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Multinational Robot-War AUVSI Sucks from a Deep Well of Congressional Influence

When the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) testified to a congressional committee this week, it was the first I’d heard of the organization, although I’m not likely to forget it now. After all, AUVSI is the group that spoke in favor of the domestic deployment and deregulated international sales of military robot drones for use as weapons and in various forms of surveillance. That’s a memorable stance, to put it mildly.

Although I’d been ignorant of the group’s existence before now, it turns out that the multinational group is well known on Capitol Hill. A military industry association of some 1500 corporations from 55 countries, AUVSI is a sponsor or supporter of no less than three congressional caucuses: the Unmanned Vehicle Systems Caucus (UAV Caucus), the Robotics Caucus, and the Aerospace Caucus.

April 15, 2010: AUVSI Day on Capitol Hill

April 15, 2010 has been declared AUVSI Day on Capitol Hill. The AUVSI Day is an annual lobbying event embraced by Congress each year. For the day, AUVSI has been granted space in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building to erect an exhibition; it will literally be lobbying members of Congress in the lobby. But AUVSI won’t stick to the lobby:

Join AUVSI for a day on Capitol Hill to promote robotics technology and innovation. AUVSI will host exhibits in the Rayburn House Office Building Foyer and will arrange meetings with Congressional Representatives and Staff to build awareness and discuss issues related to advancing robotics technology in the U.S. This event is being hosted in conjunction with National Robotics Week (10-18 April).

Meetings with Members of Congress** – Take your message to lawmakers and raise awareness about the benefits that robotics can and do offer to society. AUVSI will coordinate meetings with Members of Congress and/or staffers and assist you with your talking points.

Exhibits – AUVSI has reserved the Rayburn Foyer to host a small exhibition of robotics technologies. Introduce and educate lawmakers about your technology by participating in this exhibit. Space is limited and available to AUVSI Corporate Members only….

**We urge you to register before 5 April to increase your chances of getting appointments with Members of Congress and Staff. We cannot guarantee meetings at any point, but they are very likely if have your request on or before 5 April. We will accept meeting requests until 9 April and will do our best to accommodate you.

AUVSI is active enough in the legislative influence game to maintain a dedicated Advocacy Committee, headed by the likes of Michael S. Fagan, COO of intelligence and military surveillance corporation Logos Technologies, and Ralph Anderson of ManTech technologies, the military contractor involved in a corruption scandal that brought down Arizona Congressman Rick Renzi.

An active organization like AUVSI, funded by so many thousands of profit-interested corporations, keeps a stable of hired lobbyists as well. AUVSI’s lobbyists come from the well-heeled, extensively connected staff of Arnold and Porter LLP.

In addition to all this, AUVSI Deputy Executive Director Gretchen West maintains a congressional tour program to bring members of Congress to the robotic drone production facilities in their district for more local lobbying. The lobbying and tours may be local, but the AUVSI’s tour program manages the proceeding from its international headquarters, providing fact sheets, talking points, and background reports on members of Congress to make sure that policy talk remains effective and on-point. When West isn’t keeping the tour program together, she’s managing product placements, like putting the Olympic torch in the hands of an autonomous robot. Wrapping up the deals between the most powerful members of the military industry and the most powerful members of Congress is exhilarating work, to be sure:

AUVSI Deputy Executive Director Gretchen West says of lobbying members of Congress: Capitol Hill is truly a different world than the real world...but it was still a good high to meet so many members of Congress today!

What I’ve named are just the dedicated resources of the central AUVSI headquarters. AUVSI maintains other chapters in countries like Israel to keep up pressure on other governments and to pressure the U.S. government from outside. To boot, there are the lobbying, campaign contribution and other less visible efforts of the member corporations that are producing the next generation of military surveillance and attack robots.

The two stated goals of AUVSI and its member corporations:

1. Deploy military surveillance and attack robots domestically,
2. Deregulate the sale of military robots to buyers around the world.

With these efforts underway, what sort of chance do you think AUVSI has of bringing its vision to pass?

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