Hold the phone on those drone regulations

It was only yesterday that we discussed the new drone regulations coming out of the FAA. At the time I asked about the rapid nature of the roll out of these new registration requirements. This just came onto the radar (pardon the pun) in August and they managed to unleash a new program potentially affecting tens of millions of people across the country and every law enforcement agency in the land in only four months? Doesn’t that sound rather… abrupt?

Turns out I wasn’t the only one concerned by that. The Competitive Enterprise Institute is poised to take the FAA to court for short sheeting the normal public comment period before issuing new regulations of this sort. (The Hill)

The Washington, D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute said Monday the FAA violated federal requirements for allowing public comments on the drone registration proposal, which usually lasts for a period of 30 to 60 days.

The FAA formed a task force of aviation industry representatives in October to weigh in on the drone registration requirements, which were announced on Monday. The agency said the task force was “composed of 25 to 30 diverse representatives from the [drone] and manned aviation industries, the federal government, and other stakeholders.”

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) said the task force was a not a proper substituted for the federal government’s public comment rules for pending legislation, however.

“The FAA’s claim that complying with notice and comment requirements for small drone registration regulation is ‘impracticable and contrary to the public interest,’ so that it can therefore ignore them, is as predictable as it is absurd,” CEI transportation policy expert Marc Scribner said in a statement. “In issuing this unlawful interim final rule, [Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx] and [FAA Administrator Michael Huerta] are practically demanding litigation.”

Supposedly the FAA took the requirements for public comment into consideration when making this decision, but that’s some fairly thin gruel. You can kind of understand rushing something through if there’s a clear and present danger which has just jumped up out of the blue and we need to tamp it down. But the emergency being cited in this case is… Christmas. Yes, I imagine quite a few people asked for Santa to bring them a drone, but they’ve been commercially available for several years now and will continue to be sold throughout the coming years. Did we really need to short sheet the public comments process because Rudolph was going to be a little too quick on his rounds this Christmas eve?

The other half of this question, of course, is precisely how useful the entire “public comment period” process is these days to begin with. There were enough comments on the Keystone XL Pipeline to reach from Washington to the moon and back if you printed them all out and the White House pretty much ignored them. We’ve seen the same thing on the state level for fracking moratoriums and all manner of things. The whole idea of public comments has turned into something of a joke since politicians will generally wind up doing what’s best for their party and their electoral prospects anyway.

If the administration has already decided that they’re going to require drone registration because it makes for a winning campaign commercial, they’re going to do it anyway. Having the full comment period open will only slow the process.