVs.
The problem, according to investigative reporting group California Watch, is that there is no money to pay for it.
"Procurement contracts are very strict in that you can't obligate the government without the money to pay for it, however there are provisions which allow agencies to lock in these kinds of contracts," said Andrew Becker, who is with California Watch.
That is apparently what the Border Patrol did: lock in a contract to build 14 more UAVs if or when the money is available.
"This is a huge waste of taxpayer money, especially when the Border Patrol is talking about cutting salaries of agents by 30 percent," said Shawn Moran. He is with the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union that represents agents.
Moran added, "You have all the technology you want on the border but without boots on the ground to make apprehensions and arrests, it's useless."
In a statement to California Watch, the agency said this was more of a five-year strategy than actual purchase but beyond that, they would not say much, according to Becker.
Predator drones have been flying over the southern and northern borders since 2010. The agency had its 10th UAV delivered last month.
Though it would like to add 14 more over time, there are no plans to purchase any more in fiscal year 2013.