Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement:

 “The President has granted sweeping declassification powers to an Attorney General who has already shown that he has no problem selectively releasing information in order to mislead the American people. People risk their lives to gather the intelligence material that President Trump and Attorney General Barr are so eager to politicize. Selectively declassifying sources and methods in order to serve a political agenda will make it harder for the intelligence community to do their jobs protecting this country from those who wish to do us harm.”   

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded the inclusion of provisions that would provide much-needed oversight of privatized military housing for servicemembers in this year’s Senate National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The annual defense legislation lays out the nation’s overall policy priorities that are critical to our national security, and was just approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, sending the bill to the full Senate for consideration.

 Following a Reuters investigation that exposed health, safety, and environmental hazards in privatized military housing throughout the United States, Sen. Warner has been advocating on behalf of servicemembers and their families to address concerns with military housing, including health hazards. The Senate legislation includes provisions from Sen. Warner’s bill that would increase accountability and oversight over privatized housing companies, empower servicemembers and their families when tackling housing disputes with private companies, and instate new quality assurance and quality control measures. The bill also establishes a “Tenant Bill of Rights” to ensure that servicemembers and their families have the protections they need and to ensure this does not happen again. 

“For far too long, military families have been subjected to sub-par living conditions, sometimes rivaling what you might see in a bad horror movie. That’s why I’m glad that my colleagues on the Armed Services Committee stepped up to add much-needed oversight on the private companies whose sole job is to provide safe housing for military families,” said Sen. Warner. “Additionally, I’m pleased to report that this defense bill includes additional steps to modernize our security clearance process to enhance our ability to hire and retain the national security talent we need to keep our country secure. Right now, we have 480,000 individuals waiting on a background check. While this drop is encouraging, there is still more work to be done to truly transform the clearance process.” 

Sen. Warner has met with military families in Norfolk, Fort Lee, and Fort Belvoir who’ve shared their stories of hazardous living conditions in their homes and their frustrations with the lack of oversight and response from the military services and their respective housing companies. To keep 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 privatized housing program overall through reopening and renegotiating the agreements with the private companies.

As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner has continued to push for security clearance modernization and reform. In February, Sen. Warner reintroduced the Modernizing the Trusted Workforce for the 21st Century Act of 2019, which was included in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2018-2020 and unanimously reported out of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week. The Committee’s annual Intelligence Authorization Act also includes provisions championed by Sen. Warner that requires published guidelines so that the security clearance process cannot be abused for political purposes.

The defense bill also prioritizes innovation and technology development in the area of 5G and artificial intelligence (AI), to compete with our adversaries like Russia and China. As a former technology and telecommunications executive, Sen. Warner has pushed the Administration to develop a strategy to maintain our advantages in technological innovation, as well as to lead on 5G and AI.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) introduced new legislation to renew the federal funding commitment to Metro, provide critical safety reforms, and strengthen oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

Recognizing that the Metro system is integral to the functioning of the federal government, for the last decade Congress has allocated $150 million annually to Metro for capital expenses, with Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia each providing $50 million in matching funds. However, the funding – a critical part of Metro’s budget – will expire this year unless Congress acts to renew it. The Metro Safety, Accountability and Investment Act of 2019 will provide additional federal funding for Metro while also enacting key reforms to ensure that the safety and reliability of the Metro system continues to improve.  

“The federal government runs on Metro. Thousands of federal workers, contractors, and military service members take Metro every day. This is an investment in the long-term safety and reliability of the Metro system,” said Sen. Warner, a member of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which has oversight over our nation’s urban transit systems. “But recent safety problems have illustrated that Metro still has work to do, which is why this money comes with some strings attached to ensure robust oversight, accountability, and meaningful safety reforms at WMATA.”

“Maintaining a safe and reliable public transit system for the seat of the federal government is a clear national priority. We recognized 10 years ago - as we do now - that providing dedicated funding for WMATA will help keep Metro on track,” said Sen. Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee. “Maryland and Virginia's Senate delegations wholeheartedly agree on the need for critical safety reforms and strengthened oversight to ensure that WMATA becomes as safe and efficient as possible.”

“This bill provides critical funding to reduce WMATA’s backlog of work, along with strict measures to ensure riders are safe on Metro. Following the death of a Virginian on Metrorail in 2015, we made it clear that major changes were needed. Since then, we passed a tough new federal safety oversight body through Congress, encouraged business and labor to work toward mutual goals, and worked with experts to provide WMATA with a roadmap for reform. But this work will only succeed if WMATA has the resources to do the turnaround job right. With this bill, we ensure that the federal government contributes its share, while also making clear that with new money comes new requirements for safety and accountability. Metro’s challenges won’t be solved overnight, but this bill will go a long way toward unlocking progress to rebuild trust with riders,” said Sen. Kaine.

“Maryland commuters and our federal workforce rely on the Metro day in and day out. This legislation reauthorizes the Federal investment in WMATA and provides much-needed funds to modernize our system. In addition to increased funding, this bill includes crucial safety improvements and oversight reforms,” said Sen. Van Hollen, a member of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this measure as we work to ensure safe and dependable transportation throughout the region.”

The Metro Safety, Accountability and Investment Act of 2019 will renew the federal funding commitment for WMATA capital investments by reauthorizing the funding levels from the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 for an additional ten years, at an annual level of $150 million, matched by funding from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

In addition, in exchange for key safety, oversight, and governance reforms at WMATA, the new legislation will include an additional $50 million per year in federal funding that is not subject to local match, bringing the annual federal commitment to Metro to $200 million. In order to access the additional $50 million, WMATA will be required to: grant additional powers to Metro’s Inspector General; establish task forces on track safety and bus safety; implement policy and procedures for a new capital planning process; improve the transit asset management planning process; reinforce restrictions on the activities of alternate WMATA Board members to provide more effective Board management and oversight; and prioritize the implementation of new cyber security protections and the integration of wireless services and emergency communications networks.

The bill also prohibits WMATA from using federal funds on a contract for rolling stock from any country that meets certain criteria related to illegal subsidies for state-owned enterprises. Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin and Van Hollen raised concerns earlier this year regarding the possibility that Metro may award a contract to build its newest 8000-series rail cars to a Chinese manufacturing company.  

“The Federal City Council applauds Sens. Warner, Cardin, Kaine, and Van Hollen for their continued commitment to WMATA and to ensuring that critically needed federal funding for the system is reauthorized this year. This funding, along with the new dedicated funding that was committed by the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia in 2018 is critically needed to ensure a safe, reliable, and sustainable future for Metro,” said Tony Williams, former Mayor of the District of Columbia, current CEO and Executive Director of the Federal City Council and founding member of the MetroNow Coalition. “However, it has been the longstanding position of the Federal City Council and the MetroNow coalition that in addition to funding, Metro is also in need of a better framework to guide decision-making and increase accountability at WMATA—a critical part of the solution that has been missing, until now. With comprehensive enhancements to WMATA’s Office of the Inspector General and capital planning requirements, this legislation will help to safeguard the investment being made in this vital piece of our region’s transportation infrastructure and will inspire confidence in Metro going forward.”

“Metro is critical to those who live and work here and, equally important, it benefits those who travel here to do business, interact with the federal government, and enjoy all our region has to offer,” said Jack McDougle, President & CEO of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and founding member of the MetroNow Coalition. “Every day, we welcome visitors from around the country and the world, requiring us to maintain the safest, most reliable and world-class transit system possible. That’s why we and our partners in the MetroNow coalition urge Congress to pass this legislation.”

“The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) fully supports the Metro Safety, Accountability and Investment Act of 2019, renewing the federal commitment for WMATA capital investments. This is long overdue and critical, as the agency’s infrastructure, which dates back to the 1970s, has been crumbling. Riders have paid the price, as service sputtered and fares skyrocketed. Workers have been unfairly blamed for service issues when the real issue has been the generations of state and local lawmakers that until recently have financially starved the system of a critical dedicated revenue source,” said ATU International President John A. Costa. “Tragically, there have been several deadly accidents that have taken the lives of passengers as well as workers. There is no safety culture at WMATA. We thank Senators Warner, Cardin, Kaine and Van Hollen for including in the bill the ATU’s proposed labor-management safety task forces – bus and rail – to develop best principles and practices through collaboration so that we can prevent future tragedies. We are also grateful that these task forces have appropriately been named after ATU members who were killed on the job – Jeanice McMillan, the operator who was killed along with 8 passengers in the 2009 Red Line train crash at Fort Totten and was called a hero by WMATA for saving countless lives, and Keith Dodson, who was struck and killed by a tractor trailer when he exited the bus he was driving after it became disabled along southbound I-395 in Arlington County in 2007.”

More information about this bill is available here. For the full bill text, click here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a former telecommunications executive and entrepreneur, along with Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), introduced legislation to establish U.S. policy for the commercial deployment and security of Fifth Generation (5G) networks. The United States 5G Leadership Act of 2019 will prioritize national security in the development of 5G by ensuring that American networks do not include equipment or services provided by Huawei, ZTE, or their affiliates. This legislation will also create a Supply Chain Security Trust Fund grant program to help rural and regional U.S. communications providers remove from their networks Chinese equipment determined to threaten national security.

