NB_170_16_1 - NB 170-16-1 CGI – Unmanned Aerial Systems
NB 170-16-1 CGI – Unmanned Aerial Systems
National Bulletin: 170-16-1 Date: October 23, 2015
Subject: CGI ­– Unmanned Aerial Systems

Purpose.  To provide information about use of unmanned aerial systems (UASs) (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)), solicit comments on the draft NRCS UAS policy, and reemphasize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) policy on Federal agency use of UASs.   
Expiration Date.  September 30, 2016
Background.  An unmanned aircraft is a device that is used, or is intended to be used, for flight in the air with no onboard pilot. These devices may be as simple as a remotely controlled model aircraft used for recreational purposes or as complex as surveillance aircraft flying over hostile areas in warfare. They may be controlled either manually or through an autopilot using a data link to connect the pilot to their aircraft. There are potential applications with NRCS including acquiring imagery and elevation data for—

·         Disaster recovery and mitigation.

·         Supporting documentation for ecological site descriptions.

·         Monitoring NRCS easements.

·         Conservation planning and practice certification.

·         Improved wildlife habitat management.

·         Assessment of invasive species.

·         Water quality monitoring.

The use of UASs by Federal agencies has the potential to be controversial, particularly when UASs are employed to fly over private lands. USDA is preparing a departmental manual (DM) that will provide specific guidance to—

1.    Expand the intent of the National Institute for Science and Technology personally identifiable information definition within USDA operations to include UAS and products and sensors on the platform.

2.    Set standards for documentation and submission of documentation prior to the use of UASs within agency mission operation areas.

3.    Set criteria for annual review of UAS missions.

4.    Establish a transparent Web site for reporting UAS missions for public consumption and review.

The DM is scheduled to be in place by February of 2016.  The DM will specifically apply to all UAS usage within the USDA and any contractual agreements and memorandums of understanding any USDA agency engages with that is not a USDA entity.
Explanation.  Until USDA releases the DM, the use, purchase, lease, rental, contract, or agreement for the use of UASs by NRCS staff must be reviewed by a Regional Conservationist and approved by the Deputy Chief for Soil Science and Resource Assessment.  Requests will use the UAS project proposal template in the draft NRCS UAS policy.

NRCS UAS users must comply with all existing FAA, White House, and Federal regulations including—

·         All UAS purchases require review by the USDA Office of the Chief Information Officer utilizing the acquisition and approval request process.  There is no price limit requiring review.  This also applies to any acquisitions that are part of a gift to USDA.

·         UAS are aircraft and any purchase of an aircraft must comply with Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-126, which states that, “Agencies must comply with OMB Circular No. A-76 before purchasing, leasing, or otherwise acquiring aircraft and related services to assure that these services cannot be obtained from and operated by the private sector more cost effectively.”

·         All NRCS use will comply with FAA policy on UAS use by public agencies.  The FAA approves Federal agency use of UAS under the certificate of authorization process.  NRCS may not operate under the FAA “hobbyist” rules.

Comments on the NRCS UAS policy are due by November 23, 2015.  Send comments to Dorsey Plunk at the National Geospatial Center of Excellence at dorsey.plunk@ftw.usda.gov.
Contact.  For further information on this bulletin, please contact the Javier Ruiz, Acting Director, National Geospatial Center of Excellence, at (817) 509-3352 or Javier.Ruiz@ftw.usda.gov.


David W. Smith

Deputy Chief for Soil Science and Resource Assessment

Attachment A - Draft UAS Policy
[NB_170_16_1 - ]