Senators concerned about counterfeit parts

Recent reports on counterfeit electronics and IT products show increases in the number of incidents

Two senators have asked how Defense Department officials intend to stop counterfeit parts, including electronics, from flowing unnoticed into the defense supply chain.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote a letter on Aug. 6 to Ashton Carter, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, about the need for stronger policies to address the problem of counterfeit parts.

“Federal agencies, including those within the DOD, do not have effective policies or specific processes in place for detecting, tracking and preventing the use of counterfeit parts,” the senators wrote.


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The senators cited two reports about counterfeit parts and how to block them from entering the supply chain. The Government Accountability Office reported in March that DOD doesn’t have a departmentwide definition of counterfeit or a consistent means of identifying instances of suspected counterfeit parts. There can be many sources of such parts because DOD draws from a network of global suppliers, GAO reported.

As a result, “the current supply system is not adequately addressing the risks to national security from counterfeit parts,” Carper and Brown wrote.

Defense officials told GAO they have established teams to look at current government and industry initiatives to block counterfeit parts — particularly in electronic systems and components — from entering DOD’s supply chain. DOD is also working on developing a standard definition of the term, according to GAO’s report. Officials expect to have the definition and guidance by December.

The senators also mentioned a report the Commerce Department issued in January that goes into detail about counterfeit electronics with statistics on the extent of the infiltration. Commerce officials determined that the number of incidents of counterfeit parts rose from 3,868 in 2005 to 9,356 in 2008, the report states.

"Counterfeit parts have the potential to seriously disrupt DOD supply chains, delay missions and affect the integrity of weapons systems," the senators wrote.

Acquisition officials have held various meetings in the past year to discuss counterfeit information technology products and procurement policies for blocking them. The debate raises the question of whether contracting officers should look for lowest price or best value for a product.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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