Recently, the drone industry has become a politically charged landscape, full of lobbyists, lawmakers, and some American drone manufacturers and associations seeking to pad their pockets while operating under the guise of promoting country of origin legislation to “effectively level the playing field for domestic and allied drone manufacturers”.
As proponents of the American Security Drone Act (ASDA) spread misinformation through marketing efforts, branding the legislation as a broad sweeping ban while offering little in the way of explanation, our team sought to provide a holistic perspective to aid government and enterprise organizations navigate the complexities of the ASDA to see through the smoke and mirrors.
What Does The ASDA Mean For Your Organization?
If you fly DJI or Autel Robotics solutions, the answer is “probably not much”.
This might seem confusing based on what you’ve heard or read about the legislation embedded within the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024, which was recently passed by the U.S. House and Senate. The American Security Drone Act aims to regulate the procurement and operation of drones, specifically those manufactured in certain countries, including China; however, the majority of drone teams and pilots won't face direct consequences from the enactment of the ASDA.
Whether you're a commercial entity, a private sector user, or a state/local government agency, you can continue using and purchasing DJI and Autel drones without additional restrictions as long as Federal funds are not involved. Furthermore, even agencies using Federal grants will still be able to procure DJI and Autel products, depending on the agency awarding the grant.
Even commercial and private sector pilots operating DJI and Autel drones with Federal contracts and grants may be able to continue operations, again depending on the agency awarding the grant.
Depending on use, many Federal agencies are even exempt from the Federal purchasing restrictions with an established waiver process for agencies not exempted.
Exemptions and Waivers: Navigating the Regulatory Landscape
Certain federal agencies, such as the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State, and Justice, are exempt from the Act based on specific use cases deemed "required in the national interest of the United States." Additionally, exemptions are available for other agencies or use cases through a waiver process.
This waiver process allows the head of an executive agency to request approval under specific conditions. This included exemption ensures that agencies with critical use cases can continue to procure and operate DJI and Autel drones, subject to approval.
Exploring Exemptions in Detail
Because of the incredible opposition to the American Security Drone Act, many exemptions have been included which play a vital role in ensuring essential operations can effectively respond and function unmolested. The Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State, and Justice are exempt if the procurement is "required in the national interest of the United States." This exemption covers a spectrum of purposes, including research, evaluation, training, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, protective missions, federal criminal investigation, forensic examinations, electronic warfare, information warfare operations, testing, and more.
For the Department of Transportation and the FAA, any operations supporting the safety or security of the nation's airspace are exempt, including activities associated with the Federal Aviation Administration's Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) Center for Excellence (COE), and other activities determined by the Secretary.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is exempt for operations supporting safety investigations, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) mission is completely exempt. The Intelligence Community, as defined in the National Security Act of 1947, is fully exempt from the law.
Requesting Waivers: Flexibility for Agencies
Agencies not explicitly exempted have the option to request a waiver. Continuity of critical operations, like wildlife surveys, environmental monitoring, and scientific research, remains achievable for agencies through waiver acquisition.
This waiver, a potential solution for agencies not explicitly exempt from regulations, is a case-by-case exception granted by the head of executive agencies. The process involves notifying Congress and obtaining approval from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget in collaboration with the Federal Acquisition Security Council. This exemption enables agencies to persist in the procurement and utilization of DJI or Autel drones, aligning with their specific operational needs.
Implications for Law Enforcement and Public Safety Agencies
For law enforcement and public safety agencies, the impact depends on the utilization of federal funds for drone procurement or operation. If federal funds are not involved, the American Security Drone Act does not apply. Moreover, the legislation explicitly allows federal government arrangements with exempted law enforcement and emergency service agencies, ensuring persistent operation in critical public safety operations.
Understanding the nuances of this legislation is crucial for agencies involved in public safety and law enforcement. The Act contains several exemptions and clarifications, ensuring that agencies at various levels can continue their essential operations without disruption.
Continuity of Arrangements Provision
Acknowledging the vital role public safety operations play, the American Security Drone Act incorporates a few provisions to provide necessary exemptions and clarifications.
Under the umbrella of exemptions and clarifications, the Act prioritizes State and Local First Responders. It explicitly states that “nothing should hinder these agencies from procuring or operating a covered unmanned aircraft system using non-Federal dollars”. This commitment to flexibility empowers local entities to make independent decisions in the interest of public safety.
Tribal Law Enforcement and Emergency Agencies
Thankfully, Tribal Law Enforcement and Emergency Agencies enjoy a general exemption from the Act, recognizing their unique challenges and responsibilities. This recognition ensures that these agencies can operate with autonomy, aligning with their specific needs and circumstances.
Wildfire Management and SAR Operations
In the context of wildfire management and search and rescue operations, the Act introduces a crucial exception. All relevant federal agencies are exempt from the imposed restrictions, allowing them the latitude needed to support a comprehensive range for their continued critical operations.
The "Continuity of Arrangements" provision is an important concession within the Act, offering assurance for the federal government's capability to engage in contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements with law enforcement and emergency service agencies, contingent upon the possession of an exemption or waiver by the respective department.
Looking Ahead: What You Should Know Going Forward
Navigating the evolving landscape of the American Security Drone Act, UVT remains committed to keeping you informed about its unfolding impact or lack thereof. Within the next 180 days, expect additional guidance from legislators on government-wide drone procurement, hopefully offering further clarity on the operational landscape for drone users.
To help stime further legislation, consider getting involved. The efforts by groups like the Drone Advocacy Alliance at https://www.droneadvocacyalliance.com have helped ensure the Act was not a broad sweeping ban, including the previously discussed exemptions and waivers. Your continued involvement will contribute to shaping the regulatory landscape and ensuring that the drone industry overcomes over-reaching country-of-origin legislation like this.
While the American Security Drone Act is not a broad-sweeping ban and allows the majority of DJI and Autel drone users to continue their operations with minimal impact, it does introduce new considerations for affected organizations and government entities.
At UVT, our commitment is not only to provide cutting-edge unmanned vehicle technologies and support you with end-to-end support for you, your mission, and your drone team but also to educate the drone community, providing proactive solutions and a balanced perspective amidst the haze of smoke and mirrors.