A bill to halt the government’s purchase of Chinese-made drones is being stalled by demands for a carve-out for the intelligence community, sources said of discussions with the House Intelligence Select Committee.
Senators had hoped to include the bipartisan American Security Drone Act in the annual National Defense Authorization Act after it cleared the upper chamber earlier this year. Introduced by Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), the bill would prohibit federal agencies from purchasing drones manufactured or assembled by Chinese-controlled or linked firms, which the Defense Department warns “pose potential threats to national security.”
Yet the House Intelligence Committee has refused to let the bill move forward absent an exemption for U.S. intelligence agencies, two sources told the Washington Examiner.
The reason for the move is unclear.
A spokesperson for Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), a ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, declined to comment when asked about the decision. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) did not respond to a request for comment.
One source said the need for a carve-out had thrown into question the bill’s prospects ahead of the final NDAA countdown. The legislation permits waivers under certain circumstances.
In a statement to the Washington Examiner, Scott’s communications director, McKinley Lewis, said the senator is continuing to work toward getting the bill passed, even if that means arriving at a compromise.
“Sen. Scott has been very clear: The United States should never spend taxpayer dollars on anything made in Communist China, especially drones which pose a significant threat to our national security,” Lewis said. “Sen. Scott would prefer the bill in its original form as he introduced but looks forward to working with his colleagues to get this bill across the finish line.”
Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, did not respond to requests for comment.
The American Security Drone Act received bipartisan support in the Senate-passed United States Innovation and Competition Act earlier this year, but the bill was not included in the final legislation, known as the CHIPS Act.
Federal agencies have warned that Chinese drone manufacturers maintain close ties to China’s military-industrial complex.
Among the most prominent is Shenzhen-based drone manufacturer DJI Sciences and Technologies, known as DJI, which the Pentagon last month added to a list of Chinese military companies operating in the U.S.
DJI denies claims that the company transmits customer data to China and has attempted to disrupt efforts by Congress to curtail its business in the U.S. According to OpenSecrets, which tracks lobbying records, the company has spent close to $4 million since the start of 2020.
Beijing’s long-term military intentions pose the “most comprehensive and serious challenge to U.S. national security,” defense officials said in a report to Congress this week.
President Joe Biden’s first national security strategy warned last month that China would be “America’s most consequential geopolitical challenge” even as his administration works to avoid a Cold War-style contest.