power plant (ETAJOE/Shutterstock.com)

Feds gear up to lock down electric grid supply chain

The Department of Energy is gearing up to lock down the nation’s electric grid by prequalifying vendors of bulk power equipment.

On May 1, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that would prohibit buying or installing bulk-power system electric equipment that comes from certain "foreign adversary" countries because it could pose significant risks, including the threat of cyberattacks. There is also longstanding concern that industrial control systems can provide an entry point to critical infrastructure systems for threat actors, nation-state and otherwise.

The administration has also moved to block U.S. domestic use of Chinese-made equipment in the U.S. telecommunications critical infrastructure for similar reasons.

The executive order puts a process in place to pre-qualify manufacturers of bulk power gear for future use in U.S. energy critical infrastructure. The Energy Department, consulting with other agencies "as appropriate" was charged with setting up and publishing criteria and lists of acceptable equipment and vendors.

"A lot of that prequalification and testing work that you see in the Executive Order is going to be focused within our office, within CESER [Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response]" to provide it to others to support the overall energy infrastructure cybersecurity effort, Nicholas Andersen, deputy assistant secretary for Infrastructure Security and Energy Restoration, said during a June 24 webcast hosted by Venable, LLP.

The order has caused much anxiety in the bulk power sector. Although power providers, "are afraid of 'rip and replace'" in regards to their current equipment, "there is no 'rip and replace,' authority within the executive order," he said. "It's not anticipated to be part of the plan. It's really future-facing, not necessarily focused exclusively what's in place now."

This article was first posted on FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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