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The Government Accountability Office is urging the Air Force to work with the Department of Homeland Security to expand the work of its auxiliary wing in training and homeland security missions.
The Civil Air Patrol, a nonprofit auxiliary of the Air Force, could expand its ability to respond to homeland security missions, if the service and DHS study legal parameters, mission funding, capabilities and operating capacity of the volunteer force, according to the Nov. 1 report.
The Civil Air Patrol is made up of 61,000 volunteer members and received $38 million from the Air Force in fiscal 2012. Approximately 75 percent of the patrol's missions are conducted in Air Force auxiliary status, according to the report.
In fiscal 2011, the patrol devoted 46,132 Air Force-assigned flying hours for training and flight orientation, with the rest devoted to homeland security operations. Air Force officials told the GAO that expanding the patrol's law enforcement and homeland security activities is lengthy and requires consent from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The Air Force is limited by the Posse Comitatus Act in playing a direct role in law enforcement, but Defense Department and Civil Air Patrol personnel can assist civilian law enforcement with aerial reconnaissance and the monitoring of traffic.
In 2011, the Civil Air Patrol reported 2,583 Air Force-assigned hours for air defense, which includes the patrol's participation in the Defense Department's low-flying aircraft readiness exercises and exercises training Air Force pilots to intercept low-flying aircraft.
The patrol flies about 550 aircraft, primarily made up of Cessna 172s and 182s, which can perform aerial reconnaissance, damage assessment, search and rescue, and targets for air intercept exercises.
The Civil Air Patrol responded to the report by saying its leadership is looking forward to working with the Air Force and DHS. The report came shortly after teams from Civil Air Patrols from the Northeast, Middle East and Great Lakes regions of the U.S. supported state and government agencies in response to Hurricane Sandy.
"These ongoing emergency missions highlight CAP's ability to augment others using unpaid professionals and cost-effective high-tech equipment," said Maj. Gen. Chuck Carr, the Civil Air Patrol commander, in a release.