With little debate, lobbyists slipped language into an FAA reauthorization bill earlier this year that will allow some 30,000 drones to fly over domestic airspace in coming years. While the shift may lead to a marked loss of privacy for millions of Americans, one congressman is bragging about carrying the drone industry's water.
Congressman Rick Berg (R-ND), a first-term lawmaker now running for U.S. Senate, recorded a message for the Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVS), touting his efforts to insert language into legislation that would allow drones to share airspace and runways for domestic test flights. "It's clear to me that expanding the use of unmanned systems hold enormous potential for our state and our country," said Berg in his taped video for the AUVS lobby group.
As Republic Report has noted, AUVS is funded largely by military contractors that build and operate drones in Iraq and Afghanistan. The group has doubled its lobbying expenses in recent years, and managed to develop a bipartisan pro-drone caucus in Congress, of which Berg is a member and Congressman Buck McKeon (R-CA) is co-chair.
This year, Berg was slated to attend yet another drone lobby event. This one, titled "From Battlefield to Farm Field," featured Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), and taped messages from Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
In one sense, Berg's positioning as a loyal ally of the drone industry can be seen as an effort to serve the interests of his state, which has several airfields that could be used for drone testing. However, Berg is also fundraising around the clock for his Senate race, and his legislative favors have been noticed by lobbyists with companies that make unmanned vehicles.
Lockheed Martin, maker of the RQ-170 Sentinel weaponized drone, as well as Boeing, makers of the Phantom Eye UAV surveillance drone, have contributed funds to Berg's campaign.
North Dakota has the particular distinction of being the first state to use drones for a civillian police matter. With Berg's help, it won't be the last.