House Oversight lawmaker probes government purchase of Chinese security cameras

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., shown here heading to the U.S. Capitol for votes last December, has questions about the federal purchase of Chinese-manufactured video equipment.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., shown here heading to the U.S. Capitol for votes last December, has questions about the federal purchase of Chinese-manufactured video equipment. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A letter to the General Services Administration's CIO asks why he signed off on the equipment purchase, despite alternatives being available.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., the chair of an oversight subcommittee focused on information technology, is probing the General Services Administration’s purchase of 150 Chinese-manufactured video conferencing cameras that became the subject of a scathing oversight report last month, her office announced Thursday.

GSA was found to have used “egregiously flawed” market research in its decision to purchase the cameras that did not comply with U.S. trade standards, the agency’s Inspector General’s office said in the report released Jan. 23. The research provided to the GSA contracting officer responsible for the procurement was “inaccurate, incomplete, and misleading” and ignored alternatives that were compliant with trade standards, the analysis added.

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 agency CIO David Shive, and was made through GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service’s Federal Systems Integration and Management Center — or FEDSIM — in two separate orders. 

Mace is requesting that Shive  provide information on how the agency passed over alternative camera equipment that complied with current federal standards and asked what actions were taken against staff alleged to have provided the misleading data on the cameras. 

The letter also asks Shive directly why he decided to sign off on the purchases, despite other compliant hardware having been available. Shive concurred with the purchases, knowing that they didn’t meet standards, according to last month’s OIG report. “Per the market research conducted by GSA IDT, there are no available comparable products that are compliant,” a statement from an included purchase memorandum read.

“This procurement is especially concerning given GSA’s broader procurement footprint within the federal government,” Mace said in a statement. “The OIG report would be troubling enough if the buyer were any federal agency. But GSA is not any federal agency; it is the federal government’s purchasing agent, buying tens of billions of dollars of information technology products and services annually on behalf of other agencies through the Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) vehicles administered by GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS),” she said.

Nextgov/FCW has reached out to GSA for comment.

A spokesperson for GSA OIG said that subcommittee members have been briefed on the on the report and that the OIG would be providing testimony at future hearing on the camera purchases expected to occur on Feb. 29.

At least one alternative camera device was available to purchase and met standards, the oversight report noted. That camera product was manufactured by a firm designated as “Company B” in the report, which said that the firm was headquartered in the U.S. and manufactured TAA-compliant cameras in several nations, including Taiwan. 

The Homeland Security Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in June 2022 issued an alert regarding updates to TAA non-compliant camera equipment, according to the report, though it did not say which software or hardware was specifically flagged by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. A search of June 2022 CISA alerts connected to cameras only turned up one result, referring specifically to Owl Labs, a video equipment provider that sells tabletop conferencing devices.

Security officials in recent years have been working to jettison Chinese-made communications equipment from government networks and telecommunications service providers, on grounds that such hardware could potentially exfiltrate sensitive data and conduct espionage on behalf of China’s central government.

Editor's note: This article was updated Feb. 20, 2024 to include a response from an additional source.

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