“For a number of years, the federal government failed to effectively communicate the economic and national security risks of Huawei and ZTE communications equipment – and even adopted broadband grant policies that incentivized rural carriers to use this equipment because it was the cheapest around. While we’ve made enormous progress in educating the private sector of the dangers these vendors pose, we haven’t put in place policies to help resource-strapped rural carriers address and eliminate those risks. This bill ensures that on a going-forward basis we don’t make the same mistakes in allowing companies subject to extra-judicial directions of a foreign adversary to infiltrate our nation’s communications networks. And it provides significant resources to ensure that rural and regional providers can prioritize investments that eliminate this equipment from their existing networks where it poses a security threat,” said Sen. Warner. “Lastly, it builds on efforts my colleagues and I have already undertaken to engage with and educate the private sector about security risks and vulnerabilities posed to communications networks from certain foreign suppliers. We also believe this type of effort will be an important signal to international partners that we are putting resources behind this issue, and encouraging them to do the same.”

“5G networks need to be robust and secure, and not rely on equipment or services that pose a national security risk,” said Sen. Wicker. “This legislation would ensure continued American leadership in advanced wireless technology deployment. It offers relief to those providers that need to replace foreign equipment within their networks while augmenting the availability of secure 5G networks for all Americans.”

“Future U.S. security and economic prosperity will depend on 5G technology. With so much at stake, our communications infrastructure must be protected from threats posed by foreign governments and companies like Huawei,” said Sen. Cotton. “Our bill will support 5G’s deployment in the United States while defending that technology from exploitation.”  

“5G wireless will revolutionize global telecommunications and connect people, information, and technology like never before. While 5G could yield enormous benefits, it also could pose significant risks if not implemented properly,” said Sen. Markey. “We have a responsibility to ensure that this next generation of telecommunications infrastructure will safely and securely connect Americans to each other and to the rest of the world.”

“We urgently need a comprehensive strategy when it comes to the very real threat that foreign actors, particularly China, pose to our communications networks,” said Sen. Sullivan. “It is clear that this problem is only going to grow with the development of next generation communications technologies without aggressive intervention. I’m pleased to partner with Chairman Wicker on this critical issue at the intersection of national security and commerce.”

Among other measures, The United States 5G Leadership Act would:

  • Establish U.S. policy to promote the deployment of secure commercial 5G networks and the development of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector in the U.S.
  • Establish U.S. policy to identify additional spectrum for 5G, with an emphasis on promoting harmonization with global allocations;
  • Establish U.S. policy that American 5G networks should not include equipment or services provided by Huawei, ZTE, or their affiliates.
  • Require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to finalize rulemaking that would prohibit the use of Universal Service Fund subsidies to buy equipment or services from providers who pose a national security risk.
  • Establish the Supply Chain Security Trust Fund grant program to help smaller U.S. communications providers remove Huawei equipment from their networks — and would make available up to $700 million from future spectrum auctions for this purpose.
  • Require a report on current Federal government measures to ensure the secure deployment and availability of 5G networks.
  • Establish an interagency program – led by the Department of Homeland Security – to share information regarding security, risks, and vulnerabilities with U.S. communications providers and trusted suppliers.
  • Prioritize funding to enhance U.S. representation at international 5G standards-setting bodies, such as the International Telecommunications Union.

“I thank Senators Wicker, Cotton, Warner, Sullivan, and Markey for introducing the United States 5G Leadership Act of 2019.  This bipartisan bill will help ensure that all carriers have the information and resources necessary to address security risks while advancing US leadership in 5G.  I appreciate the Senators’ leadership on this important issue and look forward to continued work with Congress to ensure access to secure wireless networks, particularly in rural America,” said Steven K. Berry, President & CEO, Competitive Carriers Association.

Sen. Warner has been a leading voice in the Senate about the national security risks posed by Chinese-controlled telecom companies. Last week, Sen. Warner spoke out in favor of the executive order banning U.S. telecommunications firms from installing foreign-made equipment that could threaten national security. He is also the lead sponsor of the Secure 5G and Beyond Acta bill to safeguard next-gen mobile telecommunications systems and infrastructure. Additionally, earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced bipartisan legislation to help combat tech-specific, national security threats posed by foreign actors like China. As Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Warner has been leading a bipartisan effort to educate the private sector on the economic and security risks posed by Chinese companies like Huawei.

For the full text of this legislation, click here

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Senate overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation cosponsored by U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine to crack down on illegal robocall scams. The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act gives regulators more time to find scammers, increases civil forfeiture penalties for those who are caught, requires service providers to adopt call authentication and blocking, and brings relevant federal agencies and state attorneys general together to address impediments to criminal prosecution of robocallers who intentionally break laws.

“Americans are sick and tired of receiving fraudulent robocalls,” said the Senators. “We are proud the Senate passed this bill to help protect consumers from scams and ensure those behind these illegal robocalls are held accountable.”

One report estimated the number of spam calls will grow from nearly 30 percent of all phone calls last year to 45 percent of all calls this year. The TRACED Act gives the FCC more flexibility to enforce rules in the short term, while setting in motion consultations to increase prosecutions of violations, which often require international cooperation. 

The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

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WASHINGTON – After Special Counsel Robert Mueller identified at least 140 contacts between Trump associates and foreign nationals linked to Russia, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today introduced the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act, legislation that would require political campaigns to report attempts at foreign elections influence to the appropriate federal authorities at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).   

 “Most Americans already know that if a foreign adversary reaches out about interfering in our elections, you should report that contact. But after Special Counsel Robert Mueller identified at least 140 contacts between Trump associates and Russian nationals or WikiLeaks, it’s clear that some Americans haven’t taken that responsibility seriously – in fact, the Trump campaign welcomed the help, and sought to hide that from the American people. This bill would protect the integrity of our democracy by requiring future campaigns to report attempts by foreign nationals to coordinate or collaborate during a political campaign, and by putting campaigns on notice about their obligations,” said Sen. Warner.

 The FIRE Act would require all campaign officials to report, within one week, any contacts with foreign nationals attempting to make campaign donations or otherwise coordinate with the campaign through the proffer of information or services. Campaigns would be required to implement a compliance system to monitor reportable foreign contacts with campaign representatives and to train all onboarding employees and other associates on their legal obligations. The candidate him or herself must certify that this compliance system is in place. The campaign would also be responsible for reporting applicable foreign contacts to the FEC, which would notify the FBI, and preserving relevant records.

 For full bill text, please click here.

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WASHINGTON – The Senate just unanimously passed bipartisan legislation sponsored by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) to provide tax relief to the children of military members killed in service to their country. This legislation corrects one of the many unintended consequences of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 – legislation forced through by the GOP that, among other things, treats military and VA survivor benefits as trusts or estates, subjecting the benefits of many military families to a much higher tax rate. The Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act effectively fixes this error by treating any military and VA survivor benefits as earned income, rather than at the trust or parent tax rate. Companion legislation has been introduced by Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) in the House of Representatives, which now must vote to send the bill to the President’s desk for signature.

“Gold Star families deserve our sympathy and gratitude, not an unfair tax increase thanks to a Congressional screw-up,” said the Senators. We’re glad the Senate has decide to fix this mistake, and we hope the House will take action swiftly to ensure that Gold Star families aren’t hit with a tax hike.”

Under current law, spouses of deceased service members are eligible to receive two different survivor benefits – the Department of Veterans Affairs' Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, as well as the Department of Defense (DOD) Survivor Benefits Plan. However, surviving spouses are not currently able to receive both benefits simultaneously in full, and many of these spouses choose to sign the taxable DOD benefit over to their children. Prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, children receiving this benefit were taxed at the parent’s rate, but due to changes in the law, survivor benefits going to children are now treated as a trust or estate, and can be taxed up to 37 percent. This change has affected Gold Star families, who previously paid an average of 12 to 15 percent in taxes on this survivor benefit and have now been forced to pay significantly more without adequate preparation.

As a retroactive bill, the Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act would refund Gold Star families who were taxed the higher rate, going back as far as December 31, 2017.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded more than $116,000 in rural development assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help replace vital equipment at police and fire departments in Charlotte County, and the independent cities of Waynesboro and Franklin – and to support two nonprofit organizations for children and the elderly in the City of Franklin and Wise County, respectively.

“Every day, brave men and women in fire and law enforcement put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of families in our communities. The least they deserve is functional, up-to-date equipment that allows them to fulfill their duties,” said the Senators. “We look forward to seeing these rural development grants be put to good use by helping enhance public safety in the Commonwealth. We are also pleased to know that federal assistance will go directly towards supporting two important non-profit programs in Virginia. From our youngest Virginians, to our most elderly, we cannot afford to forget about folks in rural communities.”

$68,700 in funding comes from USDA’s Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grants program, which seeks to develop key community facilities that provide essential services to the public in rural areas:

  • In Waynesboro, $25,000 will go towards the purchase of ten new air packs for the Dooms Volunteer Fire Department.
  • In Charlotte County, $18,700 will go towards the purchase of new firehoses and turn-out gear at the Drakes Branch Volunteer Fire Department to replace outdated equipment that is at least 45 years old.
  • In Wise County, $25,000 will go towards the purchase of 30 computers for the PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) Center. The new computers will be able to run current versions of medical records and prescription monitoring software, helping the PACE Center provide better physical and mental health care.

