FOIA Foibles And Other Examples Of The Paradoxical

Patrick Egan

This latest installment is years in the making, and from the outset meant to serve the good of the UAS community.

It offers a behind the scenes look at our current becalmed air space integration effort. It’s another sunny afternoon in late 2011 and I am quietly minding my own affairs in the off moment when I notice a missed call from the 202 area code.

For you folks leading normal lives, the 202 indicates D.C. Besides my fan club over at 800 Independence Ave, I do know a few other folks inside the beltway who’ve yet to take me off the Christmas card list. (Which reminds me to stop here and make some notes for the end of year wrap up.

This year’s offering promises to brim with regulatory absurdities and other fun anecdotes to read between second helpings of of Turkey, and the inevitable overindulgence in holiday adult beverages.)

Well that’s odd, there’s no voicemail notice. Hmmm, it’s not my birthday!? Initially feeling a bit dejected, curiosity overcame me and I decided to communicate my dismay to the mystery caller.

Surprise, it was Carolyn from the FAA.  She had called to inform me that my FOIA request was going to take a little bit more time, and to thank me for my patience. Fair enough. “Which one?”, I asked. She replied, “The one requesting copies of all of the COA’s and Experimental Certificates the FAA had issued for UAS.” (Editors note: The request specifically excluded those classified as secret, or those that could jeopardize homeland security).

“Oh yeah,” I quipped, “What was the original date on that request again??” “September 2008”, she said. 2008! Ay carumba, that’s almost 3 years ago! Isn’t there some sort of protocol (if not a law) that states they have to respond to these requests in 30 days?

“Yes, but it appears we missed that deadline as the request had gone to the wrong office(s) inside the FAA, lot’s of information…” etc. (It’s worth noting that I had initially received roughly five thousand documents from the FAA listing every incident in the NAS for 2008 within 30 days. So, that would suggest that they are capable of moving some paper around???)

Okay, I’m a reasonable guy, so I’m not going to deride a whole administration over a few procedural slipups. My comments would probably only be taken out of context and/or construed as nitpicking anyway. And after all, they only missed the prescribed deadline for reply by a thousand days or so! I’m sure many of you in the private sector can relate to sliding deadlines.

Moving past the narrative on the not so well oiled machine, it is nice to know that some progress was finally happening on the request made by Joe Bennett and myself on behalf of the RCAPA Reporter and the associations membership.

So… “When should we expect the documentation?” I asked.

“Well… they’re going through them now and the estimate is about another eleven months”.  Eleven months?! “Why so long?” She answers, “Well, some of these documents are secret (those were excluded), and others have personal telephone numbers on them etc.“

Since the call it has come to my attention that the UAPO is asking applicant permission to share public documents from COA’s and Experimental certs?

Just one more feel good example of a private “public” process for the benefit of the common stakeholder.

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Patrick Egan
Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. Built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association).