Interagency effort tries to protect federal supply chain

By Emily Kopp
Federal News Radio

Fake Gucci purses and pirated DVDs sold at flea markets may not be dangerous, but counterfeit products bought and used by the government can put national security and infrastructure at risk.

The Justice Department has convicted military suppliers of selling phony parts used in military equipment in Fallujah, Iraq.

“Almost every product is susceptible to counterfeiting as manufacturing in China has become more sophisticated,” said Victoria Espinel, the White House coordinator for intellectual property enforcement, in an interview with Federal News Radio. “Some of these products have the potential to, at best, waste the time and resources of employees through testing and then trying to pull them out when they have failures, and, at worst, actually cause some kind of mishap or accident that has an impact on health and safety.”

Espinel is leading an interagency working group that will recommend stronger measures to the president by the end of the year.

Procurement experts at the General Services Administration, the Defense Department and NASA are core members because they have the most to lose by using fake products.

“The guys at NASA like to say if something goes wrong on a mission, they’re up in space and there’s no way to fix it. So they have to make sure everything is 100 percent perfect before it leaves the ground,” Espinel said.

She said NASA detects counterfeit products through testing but that more preventative measures are needed governmentwide.

“The working group will look at all of our legislative authority — our laws, regulations, policy and guidance that already exist in the government — to see if there are any gaps,” she said. “Clearly there are gaps because there are counterfeits getting into our supply chain.”

The group is soliciting public comments until Sept. 16.

Espinel said the group’s recommendations will include new legislative proposals, procurement regulations and better training of federal employees responsible for purchasing equipment.

“We’re past the days of easy detection,” she said. “This is big, big business. These are organized criminal enterprises. To the extent that we tell federal employees red flags to look out for, they quickly become aware of that and change their processes.”

Training would be an ongoing effort as the government works to stay one step ahead of counterfeit manufacturers, she added.


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