$48,000 in assistance comes from USDA’s Economic Impact Initiative Grants program, which seeks to help further the development of essential community facilities in rural areas with extreme unemployment or severe economic depression:

  • In Franklin, $25,000 will go towards the purchase of at least one police vehicle and any equipment necessary to place the newly-purchased vehicle into service at the Franklin Police Department.
  • In Franklin, $23,000 will also go towards the purchase of two vehicles to enable staff working in the Early Intervention Program at The Children’s Center to perform frequent home visits. 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), today wrote to Acting Director Russell T. Vought to express grave concern over a new Trump Administration proposal that would, among other things, effectively end Congress’ ability to provide advice and consent over the individual responsible for establishing federal workforce policy and regulations. As part of a White House proposal sent to congressional leaders on Thursday, workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would be transferred to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), thereby taking these crucial duties from a Senate-confirmed director and assigning them to an administrator appointed directly by the President. 

“We wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce,” the Senators wrote. “The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President. Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date.”

Last Thursday, May 16, the Trump Administration requested congressional authorization to merge the vast majority of OPM functions and responsibilities into the General Services Administration (GSA), including Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. A key component of this proposal involves transferring the role of establishing government-wide workforce policy to a new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within OMB, which rests under the authority of the Executive Office of the President. This move would remove the Senate’s ability to have pre-selection oversight over the individual responsible for setting policies and regulations that affect federal workers nationwide, therefore opening the doors for this, or a future Administration, to act with political motivation towards the federal workforce. 

In their letter to OMB, the Senators conveyed great concern about the possibility of allowing politically-motivated individuals to set policies that affect loyal public servants in apolitical career roles. They also questioned Acting Director Vought about the nature of this unprecedented decision and its effect on federal workers – and requested that no further action be taken until all questions are thoroughly addressed. These questions include:

  • What analysis has been conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors have been considered, and which perceived benefits were regarded as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?
  • How can federal workers nationwide and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input was considered from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does this proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen have been long-time, outspoken advocates for federal workers. In February, the Senators pressed OMB to implement the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees they worked to pass into law earlier in the year. Amid the partial federal government shutdown, the Senators took a series of actions to protect affected workers, including guaranteeing back pay for federal employees, urging back payfor contractors, introducing budget amendments to protect federal workers, and urging OPM to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance for federal employees.

 

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

 

May 20, 2019

 

The Honorable Russell T. Vought

Acting Director

Office of Management and Budget

Executive Office of the President

Washington, DC 20503

 

Dear Acting Director Vought:

We write today in response to your proposal to merge the functions and responsibilities of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) within the General Services Administration (GSA). Specifically, we wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce.

In your letter to Congress dated May 16, 2019, you outline a proposal to transfer the “vast majority” of OPM’s current mission to GSA. As you note, this would include Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. The proposal would also create an Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which would assume the workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by OPM.

We have serious concerns with housing this new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Executive Office of the President, and having it run by an Administrator appointed directly by the President and without Senate confirmation. Your proposal details that this Office is to, among other functions, “provide overall strategic direction and coordination of workforce policy and regulations for all Executive agencies, other than the Government Accountability Office.” The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President.

Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date. To that end, we ask that you provide responses to the following questions:

  • What analysis have you conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors did you consider, and which perceived benefits did you regard as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?
  • The civil service system is statutorily required to be apolitical and merit-based. However, this proposal would significantly impede Congress’ ability to conduct oversight over this matter by no longer allowing the Senate to provide advice and consent over the individual directly responsible for setting all federal workforce policy and regulations. How can federal workers and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input did you consider from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does your proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

As a first step in conducting oversight of this dramatic proposal, our federal workforce is owed answers to these questions. Until the aforementioned questions have been thoroughly addressed and the authorities under which you are proposing such actions are clearly articulated, we respectfully request that you take no further action on this or any related matter.

We request your reply by the end of this month. We will continue to actively monitor the Administration’s explanation of this proposal to other Members of Congress and to the public, and look forward to your reply.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), today wrote to Acting Director Russell T. Vought to express grave concern over a new Trump Administration proposal that would, among other things, effectively end Congress’ ability to provide advice and consent over the individual responsible for establishing federal workforce policy and regulations. As part of a White House proposal sent to congressional leaders on Thursday, workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would be transferred to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), thereby taking these crucial duties from a Senate-confirmed director and assigning them to an administrator appointed directly by the President.

“We wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce,” the Senators wrote. “The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President. Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date.”

Last Thursday, May 16, the Trump Administration requested congressional authorization to merge the vast majority of OPM functions and responsibilities into the General Services Administration (GSA), including Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. A key component of this proposal involves transferring the role of establishing government-wide workforce policy to a new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within OMB, which rests under the authority of the Executive Office of the President. This move would remove the Senate’s ability to have pre-selection oversight over the individual responsible for setting policies and regulations that affect federal workers nationwide, therefore opening the doors for this, or a future Administration, to act with political motivation towards the federal workforce.

In their letter to OMB, the Senators conveyed great concern about the possibility of allowing politically-motivated individuals to set policies that affect loyal public servants in apolitical career roles. They also questioned Acting Director Vought about the nature of this unprecedented decision and its effect on federal workers – and requested that no further action be taken until all questions are thoroughly addressed. These questions include:

What analysis has been conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors have been considered, and which perceived benefits were regarded as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?

  • How can federal workers nationwide and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input was considered from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does this proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen have been long-time, outspoken advocates for federal workers. In February, the Senators pressed OMB to implement the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees they worked to pass into law earlier in the year. Amid the partial federal government shutdown, the Senators took a series of actions to protect affected workers, including guaranteeing back pay for federal employees, urging back pay for contractors, introducing budget amendments to protect federal workers, and urging OPM to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance for federal employees.

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

May 20, 2019

The Honorable Russell T. Vought

Acting Director

Office of Management and Budget

Executive Office of the President

Washington, DC 20503

Dear Acting Director Vought:

We write today in response to your proposal to merge the functions and responsibilities of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) within the General Services Administration (GSA). Specifically, we wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce.

In your letter to Congress dated May 16, 2019, you outline a proposal to transfer the “vast majority” of OPM’s current mission to GSA. As you note, this would include Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. The proposal would also create an Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which would assume the workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by OPM.

We have serious concerns with housing this new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Executive Office of the President, and having it run by an Administrator appointed directly by the President and without Senate confirmation. Your proposal details that this Office is to, among other functions, “provide overall strategic direction and coordination of workforce policy and regulations for all Executive agencies, other than the Government Accountability Office.” The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President.

Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date. To that end, we ask that you provide responses to the following questions:

  • What analysis have you conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors did you consider, and which perceived benefits did you regard as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?
  • The civil service system is statutorily required to be apolitical and merit-based. However, this proposal would significantly impede Congress’ ability to conduct oversight over this matter by no longer allowing the Senate to provide advice and consent over the individual directly responsible for setting all federal workforce policy and regulations. How can federal workers and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input did you consider from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does your proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

As a first step in conducting oversight of this dramatic proposal, our federal workforce is owed answers to these questions. Until the aforementioned questions have been thoroughly addressed and the authorities under which you are proposing such actions are clearly articulated, we respectfully request that you take no further action on this or any related matter.

We request your reply by the end of this month. We will continue to actively monitor the Administration’s explanation of this proposal to other Members of Congress and to the public, and look forward to your reply.

 Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) recently joined 32 other Senators in reintroducing legislation to tackle the root causes of the Central American migrant crisis. The Central American Reform and Enforcement Act will provide a coordinated regional response to effectively manage the humanitarian crises in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras that are forcing many women, children, and families to seek refuge in the U.S.

“After two and a half years of haphazard immigration decisions by the Trump Administration, it’s clear that we need smart legislation that prioritizes our national security in an effective way,” said the Senators. “This bill will finally reverse the Administration’s shortsighted decision to cut vital foreign assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and help alleviate the violence and instability that continues to displace thousands of children and families, forcing them to flee to the U.S.” 

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are among the most dangerous countries in the world, particularly for women and children who face increasing and unrelenting violence at the hands of armed criminal gangs and drug traffickers who act with impunity. Since 2008, incidents of murder, violence, and corruption perpetrated by criminal networks have remained at alarming levels in these countries. The Trump Administration has further exacerbated this instability with policies that have cut funding to Central American governments and terminated protections for those who enter the U.S. after fleeing Honduras and El Salvador.

