The House on Monday evening unanimously passed two drone security bills, one prohibiting the Department of Homeland Security from buying certain foreign-made unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and other requiring the department to assess the threats to the homeland from these systems.
The bills, which were passed by voice vote, still require Senate approval.
The Protecting Critical Infrastructure Against Drones and Emerging Threats Act (H.R. 4432) directs the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis to prepare a threat assessment and report to Congress on threats posed by UAS to critical infrastructures in the U.S. It also directs DHS to include information from owners and operators of critical infrastructure, and state and local government agencies in its assessment.
The report must also include a classified plan to mitigate drone threats. The bill was introduced by Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.).
The second bill is aimed at China and other strategic competitors to the U.S. as outlined in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Drone manufacturer DJI, which is based in China, manufactures the vast majority of recreational drones used in the U.S. and worldwide.
The Drone Origin Security Enhancement Act (H.R. 4753) prohibits DHS from buying foreign-made drones from companies that are based in a covered foreign country, peripherals such a flight controllers, ground control systems and cameras, and operating software that are made in a foreign country and can be used with a drone, and drones that use network connectivity or data storage provided by a foreign country or company based in a foreign country.
The bill also prohibits DHS from using technology from a covered foreign country for the purpose of detecting and identifying drones. DJI has a product called Aeroscope that some U.S. airports are evaluating for the detection of company-built drones near their facilities.
“The Department of Homeland Security is charged with protecting Americans here at home and it is critical that the technologies used to carry out this mission are secure,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who introduced the bipartisan legislation, said on the House floor on Monday. “The risk posed by certain foreign drone manufacturers is well documented and presents a national security threat. Chinese manufactured drones could provide a back door for the Chinese government to access sensitive flight data from drones used by DHS.”
Crenshaw’s bill includes a waiver provision allowing DHS to use foreign-made drones for Counter UAS testing and training, and intelligence, electronic warfare and information warfare purposes.
The House also passed a number of other homeland security bills, including another offered by Crenshaw that codifies and enhances various acquisition authorities of the DHS under secretary of management. The DHS Acquisition Reform Act (H.R.3413) was approved by a vote of 380 to 4.
The Securing America’s Ports Act (H.R. 5273), introduced by Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.), passed by voice vote. The bill requires DHS to develop a plan for 100 percent screening of commercial and passenger vehicles entering the U.S. at land ports of entry using large-scale non-intrusive inspection (NII) systems.
The screening of all cargo and vehicles entering the U.S. has been a goal in the post-9/11 era, but technology limitations combined with limited real estate at border entry points has prevented 100 percent scanning from being implemented. DHS is flush with money to purchase more large-scale NII equipment, but has been slow to spend it.
The House also passed the Homeland Security for Children Act (H.R. 2932), the DHS Field Engagement Accountability Act (H.R. 504), the Department of Homeland Security Climate Change Research Act (H.R. 4737), the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Homeland Security Partnerships Act (H.R. 1494), and the Protecting America’s Food and Agricultural Act (S. 2107), which passed the Senate last October and now heads to President Trump for his signature.