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Monday, December 5, 2022
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It’s Time for Federal Counter-UAS to be Permanently Authorized and Consistently Funded

The U.S. civilian drone market continues to expand quickly, with Chinese drone manufacturers dominating U.S. and world markets in a variety of uses. Similarly, counter-UAS technology is keeping pace as more and more private sector entities recognize their risk from careless, clueless, and criminal operators, as well as those who mean to threaten or enact true damage.

As I watched the White House release its new domestic counter unmanned aerial system (UAS) national action plan last week, I thought for a moment about the duration of U.S. conversations on domestic, civilian UAS use.

Congress passed and the President signed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, while I served at the National Security Council. As I recall, the law focused on the need for the FAA to move quickly to define parameters for the safe operation of civilian UAS in domestic air space. We rapidly recognized that this meant not only the need to work through a regulatory process for those seeking to operate UAS but also wrestling with a variety of issues lacking direction in the congressional record, from privacy to security.

By 2016, the U.S. government had launched a number of initiatives, from regulatory actions (small UAS rule), to piloting use across a range of federal missions, and conducting a variety of testing with the private sector. Congress introduced a number of bills, such as authorizing an array of law enforcement uses to protect a “covered facility or asset, and penalizing reckless operations, and held numerous, often difficult, discussions and hearings to ascertain jurisdiction, lead federal roles, and the role of state, local, and private sector entities. In 2018, the Government Accountability Office assessed the state of the law with respect to federalism and privacy issues, noting the gaps and interests.

In December 2018, a new threat took center stage. Between December 19-21, hundreds of flights were cancelled, and approximately 1,000 flights and 140,000 passengers impacted because of repeated UAS sightings at or near Gatwick airport in the U.K. This event, which didn’t include any physical damage but threatened the airspace, resulted in a significant cost to the airport, air carriers, and the government. We all became even more mindful that an attack doesn’t have to be successful, or even occur, to cause widespread concern and impact. While I was at the Transportation Security Administration, we worked closely with other federal entities, such as the FAA, airport authorities, airlines, associations, and others to create a framework to respond when this invariably happened here. We also began talking about how to accelerate advancements in the counter-UAS market, from detection and tracking, through mitigation, and creating agreements and expectations for where private sector entities, such as airports or sports venues acquired technology but needed federal authority (and operators) to use them.

Meanwhile, the U.S. civilian drone market continues to expand quickly, with Chinese drone manufacturers dominating U.S. and world markets in a variety of uses. Similarly, counter-UAS technology is keeping pace as more and more private sector entities recognize their risk from careless, clueless, and criminal operators, as well as those who mean to threaten or enact true damage. Given that limitations on federal resources mean that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense can respond to less than 1% of all requests for counter-UAS support, private sector owners and operators have taken it upon themselves to build their own. Technology and defense providers are buying counter-UAS technology companies and solutions to add to their portfolios. Industry is responding to the threat and signaling what should be more Government action. Other countries have created frameworks to delineate private sector critical infrastructure owners roles in protecting their assets, such as the European Union’s Counter-UAS Action Plan to protect aviation.

It’s time for the federal government to catch up. Departments and Agencies need a consistent set of authorities, such as the ones put forward by the White House along with its Action Plan, that can build on or replace the ones currently expiring. They also need predictable and consistent funding – for research and development, for collaborative and cooperative efforts with the private sector and foreign counterparts, for operations that both mitigate risks of events before they occur and respond when they do. We need to move from tests, trials, and temporary authority, into multi-year, cross-government and industry, strategy implementation. In the absence of sufficient legislation, bad actors proliferate, and those who want to protect us have to make the best choices they can and take risks they shouldn’t have to.

For several years, when asked what I consider the highest risks to the U.S., I’ve consistently listed the need for counter-UAS in my top three. When I first began working in this arena more than a decade ago, our conversations were about preparing for the future – ensuring we were ahead and ready. We need to change our frame. The future has arrived. I’m hopeful Congress will move swiftly on legislation, permanently authorizing the various entities to counter this threat, and consistently fund federal operations at the levels necessary.

Patricia Cogswell
Former Deputy Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration Patty Cogswell joined Guidehouse in September 2020 as a senior strategic advisor, working in the areas of innovation, organization and mission transformation and redesign across the national security sector. She became a partner at Guidehouse in 2022. Ms. Cogswell is a homeland and national security executive with 24 years of experience;13 years as a senior executive. She has led programs at the White House, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Justice, in transportation, intelligence, policy, border security, screening, and information sharing initiatives. She possesses substantive expertise in: aviation, maritime, and surface transportation security, US government and foreign partner screening and vetting programs, counter terrorism, transnational organized crime, intelligence, information sharing and associated technology architectures, and immigration and border processes. She has led multiple organizations through strategy, policy, technology execution, and operations in support of national security missions, as well as how to construct and implement both business and technical architectures. She led complex initiatives across the federal government and with international partners. She negotiated international agreements. Prior to her arrival, she served in a number of roles within the Department of Homeland Security, including as the Deputy Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, Assistant Director for Intelligence at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Acting Undersecretary within the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Acting Assistant Secretary for Policy Integration and Implementation, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Screening Coordination. She previously served at the National Security Council as Acting Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and as Special Assistant to the President for Transborder Security. During her time in government, Ms. Cogswell received the DHS Outstanding Service Medal, the DHS Secretary’s Award, and the DHS Thought Leadership Award. Ms. Cogswell received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania with a minor in Economics and a Juris Doctor degree from the College of William and Mary, Marshall-Wythe School of Law.

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