Security

Justice cancels 7 IT procurements over China links

Placeholder Image for Article Template

The Justice Department told Congress in late March that it had canceled seven federal IT procurements because of questionable vendor ties.

The cancellations arose from a provision in the fiscal 2013 continuing resolution that required a cybersecurity review of procurements by the departments of Justice and Commerce, NASA, and the National Science Foundation for vendors that had links to the Chinese government or military.

The provision, known as the Section 516 rule, was included in the 2013 funding bill at the urging of Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the affected departments and agencies. The rule seeks to eliminate IT gear from firms known to be responsible for cyberattacks on U.S. companies or to have links to the Chinese military. The rule has provoked sustained protests by contractors concerned about its potentially wide-ranging impact on the IT supply chain.

"Although the [Obama] administration was not initially supportive of this effort to restrict purchases of questionable IT hardware, I appreciate that the department appears to be taking the new requirements seriously," Wolf said at the opening of an appropriations hearing on April 4.

Justice's March 27 report from Lee Lofthus, assistant attorney general for administration, provides a detailed look at how the administration has gone about implementing the measure. A risk assessment program inside the FBI examined 1,145 companies involved in IT procurements in fiscal 2013 "for the purpose of neutralizing foreign intelligence entities through the identification of supply chain threats and vulnerabilities [that] could result in cyber espionage or sabotage activities." Of those companies, the assessors found "questionable foreign ownership control or influence" and other potential red flags for six vendors across seven procurements. The vendors and procurements were not identified in the report.

In procurement guidance documents released in November 2013, Justice officials said the Section 516 assessment must be applied to all the department's national security systems and enterprise IT systems. NASA's Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement contract vehicle included a public mention of the rule, but otherwise detail on the program has been hard to come by.

Wolf said Justice's report "demonstrates that the policy this committee directed was both necessary and constructive, and it will help bolster the department's cybersecurity."

The rule was changed slightly in the fiscal 2014 appropriations bill, where it appears, somewhat confusingly, in Section 515. The new rule applies to IT systems classified as moderate or high impact under federal security rules. But the language continues to identify China as a potential source of cybersecurity risk. Additionally, the committee report accompanying the legislation requires the Justice Department to provide quarterly updates to Congress on efforts made to uphold the policy.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


Featured

  • Defense
    Soldiers from the Old Guard test the second iteration of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) capability set during an exercise at Fort Belvoir, VA in Fall 2019. Photo by Courtney Bacon

    IVAS and the future of defense acquisition

    The Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System has been in the works for years, but the potentially multibillion deal could mark a paradigm shift in how the Defense Department buys and leverages technology.

  • Cybersecurity
    Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lora Ratliff)

    Mayorkas announces cyber 'sprints' on ransomware, ICS, workforce

    The Homeland Security secretary announced a series of focused efforts to address issues around ransomware, critical infrastructure and the agency's workforce that will all be launched in the coming weeks.

Stay Connected