Georgetown’s CSET Scrutinizes State Spending on Banned Foreign Tech Threats

CSET Joins Heritage and China Tech Threat in Calling for State Procurement Restrictions

In July 2019, the Department of Defense Inspector General published a report exposing $30+ million in military spending on commercial over-the-shelf products such as Lexmark printers and Lenovo computers. These companies are dangerous, among other reasons, because they give the Chinese government a potential access point to sensitive data. Early the next year, China Tech Threat conducted a thorough review of state contracts and spending on both companies, confirming that about 40 states purchased products from Lenovo and Lexmark.

Today Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) published a new study that extends and expands on China Tech Threat’s earlier work.

“Banned in D.C.: Examining Government Approaches to Foreign Technology Threats” demonstrates how four recent federal restrictions have failed to limit sales to states and municipalities. The report’s review of recent spending data reveals that from 2015-2021, 1,681 state and local government entities purchased equipment and services prohibited by Section 889 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which prohibited federal agencies from using equipment and services from five Chinese tech companies and working with contractors that use covered equipment.

The CSET authors – Jack Corrigan, Sergio Fontanez, and Michael Kratsios – recognize that states and localities are ill-equipped to review the various federal guidelines. They ultimately recommend that the federal government create a “master list of foreign [information and communication technology and services] covered by procurement prohibitions.”

The CSET study comes just three months after Heritage Foundation’s Michael Cunningham’s important paper, “Why State Legislatures Must Confront Chinese Infiltration.” As China Tech Threat and CSET have done, Cunningham emphasizes the importance of “preventing companies linked to the Chinese government from obtaining contracts to build critical infrastructure or supply technology to state government organizations.”

Both CSET and Cunningham take the important step of analyzing the few recent state efforts. Cunningham considers laws in Georgia and Texas, while CSET examines both of these states, in addition to Louisiana and Vermont. The authors helpfully write, “Federal policymakers have already constructed a robust process for determining whether certain products and services pose national security threats, and it would behoove state and local agencies to piggyback off this federal guidance.”

These two studies further the momentum building at the state level to ban PRC-connected technology. Check back at China Tech Threat to learn more about both reports and their implications on state policymaking.