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Section 889 & NDAA Compliance for Drone Education Programs

March 3, 2024 — 5 minutes

In the evolving educational technology landscape, drones have soared to the forefront as a dynamic tool for learning, offering students hands-on experiences in fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However, for schools navigating the complexities of integrating drone technology into their curriculum, particularly those benefiting from federal grants, understanding and adhering to legal requirements such as Section 889 becomes paramount. This blog post aims to demystify these regulations, providing school administrators and teachers with the knowledge and resources to confidently and legally incorporate drones into their educational programs.

Understanding Section 889

Section 889 refers to a part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019, which addresses national security and cybersecurity concerns in the context of telecommunications and video surveillance equipment or services. Specifically, it aims to safeguard the United States’ telecommunications networks from potential threats from certain foreign entities, particularly those associated with the Chinese government. Section 889 is divided into two parts, each with distinct prohibitions:

Part A of Section 889

Part A prohibits federal agencies from procuring or obtaining any telecommunications and video surveillance equipment or services from certain identified companies deemed to be a security risk. This part aims to prevent the U.S. government from directly purchasing or acquiring technology and services that could threaten national security. The companies targeted by this prohibition are those that are owned or controlled by the government of a foreign country that poses a security risk, and specifically includes several Chinese companies that are leaders in telecommunications and surveillance technology.

Part B of Section 889

Part B extends the prohibition to prevent federal agencies from contracting with any entity that uses any equipment, system, or service that uses telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential component of any system, if the prohibited companies provide those components or services. This means that not only direct purchases are banned, but also entering into contracts with companies that themselves use the banned technology in their operations, whether or not those operations directly relate to their work with the government. This part aims to further mitigate risk by ensuring that the broader supply chain and contractor ecosystem does not rely on potentially compromised technology, even indirectly.

The Blacklist

Section 889 explicitly mentions a blacklist of companies from which the procurement of equipment or services is banned. This list includes but is not limited to, prominent Chinese companies such as Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation, which are known for their telecommunications equipment and services. Over time, other companies have been added to the blacklist, reflecting ongoing concerns about security and the integrity of the telecommunications infrastructure. The current Section 889 Blacklist includes Shenzhen-based DJI Technology (DJI). DJI is one of the world’s largest drone manufacturers and is estimated to control more than half of the global market for commercial drones.

How does Section 889 impact funding for drone-based educational programs?

Section 889 has significant implications for schools, especially those receiving federal funds, looking to purchase drones for educational purposes. Since Section 889 prohibits using federal funds to procure telecommunications and video surveillance equipment or services from certain prohibited entities, primarily Chinese companies identified as security risks, schools must carefully consider the origin and manufacturer of the drones they plan to buy.

  1. Prohibited Companies: If a drone manufacturer is listed on the Section 889 blacklist, such as DJI Technology (DJI), which is one of the world’s largest drone manufacturers and has been mentioned explicitly in the context of Section 889, schools cannot use federal funds to purchase these drones. This requirement necessitates thorough due diligence on the part of the schools to ensure that the drones they wish to purchase are not sourced from any company on the blacklist.
  2. Federal Funding Compliance: Schools that benefit from federal grants or funding must comply with Section 889. This means that any technology procurement, including drones, must not involve entities that are prohibited under Section 889. Failure to comply could result in losing federal funding and expose the institution to potential legal and financial repercussions.
  3. Alternative Sourcing: Schools interested in incorporating drone technology into their curriculum or other activities must look for alternative suppliers that are not on the prohibited list. This might involve seeking out drones manufactured in countries or by companies that do not pose a security risk, as defined by Section 889.
  4. Vendor Vetting and Compliance: Schools should implement a process for vetting potential drone vendors to ensure compliance with Section 889. This involves verifying the drones’ origins, the manufacturing company’s ownership, and ensuring that none of the components are sourced from prohibited entities.
  5. Awareness and Education: Educators and school administrators must be aware of the restrictions imposed by Section 889 and educate their procurement teams about these requirements. This could involve training sessions, developing procurement guidelines, and establishing a compliance checklist for technology purchases.

Navigating the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2024

The NDAA for Fiscal Year 2024 introduces a range of new provisions and updates, focusing on various aspects of defense procurement, artificial intelligence, and strategic competition, especially concerning China and Russia. While these updates are critical for government contractors and the Department of Defense’s strategic operations, they do not directly supersede or replace the requirements outlined in Section 889 regarding procuring telecommunications and video surveillance equipment with federal funds.

For instance, the 2024 NDAA introduces provisions to prohibit the Department of Defense from contracting with entities listed as Chinese military companies operating in the United States and establishes pilot programs for consumption-based solutions (anything-as-a-service). It also includes new requirements for entities providing consulting services to the government to ensure they do not have contracts with covered foreign entities, including China and Russia. These changes underscore the ongoing focus on national security, strategic competition, and the integrity of the defense supply chain​​​​​​.

Therefore, while the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2024 continues to evolve national defense and security policies, Section 889’s specific requirements regarding the use of federal funds to procure certain telecommunications and video surveillance equipment remain applicable to schools and other entities receiving federal grants. This ensures that the U.S. government’s efforts to mitigate risks associated with specific foreign technologies are maintained across all sectors receiving federal funding, not just within the defense industrial base.

DroneBlocks’ Section 889 Compliant Drones and STEM Programs

What drones can be used in educational programs under Section 889?

Most Frequently Asked Question

DroneBlocks is at the forefront of offering educational drone technology and STEM programs that adhere to the compliance requirements of Section 889. Their innovative programs are designed not only to inspire and educate students in the fascinating world of drone technology but also to ensure that schools can confidently participate without concern over federal regulations. Here’s an overview of the Section 889 compliant drones and STEM programs offered by DroneBlocks:

1. Autonomous Drones – Level II

  • Program Overview: This course dives into the fundamentals of programming a drone using DroneBlocks. It offers an immersive experience into autonomous flight, allowing students to explore advanced concepts in drone technology and coding.
  • Compliance: Carefully curated to ensure adherence to Section 889 regulations, this program uses drones and components not listed on the blacklist, making it a safe choice for federally funded educational institutions.
  • More Information: Programming a Drone – DroneBlocks Level II

2. Autonomous Drones – Level III

  • Program Overview: Level III elevates the learning experience by introducing students to the DEXI PX4 STEM Drone Kit. This program focuses on advanced autonomous flight concepts and real-world applications of drone technology in various industries.
  • Compliance: The drones used in this program comply with Section 889, ensuring that schools can leverage this advanced curriculum without compromising on legal requirements.
  • More Information: DEXI PX4 STEM Drone Kit – DroneBlocks Level III

3. FPV Drone Racing

  • Program Overview: The FPV Drone Racing program introduces students to the thrilling world of first-person view (FPV) drone racing. This hands-on experience teaches aerodynamics, drone piloting skills, and the science behind racing drones, all through an engaging and competitive format.
  • Compliance: This program is structured around Section 889 compliance, using FPV drones and equipment that meet federal guidelines, ensuring a worry-free implementation in schools.
  • More Information: FPV Drone Racing – DroneBlocks

4. Drone Light Show Kit

  • Program Overview: The Drone Light Show Kit offers a unique blend of technology and creativity, allowing students to design and execute their own drone light shows. This program covers the basics of drone flight, programming, and synchronization, culminating in a spectacular display of lights and drones.
  • Compliance: Adhering to Section 889, the Drone Light Show Kit uses compliant drones and technology, making it a safe addition to any school’s STEM curriculum.
  • More Information: Drone Light Show Kit – DroneBlocks
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