GSA officials have ‘fundamental disagreements’ with OIG in legality of Chinese camera purchases, per House committee

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The agency’s procurement of Owl Labs cameras as part of a pilot program came under scrutiny in January.

Officials at the General Services Administration contested assertions made by the agency’s inspector general that a scrutinized procurement of Chinese-made cameras at the contracting services agency had violated federal trade laws, a House Oversight Committee spokesperson told Nextgov/FCW.

GSA used Chinese-manufactured conferencing cameras in a procurement order that came under OIG scrutiny in January for a potential violation of the 1979 Trade Agreements Act. The cameras are from video conferencing hardware provider Owl Labs, according to prepared testimony from agency CIO David Shive, who is expected to speak before the House committee on Thursday.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who chairs the panel’s information technology subcommittee, has also probed into the purchase, her office announced earlier this month.

“While GSA admitted that it made errors in the procurement process, and generally agreed with the IG report’s recommendations, agency management disagreed that the camera purchases violated federal law,” the spokesperson said, adding that the responses to Mace’s inquiry “revealed fundamental disagreements with the OIG” that will be examined in the planned hearing.

GSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In his prepared testimony, Shive says that the Owl Labs cameras were attractive due to their portability and capabilities, and acknowledged gaps in documenting procurement requirements.

Per his prepared testimony, Shive also said that GSA put new procedures in place and noted he was “unaware of any evidence suggesting that GSA IT personnel sought to intentionally mislead acquisition officials.”

As of mid-September of last year, there were 210 active non-compliant cameras registered to GSA email addresses, the agency’s OIG found, noting that 29 of them had not been updated to address known security vulnerabilities. Owl Labs did not respond to a request for comment.

The agency’s OIG was contacted in 2022 by an unnamed employee concerned about the purchase and use of the equipment. But the procurement was still greenlit by Shive, and made through GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service’s Federal Systems Integration and Management Center — or FEDSIM — in two separate orders. The camera manufacturing data listed on the GSA Multiple Award Schedule incorrectly marked its country of origin as Taiwan, which is compliant with the 1979 Trade Agreements Act.