Business, Tech Groups Push House to Relax Law on Tech Purchases from China
To keep federal government computer systems safe from cybersecurity threats, current law tightly restricts agencies’ ability to buy technology products or services from companies with links to China. It’s time to loosen the reins, say industry organizations.
No one disputes the need to protect the government’s computer systems from cyber attacks, but current restrictions on the technology supply chain are hurting both government and business: That’s the message from more than a dozen technology and business groups urging Congress to relax what they say are harmful restrictions on how agencies make their tech buying decisions.
In a letter to leaders of the House Appropriations Committee, the groups—including the Technology Association of America, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Council of Engineering Companies, and Software and Information Industry Association, among others—asked lawmakers to soften language in the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill that limits federal agencies from doing business with any tech company that is “owned, directed, or subsidized by the People’s Republic of China.”
Those terms, laid out in Section 516 of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 933), were introduced by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) after a series of cybersecurity breaches involving government computers over several years were linked to hackers and tech companies in China.
“We are in agreement with members of Congress that improved security of federal government systems is a necessity,” the tech groups noted in the letter. “However, U.S. industry has suffered from significant unintended consequences as a result of the implementation of Section 516.”
Those consequences, they said, include slowed federal purchases of technology, which have put agencies behind the tech cycle and made them vulnerable to security threats; fewer resources available for IT systems viewed as high-risk; and U.S. companies losing international business.
The group suggested that the House adopt language from the Senate’s FY 2014 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill (S. 1329), which was introduced in July. That language, they said, would allow agencies to make technology purchasing decisions based on risk rather than the provider’s country of origin.
The Senate bill’s language “ensures the law will not undermine the long-term competitiveness of U.S. companies, and safeguards continued investment in U.S.-based research and development,” the groups said. “By focusing on broad categories of cyber threats emanating internationally and domestically … [the Senate language] would avoid the unintended but highly negative effects we gave seen in just a few months.”