Ex-officials: Tightened ‘Buy American’ rules could hurt Pentagon tech buying

Ex-officials: Tightened ‘Buy American’ rules could hurt Pentagon tech buying
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Former Pentagon officials say that tightening “Buy American” provisions that direct the government to prefer U.S.-made products could hurt the military’s ability to procure the best technology.

The topic came up at a House hearing about Pentagon IT operations on Wednesday, one week after President Trump unveiled his “Buy American and Hire American” executive order.

“There has always been concern in the acquisition community that if we have ‘Buy American’ provisions that become too restrictive, it will limit our ability to get the best weapons systems for our warfighters,” former Pentagon undersecretary Peter Levine said.

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“As long as the 'Buy American' provisions are in the area they are now, we have been able to work around them, but there’s concern that if you ramp it up too much, it might impede the ability to do what that need to do,” Levine said. 

Former Pentagon Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen agreed.

“There are some cases where unfortunately we can’t buy American in much of the technical side,” he said. 

Halvorsen suggested that the Pentagon should focus more on restricting purchases of technology manufactured by specific nation-states, though he didn’t name any specifically.

Lawmakers have previously raised concerns about vulnerabilities in the Defense Department’s supply chain and the risk of purchasing materials that could be compromised by adversaries. 

Ed Greer, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for developmental test and evaluation, warned of the cybersecurity risks of procuring some technologies from foreign suppliers. 

“Outsourcing integrated circuitry is a concern I’ve had for a while from a cybersecurity and trusted systems point of view,” Greer said.

“We are second to none when it comes to manufacturing integrated circuitry and producing small quantities, but the outsourcing of them in large quantities is something that we all have to be concerned about only from a malware perspective and other reasons.” 

Levine noted that avoiding purchases from certain nations to reduce supply chain risks is different from taking all countries “off the table.”

The executive order that Trump signed last week directs federal agencies to review and enforce the implementation of “Buy American” laws that apply to them. Trump has billed the order as part of a larger effort to boost economic growth.