Specifically, the Central America Reform and Enforcement Act would: 

  • Provide conditional assistance to Northern Triangle governments to restore the rule of law, create a more secure environment for children and families, promote economic opportunities, strengthen democratic public institutions, and reduce corruption. Under this legislation, assistance funding would be dependent on the State Department certifying that the governments are implementing reforms and making progress on critical priorities.
  • Crack down on smugglers, cartels, and traffickers exploiting children and families by creating new criminal penalties for human smuggling, schemes to defraud immigrants, and bulk cash smuggling. This bill would also expand on the work by the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies to disrupt and prosecute trafficking and smuggling rings.
  • Allow refugees to apply for asylum to the U.S. while in Central America as an alternative to undertaking a dangerous journey to the U.S. to apply. Ongoing and rampant regional violence suggests that women and children will continue to flee to other countries in search of protection. This legislation would help Mexico and other Central American countries strengthen their own asylum systems, expand refugee processing for third-country resettlement, and create a new refugee processing program to provide women and children an alternative to making the dangerous journey north. 
  • Enhance monitoring of unaccompanied children after they are processed at the border. Currently, the U.S. government lacks the resources to track unaccompanied children after they are processed by Border Patrol and placed with a sponsor – usually a close family member. This legislation would strengthen the ability of the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee the safety and wellbeing of children released to an adult sponsor while they await their court hearing. It would require consistent, uniform, and timely background checks, post-placement wellness checks, and post-release services. It would also provide resources and guidance to local school districts enrolling unaccompanied children. 
  • Ensure fair, orderly and efficient processing of those who do reach our border seeking protection. This legislation would provide a fair and legal process for children and families seeking asylum, improve immigration court efficiencies by requiring a significant increase in the number of immigration judges to ensure the prompt resolution of immigration claims, and establish reintegration programs in Central America that reduce the likelihood of re-migration for those who do not have legal grounds to stay in the United States.

The Central American Reform and Enforcement Act was introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and cosponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

As Senators from Virginia – where the #1 country of origin for immigrants is El Salvador – Sens. Warner and Kaine have been vocal about the need to restore foreign assistance to Northern Triangle countries. In April, they urged the Trump Administration to reverse its plan to cut national security funding to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

For full text of this legislation, click here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, in the midst of Infrastructure Week 2019, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation that will strengthen our nation’s infrastructure, create jobs, and generate economic stimulus. 

The Reinventing Economic Partnerships And Infrastructure Redevelopment (REPAIR) Act will establish a non-partisan financing authority to work alongside existing U.S. infrastructure funding. The authority will continue to stimulate growth in our most viable economies by providing loans and loan guarantees to significant road, bridge, rail, port, water, and sewer projects. With an initial $10 billion in seed money, the agency is projected to have over $300 billion worth of total project investments and eventually become self-sustaining. 

“Virginia’s commuters are all too familiar with our nation’s crippling infrastructure, but this problem affects more than just drivers stuck on crowded, bumpy roads. It affects urban homeowners, who are forced to rely on overwhelmed water and sewage systems; travelers, who have no other option but to frequent dilapidated airports; and our overall economy, which continues to lose tens of billions of dollars every year due to traffic congestion and blackouts on outdated grid infrastructure,” said Sen. Warner. “As our nation continues to expand, we must enact responsible legislation that supports this growth, and I believe the REPAIR Act will do just that. By pairing a financing mechanism like this with increased public funding, we can address our infrastructure needs while also creating jobs and expanding U.S. commerce and trade.” 

Currently, the U.S. spends less than 40 percent of what is needed to meet infrastructure demands. Furthermore, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that an investment of $4.6 trillion will be needed in the next ten years to bring American infrastructure to a state of good repair. According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report, the U.S. lags behind eight other nations in overall infrastructure, and behind 24 nations in utility infrastructure, which includes overall water and electricity infrastructure. For years, the federal government has struggled to come up with the funding necessary to close the widening infrastructure gap, which is why the REPAIR Act will leverage public dollars to incentivize private sector infrastructure investment. 

The REPAIR Act would establish a fiscally responsible, Infrastructure Financing Authority (IFA) to complement existing infrastructure funding through loans and loan guarantees. Designed to become self-sustaining over time, this IFA would be independent of any federal agency and instead, would be run by an appointed Chief Executive Officer and a Board of Directors, while still being subjected to strong congressional and federal oversight. The IFA would only fund economically viable projects of at least $50 million, or $10 million for projects in rural areas, for which five percent of IFA funding would be reserved.In order to be considered for funding, proposed projects would undergo rigorous analysis, and must show clear public benefit, meet economic, technical and environmental standards, and be backed by a dedicated revenue stream. 

“If we are to improve our nation’s infrastructure, graded a D+ in ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, we can no longer afford to defer needed investment in modernization and maintenance. Under Sen. Warner’s leadership, the REPAIR Act would make a significant step toward this increased, sustained investment, establishing a new, innovative funding authority designed to attract billions of dollars in private sector investment in our nation’s water, transportation, and energy sectors. Sen. Blunt’s co-sponsorship demonstrates once again that infrastructure is a bipartisan issue that impacts the lives of all Americans. Through the REPAIR Act, our nation’s infrastructure will receive much-needed additional funding to help narrow the $2 trillion infrastructure investment gap that currently costs every American family $3,400 a year out of their discretionary income,” said Robin A. Kemper, P.E., President, American Society of Civil Engineers.   

“The reintroduction of Senator Warner's Reinventing Economic Partnerships And Infrastructure Redevelopment (REPAIR) Act reaffirms his commitment to address the challenge of rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure.  Investing in the repair and improvement of America’s physical infrastructure, from roads to bridges to pipelines to water systems to buildings, has consistently proven to be the most effective platform upon which sustained economic growth will occur.  Such investments were the key driver that fueled our nation’s industrial dominance in the 20th century, and through efforts like Senator's Warner's bill, we can achieve levels of economic growth and prosperity, while simultaneously protecting family sustaining wage and benefit standards,” said Sean McGarvey, President, North America's Building Trades Unions. 

“Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and Mark Warner of Virginia should be commended for their ongoing effort to strengthen our nation’s investment in critical infrastructure. Their legislation, The Reinventing Economic Partnerships And Infrastructure Redevelopment Act (REPAIR) Act establishes a set of creative tools and incentives to draw private capital off the sidelines and promote effective public private partnerships.  There is at least a $1.4 trillion shortfall in funding needed to adequately support infrastructure needs between now and 2025.  The REPAIR Act is key to unlocking private investment necessary to support long-term economic growth and a more competitive nation,” said Jason Grumet, President, Bipartisan Policy Center.  

“I applaud Senators Warner and Blunt for re-introducing the REPAIR Act — an ambitious plan to improve America’s highways, bridges, ports, transit and aviation system. This bi-partisan legislation recognizes the United States’ urgent need to improve our infrastructure, so that we may once again be a global competitor in today’s interconnected marketplace. The REPAIR Act employs a creative financing mechanism, which leverages private investments with those from the federal, state and local sources. Fixing our state, local, and national infrastructure is a large task, and one that calls for a large-scale plan that leverages all financing options, from the public to the private sector. The REPAIR Act is a first-rate example of the type of legislation that could help tackle this issue,” said Ed Rendell, Co-Chair of Building America’s Future, Former Governor of Pennsylvania.

“Bills designed to increase investments in our country’s infrastructure, such as the REPAIR Act, are vital to continued American strength. We must take steps now to invest in our country’s infrastructure, sustaining economic growth and creating American jobs...Together with their private-sector partners, ports will invest over $155 billion annually in marine terminal infrastructure between 2016 and 2020. For America to remain globally competitive, however, we need the federal government not only to invest directly to infrastructure projects but also to create incentives for private and local investments as well. Investments now will pay dividends in the long run by reversing the widening gap in freight movement infrastructure spending between our country and spending levels of our competitors...America can and must do better. It is for this reason that legislation such as the REPAIR Act is so important,” said Kurt J. Nagle, President and CEO, American Association of Port Authorities. 

“I applaud the leadership of Senator Warner and Senator Blunt in their efforts to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure by encouraging private sector investment. While increased federal funding remains most critical to expanding and improving transportation infrastructure, financing options – such as the one proposed under the REPAIR Act – are important tools that are useful in developing infrastructure projects. If paired with freight-focused federal grant programs, like INFRA and BUILD, the REPAIR Act could be an important piece of the solution needed to bolster America’s economic engine – our freight network,” said Elaine Nessle, Executive Director, Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors. 

“The creation of an Infrastructure Financing Authority (IFA) to supplement existing government-sponsored infrastructure funding has the advantage of further leveraging private sector investment. This authority will also offer greater opportunities for private sector investment beyond traditional transportation projects to other infrastructure needs including water and other utilities such as electric transmission and gas pipelines…The independent nature of the proposed authority will also will stimulate responsible investment that is good for the U.S. taxpayer by prioritizing projects with strong public benefits and clear financing plans,” said Jane F. Garvey, North America Chairman of Meridiam Infrastructure, Former Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. 

“We must fix and improve our existing infrastructure first to ensure economic development for years to come and provide access to jobs and opportunity. By prioritizing maintenance and providing local communities with every available resource to support necessary investments, we can help our cities, towns, and suburbs stay competitive. The Infrastructure Financing Authority created by the REPAIR Act would provide another valuable tool to support thoughtful policy and critical investments communities need to make repairs and to build a modern network,” said Beth Osborne, Director, Transportation for America. 

Joining Sen. Warner in cosponsoring the bill are Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mike Braun (R-IN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), John Cornyn (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

More information on the REPAIR Act is available here, and a list of endorsers can be found here. For the full text of this legislation, click here.  

 

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WASHINGTON – With the Senate preparing to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today reintroduced three pieces of legislation aimed at providing urgent relief to borrowers amid the ongoing student debt crisis. The bills would give borrowers much-needed support by promoting financial literacy, thus empowering students to make more informed decisions and better manage their debt; making it easier for students to put their existing college course credits to use and receive the degree or credential they have already earned; and providing legal recourse for borrowers needing to sever a joint consolidation loan, including those being held responsible for an abusive or uncommunicative spouse’s loans.

