U.S. Sec. Transportation Elaine Chao on “Transformative Technology” and Government’s Role

In a conversation with Fortune’s Alan Murray at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech Conference, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao says that drone integration is a top priority for the department.

Chao emphasized, however, the “proper role of government,” which she says is to be a regulator, but not to attempt to control the development of the technology.

“We want to be tech neutral – we don’t want to be top down, command and control and we don’t want to pick winners and losers,” says Chao.  “Safety is the top priority.”  Chao says the Department of Transportation needs to address legitimate public concerns about privacy and security – and is trying to do that without hindering the industry.

The Secretary received pushback from interviewer Alan Murray, who commented that other governments have established technology development as a priority and were taking a more active role.  “You don’t see that as the government’s role?  To have a policy?” asked Murray.

Chao responded that the government’s role was regulatory.  “I do have faith in the private sector through the competitive process,” she said.  “It’s not up to us.”

Chao also took a firm stand on the issue of state drone regulation.  However, instead of focusing on preemption – the sole right of the FAA to regulate airspace in the US – Chao said that there needed to be more cooperation between federal and local governments.

“We don’t want a patchwork [of drone regulation across states],” said Chao.”There needs to be more coordination between states and federal government.”

“We would encourage them not to be too heavy handed,” she commented.

Asked how far away the U.S. was from allowing drone delivery, Chao pointed out that regulations aside, communities may not be ready for widespread drone delivery.

“Whether it works technologically is one thing… whether there is consumer acceptance is another,” Chao pointed out.  “Consumer acceptance of this new technology is a constraint.”

“I am trying to balance promoting innovation within the industry… also taking care of safety, security and  privacy… that’s the proper role for government,” said Chao.





Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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