GSA limits inclusion of some drones from procurement list for government agencies
By DRONELIFE Staff Writer Jim Magill
In the latest skirmish in the ongoing war between the federal government and the producers of Chinese-made drones, the General Services Administration announced Tuesday that it would only offer to procure for other government agencies five drone models approved under the special Department of Defense (DoD) program.
In a post on its GSA Interact blog, GSA said “due to the significant risk associated” with offering small unmanned aerial vehicles under its Multiple Award Schedules (MAS) program it would remove all drone models from MAS procurement contracts, except those approved by DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) through its Blue sUAS Program.
Multiple Award Schedules are long-term governmentwide contracts with commercial firms providing buyers from federal, state and local governments access to more than 11 million commercial products and services at volume-discount pricing.
A GSA spokeswoman told DroneLife that the agencies action does not prevent other federal agencies from acquiring non-Blue sUAS drones through avenues outside of the GSA and the action will not have any effect on agencies that currently still have non-Blue sUAS drones in their inventory.
GSA stopped awarding drones under new MAS contracts as of this month and is now working toward removing drones currently awarded under MAS contracts by Feb. 1, the spokesperson said.
“GSA estimates the cost to be minimal, as this action will only impact approximately 20 MAS contracts; however, none of these contracts will be cancelled in their entirety as these contracts include other product offerings,” the spokesperson said.
Like other government agencies that in the past several years have sought to discourage the use by federal agencies of drones produced in countries deemed hostile to U.S. interests – most notably China – the GSA raises the specter that the use of such drones presents the potential of a security threat.
“The increase of buying and usage of drones/UAS devices, referred to herein as ‘drones,’ poses a unique set of challenges and security risks such as: surveillance, theft, disruption and/or use of selective federal information or federal information networks” the GSA said.
The GSA also singles out China, which produces the vast majority of drones used throughout the world, saying there is an increased risk of non-compliance with existing procurement law, including the Trade Agreements Act (TAA) and Section 889 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY19.
Section 889 comprises an interim rule issued by DoD, GSA and NASA that “prohibits executive agencies from entering into, or extending or renewing, a contract with an entity that uses any equipment, system, or service that uses covered telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential component of any system, or as critical technology as part of any system, on or after August 13, 2020, unless an exception applies or a waiver is granted.”
Under the Blue sUAS program, five drones are approved for use by the U.S. military and other federal agencies. They are: the Altavian Ion M440 C, the Parrot Anafi-USA, the Skydio X2D, Teal Golden Eagle and the Vantage Robotics Vesper. However, the GSA left the door open for other drone manufacturers to find their way back onto the approved MAS list, “should GSA identify and implement an appropriate risk-mitigation strategy.”
“GSA values its partnership with its contractors and is committed to exploring how drones can be securely offered under MAS. Affected contractors may have the opportunity to add non-Blue sUAS drones back to their MAS contracts in the future,” the spokesperson said.
This process would require contractors to work with their contracting officers to add drones that are compliant with government policies through the GSA established modification process.
The GSA prohibition is just the most recent effort by a federal agency to severely limit the use of drones made in China by U.S. government entities and other drone customers. Last month the U.S. Department of Commerce blacklisted DJI, by placing the China-based drone manufacturer on the department’s “Entity” list. Inclusion on the list means that DJI has been identified as a company that might “pose a significant risk of being or becoming involved in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”
In October, the Justice Department declared that no agency may use DOJ funds for any unmanned aircraft manufactured by a “covered foreign entity … subject to or vulnerable to extrajudicial direction from a foreign government,” which includes drones produced by DJI and other Chinese companies.
Earlier in October, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt sent a memo to Department of the Interior (DOI) leaders, instructing them to purchase U.S.-made drones going forward. The move follows a decision last January by DOI to ground its fleet of nearly 1,000 drones, over concerns that the fleet consisted of drones manufactured in China or contained Chinese-produced components.