Nationwide, Americans owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loan debt—surpassing credit cards and auto loans as the country’s leading source of non-housing debt. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, 62 percent of recent graduates have student loan debt, with an average debt of more than $33,000, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

“Like many Americans, I had to rely on student loans in order to pay for my tuition and graduate from college. However, the rising cost of education has forced more and more people to rely on exorbitant student loans just to have a chance at competing in the workforce,” said Sen. Warner. “As we prepare to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, I am proud to reintroduce three pieces of legislation designed to assist Virginians saddled with unmanageable student loan debt. I urge my colleagues to quickly pass these measures, which empower young borrowers and eliminate pointless policies that make it more difficult for students to receive the degrees they have earned.”

The Empowering Students through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act will take the important step of tackling student loan debt on the front end by increasing financial literacy among prospective borrowers and empowering them to make better-informed decisions about their higher education financing. Current law only requires that institutions provide one-time entrance and exit counseling to student loan borrowers receiving federal student aid, excluding Parent PLUS loans and consolidation loans. This bill will promote financial literacy by requiring that federal student loan borrowers – both students and parents – receive annual counseling that reflects their individual borrowing situation; increasing awareness of accumulating financial obligations by requiring borrowers to consent each year before receiving federal student loans; requiring annual counseling for Pell Grant recipients; and directing the U.S. Secretary of Education to maintain and distribute an online counseling tool that institutions can use to provide the counseling required by the bill.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the Empowering Students through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act is being cosponsored by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Tim Scott (R-SC). This legislation has the support of the National Education Association, Bipartisan Policy Center, UNCF, TICAS, Chiefs for Change, and American Student Assistance.

Another piece of legislation, the Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act, will cut through bureaucratic red tape and make it easier for students to receive degrees they have already earned by facilitating the process of “reverse transferring” college credits – or transferring credits from a four-year institution to a two-year institution in which a student was previously enrolled to identify whether they earned enough credits along the way to receive a degree. The bill creates an additional exemption under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to explicitly allow for the sharing of credit data between post-secondary institutions that a student previously attended, for the purpose of determining whether they earned an associate’s degree or certificate along the way. A cautious interpretation of FERPA currently requires students to give their institutions proactive permission to determine whether they have earned enough credits to be awarded a degree or certificate. As a consequence of this unnecessary bureaucratic step – which is proven to diminish credential attainment rates – four million Americans, including more than 123,000 Virginians, have left school without receiving the valuable credentials they paid for and worked hard to earn.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act is being cosponsored by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA). The legislation has the support of the Virginia Community College System, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers, American Association of Community Colleges, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Institute for Higher Education Policy, and Student Veterans of America, among others.

“As Virginia's Community Colleges continue working to prepare students with the skills they need to be successful in on-demand jobs and growth industries, credential attainment is a key indicator of their career readiness and our effectiveness in serving them,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “The bipartisan Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act will provide much needed clarity in facilitating communication between institutions and removing bureaucratic obstacles to credential attainment. I applaud Senators Warner and Isakson for working across the aisle to find common ground and introduce this sensible approach to advancing workforce readiness.”

Lastly, the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act will provide much-needed relief for borrowers who previously consolidated their student loan debt with a spouse’s. Congress eliminated the program in 2006 but failed to provide a way for borrowers to sever existing loans, even in the event of domestic violence, economic abuse, or unresponsiveness. As a result, too many borrowers nationwide remain liable for their abusive or uncommunicative spouse’s debt with no legal options for relief. The bill would establish a process at the U.S. Department of Education through which affected borrowers, including survivors of domestic violence or economic abuse, would be able to separate their student loan debt from that of their former spouse.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act is being cosponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and John Cornyn (R-TX). It has the support of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients), and the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“The Action Alliance is pleased to support these efforts to provide victims of domestic and economic abuse with student loan relief,” said Jonathan Yglesias, Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. “This bill will make a difference for the people who need it, and I hope Congress will move swiftly to enact it.”

Click here for more information on the Empowering Students through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act, the Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act, and the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Steve Daines (R-MT) to call on their Senate colleagues to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, a bipartisan bill to ensure that the tens of thousands of veterans who were stationed off the coast of Vietnam — known as Blue Water Navy veterans — can receive the disability and health care benefits they earned after their exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. This bill would also extend these benefits to servicemembers who were exposed to herbicides while serving in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and to the children of servicemembers stationed in Thailand who were born with spina bifida. Medical research suggests a link between a veteran’s exposure to herbicides in Vietnam and the occurrence of spina bifida in their children. The House passed this legislation earlier this week.

“Every veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange while serving our country deserves the same access to care. This legislation will finally afford the tens of thousands of veterans exposed during offshore duty the same benefits and treatment as their counterparts on the ground,” the Senators said.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove jungle foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions serving in Vietnam. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide presumptive coverage to all Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure, including those who were stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast, also known as Blue Water Navy veterans. However, in 2002, the VA decided that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. This exclusion prevented tens of thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled earlier this year in favor of a Blue Water Navy veteran in his lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Although it appears that the VA will not appeal this decision and will begin providing benefits to most Blue Water Navy veterans, passing the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would codify into law protection for these veterans. The bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would clarify the existing law so that Blue Water Navy veterans would be granted VA coverage equitable to those who are already covered.

Warner and Kaine are both cosponsors of the bill.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement after President Trump signed an executive order to ban American telecommunications firms from installing foreign-made equipment that could pose a threat to national security:

 “This is a needed step, and reflects the reality that Huawei and ZTE represent a threat to the security of U.S. and allied communications networks. Under current Chinese security laws, these and other companies based in China are required to provide assistance to the Chinese state. This executive order places a great deal of authority in the Department of Commerce, which must ensure that it is implemented in a fair and responsible fashion as to not harm or stifle legitimate business activities. It should also be noted that we have yet to see a compelling strategy from this Administration on 5G, including how the Administration intends to work cooperatively with our allies and like-minded nations to ensure that international standards set for 5G reflect Western values and standards for security and privacy. Nor do we have a stated plan for replacing this equipment from existing commercial networks – a potentially multi-billion dollar effort that, if done ineptly, could have a major impact on broadband access in rural areas. A coherent coordinated and global approach is critically needed as nations and telecom providers move to implement 5G.”

 As a former telecommunications executive and entrepreneur, Sen. Warner has been a leading voice in the Senate regarding the national security risks posed by Chinese-controlled telecom companies. He is the lead sponsor of the Secure 5G and Beyond Actlegislation to require the President to ensure the security of next-gen mobile telecommunications systems and infrastructure in the United States. He also introduced a bipartisan bill in January to help combat tech-specific threats to national security posed by foreign actors like China. Additionally, Sen. Warner called on the Trump Administration last week to promote U.S. leadership and strengthen diplomatic efforts around the development of a secure 5G architecture that challenges Huawei’s monopoly over the next generation of telecoms networks.

 

WASHINGTON – As part of his ongoing fight for military families facing hazardous living conditions, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today urged the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish a temporary housing advisory group to assist the military services in addressing widespread health hazards in private military housing. In a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan, Sen. Warner emphasized the need for an independent group capable of providing neutral analysis and advice to the department in order to develop long-term solutions for servicemembers and military families. 

“As the military services determine the best path forward, multiple perspectives and deep expertise in housing, state and local housing regulations, and environmental hazards are necessary to determine next steps and make stronger agreements. Clearly, these areas are not the core expertise of the Pentagon leadership, nor are they part of a military leader’s career trajectory. Housing is not a core mission of the Department of Defense,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Therefore, I urge you to establish a temporary advisory group for the Department of Defense – a high-level group of independent experts, well-versed in these issues who can assist the department in this process.” 

Stressing the need to reopen and renegotiate 50-year agreements between the services and the military housing companies, Sen. Warner urged Acting Secretary Shanahan to convene a housing advisory group composed of 10-15 subject-matter experts tasked with analyzing the current Military Housing Privatization Initiative as well as the agreements between the private companies and military services. This group would provide recommendations related to housing, real estate, public health, and environmental hazards in order to ensure that military families do not continue to be subjected to health threats, including persistent mold blooms, water leaks, and rodent and insect infestations. 

The letter also states that, once established, the advisory group should ensure that any agreements between the services and private companies codify the following: 

  • Ensure that independent and credentialed housing inspectors provide regular inspections and oversight at the housing units to ensure safe, secure and high-quality housing; 
  • Ensure that companies are adhering to state, local and regulatory laws related to environmental hazards. If these standards have not been determined by these authorities, DoD should establish standards in coordination with the EPA, and require that these companies adhere to standards for these hazards, including mold;
  • Require these companies to utilize appropriately credentialed and/or skilled contractors for health, safety and environmental problems across the services; 
  • Ensure that tenants have direct access to a true housing advocate, who assists the servicemembers and their families;
  • Ensure there exists an independent, third-party arbiter who can assist in resolving disputes between the tenants and the companies in a fair and transparent manner; and
  • Determine penalties when these companies fail to provide safe and healthy housing, whether that be withholding rent payments, incentive fees, cancelling the contracts or alternative mechanisms.

