In another episode of ‘we spent what on WHAT?’ we’re learning that our government can’t even send illegal immigrants back to their points of origin without bungling the processes at the hefty expense of taxpayers.

According to an audit by the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could’ve saved some $41 million if they used better logistical planning for deportation flights. They spent about $116 million on flights that weren’t at even 80 percent capacity. Of the nearly 7,500 flights reviewed, more than one-third were at least 20 percent empty.

Reportedly ICE has access to eight charter aircraft, each of which can hold 135 passengers, and the agency pays about $8,400 per hour for flights regardless of how many people are on board. You’d think they’d want to get the biggest bang for our buck and fill the planes to capacity. Unfortunately, they tried to operate like a commercial airline running missions even if all of the seats weren’t full.

ICE claims that delaying trips could be more costly in the end because of what it costs to detain deportees awaiting a flight as well as the limits on how long detainees can be held pending deportation. That just sounds like they were making excuses.

ICE also couldn’t explain why some detainees were moved multiple times between the same cities or why other missed their flights.

The Homeland Security report found holes in how ICE’s data collection and reporting tools, management plans, staffing and training needs, and feedback on how well processes are performing.

The Washington Post reports:

A recent review by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s office found that better logistical planning for deportation flights could have saved ICE up to $41 million.

The report concluded that ICE “may have been able to transport the same number of detainees with fewer missions at a lower charter air cost.”

ICE contends that delaying trips to fill more seats could prove more costly in the end. The average rate for detaining a single adult is $122 per day, while the cost for a family is more than $300 per day, the agency told the Post by email on Monday.

Additionally, the agency noted that a 2001 Supreme Court ruling limits detention of undocumented immigrants to six months, although some exceptions are allowed.

Records show that ICE picked up or dropped off more than 23,500 detainees at locations where its charter flights had not flown. In one example, the agency claimed to have removed 54 individuals to Nicaragua, but the flight only stopped in Louisiana, Texas and Guatemala.

Auditors also identified six cases in which ICE moved detainees multiple times between the same cities without documenting why the redundant trips were necessary.

The inspector general recommended that ICE establish reporting standards and create procedures for measuring performance with detainee flights, among other suggestions.

In its official response to the findings, ICE agreed with all of the recommendations but said that empty seats don’t necessarily indicate inefficient flights.

We’re not taking up the immigration debate here, but pointing the spotlight at inefficiency and waste in our federal system. This is the kind of mismanagement that highlights government’s refusal to adopt policies and practices that go easy on the taxpayer.

Perhaps ICE has a legitimate claim that delaying some deportations racks up more costs than flying partially empty flights, but we’ve seen no analysis that demonstrates these calculations were part of their decision-making. What we do have is an auditor’s report which points out how  ICE consistently operates inefficiently.