WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded Congressional passage of the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). After the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 86-8, sending the legislation to the President’s desk for signature, Sen. Warner released the following statement:
“I’ve heard gut-wrenching stories from servicemembers and their families about being subjected to dangerous living conditions in privatized military housing. I’ve walked through these homes in communities across the Commonwealth and have seen firsthand mold and insect-infested conditions that no one should ever be exposed to. Military families shouldn’t have to worry that their homes might make their families sick, nor should they feel powerless when facing companies charged with providing high-quality housing. I’m proud to have secured large portions of my legislation within this bill to provide greater oversight over military housing and to live up to the promises we’ve made to our men and women in uniform.
“I’m also pleased that today’s bill provides a 3.1 percent pay raise for our military and repeals the unjust tax on more than 4,000 military widows in Virginia, which has prevented them from receiving all the benefits to which they are entitled. This bipartisan bill also guarantees 12 weeks of paid parental leave for Virginia’s 170,000 federal civilian employees, which will serve as an important recruitment and retention tool as more and more existing federal workers become eligible for retirement. Additionally, with the passage of today’s bill we are able to provide consistent funding to support our world-class shipbuilding fleet in Hampton Roads. This includes $11 billion for ship repair and the restoration of mid-life refueling for the USS Truman (CVN 75). It also provides funding to execute the Navy’s recently announced block buy of Virginia-class submarines, which will generate 25,000 jobs and save billions in taxpayer dollars. Collectively, these essential shipbuilding programs will support thousands of jobs in the region and help advance our nation’s security and military readiness.
“I also successfully pushed for the inclusion of the bipartisan Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) to provide our intelligence community with the resources they need to protect our country from emerging threats from countries such as China, Russia, and North Korea. The IAA also includes much-needed reforms to modernize our antiquated security clearance process to make sure we have the personnel we need to tackle emerging cyber and technology threats. While we’ve substantially reduced the background investigation backlog to under 300,000, down from 725,000, this bill includes many of my provisions to establish a vetting system that reflects today’s threats, supports our mobile workforce and capitalizes on modern technology.”
Following reports of health hazards in privatized military housing across the Commonwealth and the country, Sen. Warner has fought to improve housing conditions for servicemembers and their families, introducing the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act to make much-needed reforms to privatized military housing. After pushing Congressional negotiators to protect these vital military housing provisions from the NDAA that passed earlier this year in the Senate, Sen. Warner successfully secured large portions of his legislation in this annual defense bill.
In March, Sen. Warner joined then-Secretary of the Army, now-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in visiting Fort Belvoir for a private tour and roundtable discussion to hear directly from military families about their experiences with military housing. Sen. Warner has also met with military families in Norfolk and at Fort Lee. To keep up the pressure on addressing the deplorable housing conditions, Sen. Warner wrote to four private military housing companies requesting a plan of action from each company, and has urged the Department of Defense to develop long-term solutions for fixing the overall privatized housing program by reopening and renegotiating the agreements with the private companies.
As a strong advocate of Virginia’s defense and shipbuilding community, Sen. Warner has supported a block buy of aircraft carriers, saving billions in taxpayer dollars, and pushed for robust funding for shipbuilding and ship-repair in the annual defense bill. In December 2017, Sen. Warner joined 16 Senators in a letter to then-Defense Secretary James Mattis to support a block buy. Last week, Sen. Warner praised the Navy’s block buy of nine Virginia-class submarines, poised to create 25,000 jobs in Hampton Roads, that was authorized in today’s defense bill package.
As Vice Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner also successfully pushed for the inclusion of the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) for Fiscal Years 2018-2020, to ensure the intelligence community is postured to effectively address the growing array of threats to our national security. This includes provisions Sen. Warner sponsored to make the security clearance system simpler and more effective, including demanding plans to reduce the number of security “tiers,” creating an electronic portal for applicants to track their progress, and much more. The broader defense bill also carries a provision providing twelve weeks of paid parental leave to civilian federal employees. The IAA included an amendment offered by Senator Warner that would have provided a similar benefit to intelligence community employees.
Additionally, the final defense bill prevents the Trump Administration from merging the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) with the General Services Administration (GSA) without first providing Congress and the public transparency on the rationale behind the move, backed by sound, independent analysis of the potential costs and benefits. This mirrors an effort pushed by Sen. Warner to prevent the federal workforce from being subjected to continued political attacks and increased political interference by the Trump Administration. Also included in the legislation is a provision led by Sen. Warner to provide financial relief to certain civilian federal employees who have to relocate for work.