This letter is the latest in a series of multifaceted efforts by Sen. Warner to ensure that military families in Virginia and throughout the nation can count on high-quality housing free of health, safety, and environmental hazards. On Monday, Sen. Warner wrote to four private military housing companies requesting a plan of action from each company on how they intend to tackle the deplorable health hazards documented by military families. Recently, Sen. Warner hosted roundtables in Norfolk, Fort Lee, and Fort Belvoir with affected families who were upset by conditions in their homes and frustrated about the lack of response from the military services and their respective housing companies. Additionally, earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act – legislation that would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold rent until issues are resolved, prohibit contractors from charging certain fees, and require the military to withhold incentive fees to poorly performing contractors.

 

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

 

May 14, 2019

 

The Honorable Patrick M. Shanahan

Acting Secretary of Defense

U.S. Department of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301

 

Dear Acting Secretary Shanahan:

 

I write today to strongly encourage the Department of Defense to convene a temporary housing advisory group of outside experts to assist you in determining the best long-term solutions for addressing pervasive health hazards in private military housing across the military services. This group would analyze the current Military Housing Privatization Initiative, established in 1996, as well as the agreements between the military services and the private companies, and offer recommendations to strengthen accountability and improve the quality of housing.     

 

I have been deeply concerned about health hazards, including mold, lead, and rodent infestations in private military housing in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the country. The Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force have almost 12,000 privatized homes throughout the Hampton Roads region at Little Creek, Fort Story, Naval Station Norfolk, Oceana, and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, as well at Wallops, Dahlgren, Quantico, Fort Belvoir, and Fort Lee. Lincoln Military Housing, Clark Realty Capital, Balfour Beatty Communities, and Hunt Military Communities currently manage these units.

 

For this reason, I introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act with Senators Dianne Feinstein, Tim Kaine and Kamala Harris, to begin reforming the privatized housing program to ensure that our servicemembers have safe, secure and high-quality housing. This legislation would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold rent until issues are resolved, and prohibit the private companies from charging certain fees. It would also require the military to withhold incentive fees for poor performance.

 

While I am glad to see that the military services are taking some steps to address these hazards, including establishing call centers for current and former housing residents to address housing related environmental hazards, and establishing a tenant bill of rights, systematic change must occur in the program. These 50-year agreements between the military services and the military housing companies must be re-opened and renegotiated to tackle the problems that have been identified.   

 

As the military services determine the best path forward, multiple perspectives and deep expertise in housing, state and local housing regulations, and environmental hazards are necessary to determine next steps and make stronger agreements. Clearly, these areas are not the core expertise of the Pentagon leadership, nor are they part of a military leader’s career trajectory. Housing is not a core mission of the Department of Defense.

 

Therefore, I urge you to establish a temporary advisory group for the Department of Defense – a high-level group of independent experts, well-versed in these issues who can assist the department in this process. This group would include approximately 10-15 subject matter experts from outside of government and from other government agencies, who would provide analysis and neutral advice related to housing, real estate, public health and environmental hazards. In addition, advocates for the servicemembers and their families should be included in this group.

 

The Department of Defense has a long history of using advisory groups to provide independent and informed advice, such as the Defense Innovation Board, Defense Science Board, Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, and the Military Family Readiness Council.    

In addition to advising the DoD on broader policy, the advisory group would need to ensure that agreements between the military services and the private companies codify the following:

 

•          Ensure that independent and credentialed housing inspectors provide regular inspections and oversight at the housing units to ensure safe, secure and high-quality housing;

•          Ensure that companies are adhering to state, local and regulatory laws related to environmental hazards. If these standards have not been determined by these authorities, DoD should establish standards in coordination with the EPA, and require that these companies adhere to standards for these hazards, including mold;

•          Require these companies to utilize appropriately credentialed and/or skilled contractors for health, safety and environmental problems across the services; 

•          Ensure that tenants have direct access to a true housing advocate, who assists the servicemembers and their families;

•          Ensure there exists an independent, third-party arbiter who can assist in resolving disputes between the tenants and the companies in a fair and transparent manner; and

•          Determine penalties when these companies fail to provide safe and healthy housing, whether that be withholding rent payments, incentive fees, cancelling the contracts or alternative mechanisms. 

 

Thank you for your attention to this serious matter. I am happy to discuss this issue further. 

 

Sincerely, 

 

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WASHINGTON— Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $5,000,000 in federal funding from the Department of Transportation (DOT) to support improvements at Farmville Regional Airport and Middle Peninsula Regional Airport.

“We’re pleased to announce this funding that will revitalize our airports with the necessary developments to ensure safer travel for Virginians,” the Senators said. 

  • Farmville Regional Airport will receive $3,500,000
  • Middle Peninsula Regional Airport will receive $1,500,000

The funding was awarded through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program within DOT. The program supports infrastructure improvement projects at airports across the country, including runways, taxiways, aprons, terminals, aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles, and snow removal equipment. Warner and Kaine have long fought for funding for Virginia’s airports and pushed back against the Trump Administration’s suggested budget cuts to DOT to ensure that upgrades like these can happen.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement after President Trump escalated the ongoing U.S. - China trade war by imposing a 25 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese exports. In retaliation, China announced that it is raising tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. products beginning on June 1.

“It’s been more than a year since President Trump first launched a haphazard, ill-planned trade war with China that raised taxes on a number of Virginia commodities. The escalation means continued uncertainty for Virginia’s soybean farmers, who continue to brace for the worst every time the word ‘tariffs’ is said in the Oval Office. With the Trump Administration slapping China with additional tariffs and China planning to hit the U.S. right back, there seems to be no solution in sight,” said the Senators. “It’s one thing to be tough on China’s unfair and illegal trade practices, but the longer this disastrous lack of a strategy continues, the more it’ll cost and the more of an impact it will have on Virginians’ bank accounts.” 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have raised concerns about how President Trump’s ongoing trade war could hurt Virginia businesses and families. According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), China is Virginia’s number one agricultural export market for soybeans. In 2018, Virginia exported more than $58 million soybean products to China – an 83 percent decrease from 2017.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) unanimously approved the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2018-2020, including measures introduced by the Committee’s Vice Chairman, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), to provide paid parental leave to intelligence professionals and modernize the antiquated security clearance process.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan annual authorization bill ensures the women and men of our intelligence agencies have the resources they need to do their jobs protecting our country,” SSCI Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA) said. “I am especially happy that this year’s bill contains a provision that will provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave to intelligence personnel, including adoptive and foster parents, matching what many private sector companies are already providing. I am also proud of the numerous other provisions aimed at deterring foreign influence in our elections, tackling technological threats from China as the U.S. and other nations move to 5G communications, revamping our outdated security clearance process, and enabling the IC to exchange talent with the private sector.”

Every year, Congress authorizes intelligence funding through the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) to counter terrorist threats, prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, enhance counterintelligence, conduct covert actions and collect and analyze intelligence around the world. The bill reflects the intelligence committee’s oversight over the past year and its consideration of the president’s budgetary and legislative requests.

As the bill was being debated in Committee, Sen. Warner secured inclusion of an amendment that would provide paid leave to new parents, including adoptive and foster parents, within the intelligence community. While policies currently vary across the intelligence community, parents are commonly required to use a combination of sick, annual or unpaid leave in order to care for a newborn child. A provision in the IAA will require intelligence agencies to implement 12 weeks of paid parental leave for civilian personnel.

Additionally, the IAA includes legislation authored by Sen. Warner to modernize our antiquated security clearance process, return the background investigation inventory that once stood at 725,000 cases to a healthy, stable level, and bring greater accountability to the system. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) last year added the government-wide Personnel Security Clearance Process to their High-Risk List of federal areas in need of either broad-based transformation or specific reform to prevent waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. The IAA passed out of the Senate Intelligence Committee today would:

  • Hold the executive branch accountable for addressing the immediate background investigation backlog crisis.
  • Provide a plan for consolidating the National Background Investigation Bureau at the Department of Defense as recently directed by executive order.
  • Implement practical reforms so that policies and clearance timelines can be designed to reflect modern circumstances.
  • Require agencies to have an electronic portal for applicants to track their progress through the clearance process.
  • Require that clearance reforms be implemented equally to benefit personnel employed by the government or by industry.
  • Strengthen oversight of the personnel vetting apparatus by codifying the Director of National Intelligence’s responsibilities as the Security Executive Agent.
  • Promote innovation, including by analyzing how a determination of trust clearance can be tied to a person, not to an agency’s sponsorship.

The bill also includes a provision, co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), that requires published adjudicative guidelines serve as the exclusive basis for granting, denying, and revoking a clearance, so that the security clearance process cannot be abused for political purposes. This provision also codifies rights to appeal denials and revocations of clearances when constitutional protections have been breached.

Sen. Warner has been a strong voice on security clearance reform. Following years of encouragement from Sen. Warner, the White House last month issued an executive order transferring responsibility for background investigations to the Department of Defense, an important step toward transforming the security clearance system.

Background:

The Damon Paul Nelson and Matthew Young Pollard Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) for Fiscal Years 2018, 2019, and 2020 was approved on a bipartisan, unanimous 15-0 vote. It is named for two dedicated staff members on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Damon Nelson and Matt Pollard, who passed away last year.

