As Huawei ban looms, waivers are an option

Waivers for a looming federal rule prohibiting agencies from signing new contracts with companies that use a list of Chinese-made communications gear are only a temporary fix, says one expert.

Federal agencies can seek a waiver from rules prohibiting gear and services sourced from a list of Chinese companies from government systems, but the process isn't permanent or easy, according to a contracting expert.

Federal contractors have until Aug. 13 to comply a provision prohibiting government contractors from using technology and services tied to Chinese equipment manufacturers that have been deemed cybersecurity threats by the U.S. government. Those companies include telecommunications gear-makers Huawei and ZTE, as well as video surveillance manufacturer Hikvision. It also includes surveillance camera-maker Dahua, and two-way radio-maker Hytera Communications.

The Trump administration has worked to push Huawei and ZTE out of U.S. federal and commercial telecommunications networks, both domestically and internationally, deeming the companies' close relationships to the Chinese government as a cybersecurity threat.

During a July 13 Professional Services Council (PSC) webcast, Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Michael Wooten said agencies can seek a temporary waiver to the section 889 ban process, but they have to back up their need with evidence and receive a security briefing from the Office of the Director National Intelligence.

That waiver process, said Alan Chvotkin, PSC executive vice president and counsel, will most likely begin with issues identified by the telecommunications provider to its federal agency customer. The federal agency, he explained in a July 22 interview with FCW, then asks for an ODNI review, which will conduct a risk assessment.

Wooten said that review will require agencies to back their needs with hard evidence and receive a security briefing.

The waiver, said Chvotkin, if one is granted, lasts only two years. "A waiver is not a 'get out of jail free' card," he said.

Chvotkin advised agencies and companies that might be considering asking for a waiver to get started early. There is no formal timeframe for submitting a request, he said. "You can submit before the August 13 deadline."

This article first appeared on FCW, a Defense Systems partner site.