The IAA for Fiscal Years 2018-2020 represents a bipartisan effort by the Senate Intelligence Committee to authorize the U.S. intelligence community’s funding, personnel, and activities, and to ensure continued Congressional oversight of critical programs. The bill improves our intelligence community’s ability to protect and defend our country, including in the following key areas:

  • Countering aggression from Russia, China and other foreign actors by increasing our capabilities to detect activities, including active measures campaigns, illicit financial transactions, and other intelligence activities.
  • Securing our elections from foreign meddling by requiring strategic assessments of Russian cyber threats and influence campaigns, and facilitating increased information sharing between state, local, and federal government officials, and incentivizing better cooperation and data sharing among social media companies.
  • Improving the security clearance process by requiring a plan to reduce the backlog, increase efficiencies, create an interagency information-sharing program for positions of trust, and ensure compliance with uniform clearance eligibility procedures within the federal government.
  • Protecting the U.S. government technology supply chain by creating a task force within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and improving the procurement process to defend against intrusion and sabotage.
  • Bolstering the recruitment and retention of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals by enhancing career path flexibility and benefits for cybersecurity experts working within the intelligence community.
  • Enhancing whistleblower rights and the Intelligence Community Inspector General’s oversight by establishing an effective appeals panel process and enabling consistency among intelligence community agencies’ processes and procedures for whistleblowers.
  • Advancing the intelligence community workforce by requiring 12 weeks of paid parental leave for civilian intelligence personnel, and by establishing a Public-Private Talent Exchange to foster professional experiences and growth.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) wrote today to four private military housing companies in order to request strategies from each company on how they plan to tackle the deplorable health hazards documented by military families in Virginia and throughout the nation. These letters come two weeks after roundtables in Norfolk and Fort Lee, where Sen. Warner spoke with a housing company, military officials, and affected families who were upset by conditions in their homes and frustrated about the lack of response from their respective housing companies.

 Letters were addressed to the heads of Lincoln Property Company, which provides 36,000 housing units for military families nationwide, including 5,700 units for Navy and Marine Corps servicemembers stationed at Dahlgren, Wallops, Quantico, and throughout Hampton Roads; Balfour Beatty CommunitiesClark Realty Capital Companies, and Hunt Military Communities, which manage military homes for families stationed at Fort Belvoir, Fort Story, Fort Eustis, and Fort Lee; and Hunt Military Communities, which manages approximately 1,430 units at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

 “Numerous meetings and roundtables that my office has organized with servicemembers and their families, the military, and private companies have all highlighted a number of unacceptable problems in the Military Housing Privatization Initiative that must be addressed immediately,” wrote Sen. Warner. “The status quo cannot be allowed to continue.”

 In the letters, Sen. Warner requested that any plan of action address the following issues reported at private military housing by servicemembers and their families:

  • Lack of adequate credentials/expertise by maintenance providers hired by private military companies. These providers are frequently not qualified and/or certified to fix health hazards and other problems, which can result in superficial fixes or outright failures to fix these hazards.
  • Excessive fees charged to military families in order to remediate hazards. Families facing these fees allege that they have little to no recourse to challenge the charges, even when they are not at fault. Moreover, some families believe that they have no ability to demand compensation from the companies when their furnishings are ruined due to leaks or mold; or when inadequate and unsafe housing forces them to relocate or stay at hotels. 
  • Air quality issues, including the presence of mold and mold spores. As a result of hazards, many families have reported allergic and/or respiratory reactions to these hazards; some families even described experiencing lead and carbon monoxide poisonings.
  • Inadequate communication and transparency between servicemembers and the private companies about health hazards in homes, including lead and mold, the status of work orders, and the resolution of hazards.

Sen. Warner also requested that, in crafting a plan, military housing companies consider the following questions:

  • How will you improve your communication with tenants, so that the tenants and the military services have greater transparency regarding the safety of their homes, beginning at move-in, as well as the status of work orders? Will you consider using an electronic system, with a mobile app, which would enable tenants, military service representatives and the companies to track work orders in real-time? 
  • How will you better resolve disputes between your company and the tenants themselves, whether related to disputes over damages, fees, or whether or not a problem has been adequately addressed? Will you consider creating a third-party, independent dispute resolution mechanism in coordination with the military services? 
  • Can you describe how you will improve your mold remediation standard operating procedures and other processes to improve air quality and reduce health hazards? Will you consider offering mold inspections, as well as air quality testing to residents, especially if suggested by a medical professional?  Given the absence of EPA and federal standards around mold and mold spores, will you work to implement clear standards, established by the military services to ensure healthy air quality?
  • And finally, how will you significantly improve the quality of military housing overall – at move-in and beyond – to ensure that families no longer struggle with mold, lead, rodent infestations, asbestos and more, so that we are not in this situation again in another seven years? 

In February, Sen. Warner introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act in response to a Reuters investigation that revealed health, safety, and environmental hazards in privatized military housing throughout the United States. This legislation would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold rent until issues are resolved, and prohibit contractors from charging certain fees. It would also require the military to withhold incentive fees to poorly performing contractors.

 

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WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling attention to China’s efforts to be the leading country driving the development of standards and norms related to Artificial Intelligence (AI). The Senators urged the Secretary to strengthen the Trump Administration’s diplomatic efforts around emerging technologies to make certain the United States leads in setting international standards and norms for the AI field in ways that are congruent with our nation’s interests and values. 

“Without an engaged United States, and close coordination with our allies, we have limited ability to set global standards for AI development and use, with potentially disastrous consequences,” wrote the Senators. “China, as an authoritarian regime that uses AI tools to monitor its citizens and parse through vast troves a data, is a significant threat to the personal freedoms of individuals around the globe.” 

Menendez and Warner concluded the letter by asking Secretary Pompeo to articulate “the U.S. vision for global standards, norms, and mechanisms for the use of artificial intelligence,” and posing a series of questions about critical issues relating to AI.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below:

 

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

 

We write to urge you to ensure the United States takes a leading role in developing international standards and norms for new and emergent innovations shaping the next generation of information technologies, in particular Artificial Intelligence (AI). Other countries are already shaping this conversation in ways that may be detrimental to U.S. interests. For example, later this month China is convening and hosting a UNESCO Conference on AI, underscoring China’s continued efforts to shape the debate and set the standards surrounding the future of AI. Even our allies are leading in this space, with the EU releasing guidelines for ethical AI development.

 

Emerging technologies such as AI represent the cutting edge of innovation and will facilitate critical advances in a wide range of fields, including health care, education, information processing, logistics, and security. At the same time, these technologies will present enormous challenges, whether in job displacement, algorithmic discrimination, privacy, or cybersecurity (as adversaries exploit these tools, too). The United States has long played a formative role in developing AI technologies.  In recent years, however, China has made significant progress in developing AI, with a stated goal of superseding the United States in this field by 2030.  China’s efforts, according to a study conducted by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, are ahead of schedule, with the Institute highlighting that China has “surpassed the United States in published papers on artificial intelligence” and is “poised to overtake” the United States in terms of cited papers on the subject over the next few years.  Disturbingly, some of America’s most prominent technology companies have opened major AI research centers in China, potentially giving China’s military and intelligence arms access to cutting-edge technology. China’s continued robust investment in the field of AI has the potential to provide a strategic rival a critical technological edge.

 

China’s organization of the UNESCO conference on AI is yet another indication of its efforts to fundamentally shape global standards governing the future of AI and to drive the debate in the international community around an approach that uses AI tools to infringe on the rights of individuals throughout the globe and aid authoritarian regimes in suppressing its citizens.  Technologies are shaped by the values and norms that undergird their development. While a generation of ICT technologies developed by the U.S. and its allies have been shaped by our shared values and norms of openness, pluralism, fair competition, rule of law, security, and free expression, China’s development of AI has been shaped by fundamentally different values and norms, in service of objectives such as surveillance, censorship, and social control.

 

As I know you appreciate, it is critically important that as China attempts to capture primacy in the field of AI the United States works with our partners and allies to assert a position of leadership within the international community on this issue.  Without an engaged United States, and close coordination with our allies, we have limited ability to set global standards for AI development and use, with potentially disastrous consequences.  China, as an authoritarian regime that uses AI tools to monitor its citizens and parse through vast troves a data, is a significant threat to the personal freedoms of individuals around the globe.

 

Due to the issues raised by China’s efforts to set international standards in the field of AI that are not congruent with our interests and values, I am concerned the United States is not doing enough to promote United States leadership in establishing the norms and global governance for AI and other emerging technologies.  Consequently, I ask that you please respond to the following questions regarding U.S. efforts in the AI field:

 

  • What is the U.S. vision for global standards, norms, and mechanisms for the use of artificial intelligence, grounded in our values, including democracy, personal liberties, and the protection of human rights?
  • What U.S. efforts are currently underway to promote this vision for the use of artificial intelligence?
  • What should U.S. expectations be for leading U.S.-based firms and researchers when it comes to work in China on projects that violate human rights? 
  • Does the current export control regime adequately prevent the export of AI technology and technical assistance to human rights violators? 
  • Should Congress consider an update to the Alien Tort Claims Act, allowing foreign citizens (such as Uyghurs) to seek remedies in U.S. courts for human rights violations directly aided by the actions of U.S. firms or researchers?
  • What standards for AI are you promoting in international fora?
  • What is the current diplomatic engagement strategy by the Department of State to promote and promulgate those standards, including through participation in appropriate international fora and meetings?
  • How is the United States working with allies and partners on the development of AI tools?

 

Moving forward, I hope to see the United States further strengthen its efforts in the AI field to ensure that we do not cede leadership on this issue to China.  AI is rapidly becoming one of the most strategically important domains of the next generation, serving as an enabling technology to a range of future innovations and across disparate fields; it is vital to the security of the United States and our allies that we play a primary role in shaping AI to serve in the best interests of liberty, prosperity, and the promotion of human rights.  I ask that you please respond to my questions by May 20th.  I look forward to your response.

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine and U.S. Representatives Bobby Scott and Elaine Luria applauded the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s announcement of $60,000,000 in federal funding through HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Implementation program to support the revitalization of struggling housing projects in Newport News and Norfolk. These two Virginia cities were among just four localities nationwide chosen to receive HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Implementation grants. The funding will allow Newport News and Norfolk to invest in the redevelopment of their public or HUD-assisted housing.  

“This is a big win to ensure safe, affordable housing for underserved communities in Hampton Roads,” the Senators and Representatives said. “We are thrilled HUD selected Virginia for these grants that will allow Newport News and Norfolk to put their redevelopment plans into action so they can start making critical public housing improvements for residents.”

"We are more than excited to have been selected from among 28 applicants nationwide and to have this opportunity to jump-start our revitalization plan.  The changes we will see will impact current residents and future generations," said Karen R. Wilds, Executive Director of the Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

·         Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the City of Newport News will receive $30,000,000.

·         Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the City of Norfolk will receive $30,000,000.

HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Implementation grants support underserved communities that have undergone a local planning process and are ready to implement their “Transformation Plan” to redevelop distressed public or HUD-assisted housing and neighborhoods.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) met with Southwest Virginia coal miners from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) at his office in Washington, D.C. During the meeting, Sen. Warner stressed the need to pass the American Miners Act, legislation he sponsored that would permanently protect the healthcare and pension benefits for thousands of Virginia’s retired coal miners and their families.

The bill will also protect healthcare coverage for 500 Virginia miners who are at risk of losing their benefits due to the 2018 bankruptcy of Colorado-based Westmoreland Coal Co., which previously operated in Wise County, VA. During the meeting, miners and union representatives told Sen. Warner that Westmoreland miner benefits are currently expected to run out no later than October.

The Westmoreland miners’ healthcare benefits are about to run out, and that’s a crisis for these miners and their families,” said Sen. Warner. “Southwest Virginia’s retired coal miners worked hard to power this country, and the least we can do is make sure they’re able to retire with the pensions and benefits they earned. The American Miners Actwould protect the hard-earned benefits these miners and their families count on, while also making sure we’ve got the resources necessary to address the black lung outbreak in coal country.”

“For some of the miners in my local, people are going to start falling beneath the poverty line if Congress doesn’t do something,” said Gary Kennedy, a retired UMWA mine worker from Appalachia, VA who worked in Westmoreland’s Bullitt Mine. “For some people, it’s going to mean the difference between ‘Do you eat three times a day?’ or ‘do you eat twice?’ ‘Do you pay the power bill?’ ‘or ‘do you buy prescriptions?’ That’s what it’s going to mean.”

Currently, the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan is on the road to insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis. The American Miners Act of 2019 will shore up the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan to make sure that 87,000 current beneficiaries and an additional 20,000 retirees who have vested won’t lose the pensions they have paid into for decades. In Virginia alone, there are approximately 7,000 pensioners who are at risk of losing their benefits if Congress does not act.

In May 2017, Sen. Warner worked with several colleagues to pass bipartisan legislation to protect healthcare for retired miners – including more than 10,000 miners and their families in Virginia – who were orphaned by coal bankruptcies. But the recent Westmoreland bankruptcy has endangered health care benefits for additional miners and dependents – including 500 people in Virginia. This legislation will extend the fix to ensure that miners who are at risk due to 2018 coal company bankruptcies will not lose their healthcare.

Lastly, the bill also calls for an extension of the tax that finances medical treatment and basic expenses for miners suffering from black lung. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund was established in 1978 to pay benefits to disabled miners suffering from black lung disease when the coal company responsible for paying benefits is bankrupt, closed or otherwise not able to pay. More than 25,000 coal miners and their dependents rely on the fund. The fund, which due to a variety of factors is currently more than $4 billion in debt, is supported by an excise tax that was cut in half at the end of 2018. The American Miners Act of 2019 will extend the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund tax at $1.10 per ton of underground-mined coal and $0.55 per ton of surface-mined coal for ten years. You can read his Bristol Herald Courier op-ed on the legislation here.

Sen. Warner is a strong advocate for coal miners and their families. In August 2018, he introduced and passed into law legislation to improve early detection and treatment of black lung disease among coal miners. 

The American Miners Act of 2019 is also sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Doug Jones (D-AL) and Bob Casey (D-PA). For more information on the American Miners Act of 2019, click here.

  

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded an announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the City of Charlottesville and the Town of Pulaski will receive federal assistance to support revitalization strategies that improve quality of life and help develop each community’s local food economy. This assistance comes from Local Foods, Local Places (LFLP) – a federal initiative designed to support communities seeking to improve access to nutritious foods, boost economic opportunities for local farmers and businesses, preserve open space and farmland, protect air and water quality, and promote childhood wellness. 

“With an estimated 1 million Virginians living in food deserts, we are thrilled to know that Charlottesville and Pulaski will be receiving federal help to develop plans that increase food access for families,” said the Senators. “We look forward to seeing these communities continue to build healthier, stronger neighborhoods.”

Charlottesville and Pulaski were two of 15 communities selected nationwide out of a pool of more than 70 applications. In Charlottesville, the Charlottesville Food Justice Network plans to develop an integrated strategy to use affordable food markets and urban agriculture to advance food equity in low-income neighborhoods. Additionally, the Town of Pulaski plans to use this assistance to explore the effects of increased food access and healthy living programs on ongoing downtown revitalizations. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long stressed the importance of providing better resources to low-income, rural and urban communities who have limited or no access to nutritious foods. In March, Sen. Warner introduced the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act (HFAAA) – legislation to incentivize food service providers like grocers, retailers, and nonprofits to expand access to nutritious foods in underserved communities. Additionally, earlier this year Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with a group of 45 other Senators urged the Trump administration to rescind a proposed rule that would take away nutrition benefits from Americans struggling to find stable employment. Last month, Sen. Kaine visited Pulaski to hear about ongoing economic revitalization.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), along with 28 other Senators, introduced legislation to provide tax relief to the surviving spouses and children of military members killed in action. This legislation seeks to correct one of the many unintended consequences of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 – legislation forced through by the GOP that, among other things, inadvertently treats military and VA survivor benefits as trusts or estates, subjecting these benefits to a much higher tax rate. The Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act effectively fixes this error by treating any military and VA survivor benefits as earned income, rather than at the trust or parent tax rate. Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives last Thursday by U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA). 

“Gold Star families deserve our sympathy and gratitude, not an unfair tax increase thanks to a Congressional screw-up,” said Sen. Warner. “This bipartisan legislation fixes the mistake in the 2017 GOP tax legislation, ensuring surviving families aren’t unfairly penalized and paying back those families who have already been hit with this tax hike.”

“I’m glad so many Senators recognize the urgent need to right the wrong that Congress imposed on Gold Star Families,” said Rep. Luria. “This bill matches bipartisan legislation I am proud to lead in the House. Democrats and Republicans agree – we must fix a broken system and ensure Gold Star Families are not victims of a tax hike.”

Under current law, spouses of deceased service members are eligible to receive two different survivor benefits – the Department of Veterans Affairs' Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, as well as the Department of Defense (DOD) Survivor Benefits Plan. However, surviving spouses are not currently able to receive both benefits simultaneously in full, and many of these spouses choose to sign the taxable DOD benefit over to their children. Prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, children receiving this benefit were taxed at the parent’s rate, but due to changes in the law, survivor benefits going to children are now treated as a trust or estate, and can be taxed up to 37 percent. This change has affected Gold Star families, who previously paid an average of 12 to 15 percent in taxes on this survivor benefit and have now been forced to pay significantly more without adequate preparation.

As a retroactive bill, the Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act would refund Gold Star families who were taxed the higher rate, going back as far as December 31, 2017. 

Other Senate cosponsors of this legislation are Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Steve Daines (R-MT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Tim Scott (R-SC), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jon Tester (D-MT), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). 

As a strong advocate of Gold Star families, Sen. Warner also recently cosponsored the Military Widows Tax Elimination Act of 2019 – legislation that would allow more than 4,000 military widows in Virginia, and 67,000 military widows nationwide, to receive all the survivor benefits to which they are entitled. Currently, military families who qualify for payments from the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), have their SBP amount reduced dollar for dollar by the amount of DIC received. This bill would remove the offset, alleviating an unnecessary financial burden and ensuring that military widows and their children receive the full support they deserve.  

 

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