Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the independent nonprofit corporation established to save Americans money on their health care costs and help patients better understand their diagnostic and treatment options. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) helps inform health care decisions by providing evidence on the effectiveness, benefits and harms of different treatment options for a condition.

“As medical care and innovation continues to advance, patients have a right to know whether their particular treatment is effective, or whether a different course of action might work better for them,” said Sen. Warner. “Frankly, nobody wants to spend time or money on a procedure they don’t need, but too often, folks don’t have the information they need to make that determination. That’s why I’m proud to introduce this legislation today to help make sure that this crucial institute can continue its work of providing patients and their health care providers with an independent look at their options.” 

“One-size-fits-all medicine does not work. Patients deserve effective and efficient care tailored to them,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Health care costs are lowered when patients have information and can choose what is right for them.”

“This innovative Institute was created to provide patients with the high-quality information they need to make better-informed decisions about their health care. Their work is producing more reliable research to guide health care decisions that increasingly rely on personalized diagnosis and treatments,” said Sen. Van Hollen. “This bill provides the roadmap for the next ten years so they can conduct cutting edge research to improve patient outcomes and save lives.”

“In making health care decisions, it is essential patients have as much useful information as possible,” Sen. Capito said. “PCORI allows patients and their families to compare different treatment options, their effectiveness, and their costs to make more informed decisions. This hopefully helps them not only improve their care, but also spend limited health care dollars more wisely.”

PCORI is an independent nonprofit tasked with examining the relative health outcomes, clinical effectiveness and appropriateness of different medical treatments. Findings from PCORI funded studies are made public so that patients, health care providers and payers can use this information to improve patient care and reduce their health costs. PCORI funded research does not determine coverage or reimbursement decisions at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), but CMS can consider PCORI’s research alongside other factors and public input when deciding what procedures it will cover.

Since 2012, PCORI has approved more than $2.3 billion in grants to advance research on patient-centered outcomes. Since PCORI’s authorization, several studies have contributed to significant changes in decision-making and healthcare spending, including helping reduce patient out-of-pocket costs, health spending on unneeded care, unnecessary hospital stays and intensive medical tests. Additionally, research by PCORI has helped to better inform physicians and patients on a broad array of treatments, including opioid prescribing and substance use disorder treatments, obesity weight loss surgery, telehealth use and more. 

The bipartisan Senate legislation would extend PCORI’s funding through FY2029. The bill would also:

Ensure PCORI conducts additional research on rising health care costs by directing researchers to collect data on the potential burdens and economic impacts of the utilization of medical treatments, items and services on different stakeholders and decision-makers. These potential burdens and economic impacts include medical out-of-pocket costs, non-medical costs to the patient and family, effects on future costs of care, workplace productivity and absenteeism and healthcare utilization.

Establish an ‘Expert Advisory Panel for High-Impact Research’ to assist and advise PCORI on ways to better take into account and target diseases, conditions and care interventions that have a high-impact on national health spending.

Improve PCORI’s ability to study the relative cost and effectiveness of prescription drugs, medical devices and other health care interventions by ensuring appropriate patient coverage for PCORI funded clinical trials and studies. The legislation also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on remaining barriers to conducting clinical trials and studies.

Direct PCORI to maintain its commitment to robust and meaningful patient engagement, including in the selection of national priority topics and research questions.

Strongly encourage PCORI and AHRQ to maintain their commitment to disseminating and implementing research findings and provide strategies to facilitate the adoption of PCORI-funded research into practice.

“We applaud the introduction of this important piece of legislation to reauthorize the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research institute (PCORI). Continuing their existing funding streams for ten years will ensure that PCORI can continue its vital work producing information patients need to decide the care that is best for them.  We particularly support the emphasis on strengthening the way PCORI engages patients and patient organizations and guidance on using a wide variety of outcomes data to ensure patients’ needs are considered in research,” said Marc Boutin, JD, Chief Executive Officer, National Health Council.

“At the University of Virginia School of Medicine, PCORI is funding projects in rural and underserved areas, including studies intended to reduce cancer disparities in rural Appalachian communities and to compare childhood obesity treatments in the Dan River region. Such work is critical to finding effective health care solutions in these communities. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute Reauthorization Act will ensure that invaluable health care information and its scientific findings can continue to be generated and disseminated to patients and providers, allowing them to make needed decisions to choose the best treatments,” said Dr. David S. Wilkes, M.D., Dean of the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

“I am grateful for the leadership of Sens. Warner, Cassidy, Van Hollen, and Capito in introducing this legislation,” said Dr. Peter Buckley, M.D., Dean, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Medicine, and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System. “The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is a critical, independent funder of research that is truly patient-centered – a key value of the VCU Health System. Reauthorizing PCORI for another ten years and maintaining its unique funding mechanism will ensure continued advances in care and our understanding of what works – and for whom – when it comes to treating disease.”

“PCORI has changed how clinical research is conducted at Johns Hopkins and throughout the United States. Through research networks created by PCORI and standalone studies funded by PCORI, the power of including patients in the design, conduct, and analysis of the studies has been demonstrated multiple times. PCORI-funded studies evaluate the concerns of patients directly important to them and provide the evidence we all need to make better decisions about treatment options. Reauthorization of PCORI will provide the evidence American needs in the next decade to create a health system that delivers effective, patient-centered, and high-value care,” said Dr. Daniel Ford, M.D., M.P.H., Vice Dean for Clinical Investigation, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.  

The text of this legislation is available here. 

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote to the U.S. Department of State to follow up on an Inspector General (IG) report that found the Department sent highly-trained bomb-sniffing dogs to foreign partner nations without proper follow-up to ensure they were receiving adequate healthcare. The IG found that as a result, at least 10 dogs trained to assist in fighting terrorism died in the Kingdom of Jordan from various medical problems, including largely preventable illnesses such as parvovirus and heat exhaustion. Many of the dogs were trained at a State Department-contracted facility located in Winchester, Va.

“The IG report outlined a series of problems in the program, which led to the premature deaths of many dogs due to preventable illness, lack of veterinary care, and poor working conditions. Overall, the report makes clear the Department of State is not adequately monitoring and protecting the canines it provides to these countries,” wrote Sen. Warner, a dog owner.

The State Department’s antiterrorism assistance program provides Explosive Detection Canines (EDCs) to foreign countries to support local law enforcement in deterring and countering terrorism. The program is primarily implemented by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Antiterrorism Assistance, in partnership with the Bureau of Counterterrorism. Although the State Department previously relied on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to provide and train the bomb-sniffing dogs, in 2016, the State Department established its own canine training center, the Canine Validation Center (CVC) in Winchester, Va., which is responsible for procuring dogs, training foreign students as handlers, and conducting assessments to determine a country’s ability to care for the dogs and operate a canine program. In addition, the CVC is responsible for conducting health and welfare assessments in foreign countries.

As of September 2018, 100 dogs had been trained at the CVC and provided under the antiterrorism program to six partner nations. In addition, the State Department retains responsibility for approximately 70 dogs that had previously been trained and provided under the ATF program to seven countries.

The IG report found several deficiencies in the program, including:

  • The Bureau of Counterterrorism and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security “do not have mechanisms in place to ensure effective management of the health and welfare of canines in the EDC program” including an absence of policies, procedures, written standards for the department, or written agreements with partner nations to ensure the dogs’ health and safety.
  • The Department does not sufficiently monitor the trained canines that are provided to partner nations, including through follow-up visits and agreements that outline standards.
  • The treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan, where the majority of the dogs are sent, is of particular concern. Despite longstanding concern over the treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan’s care, at least 100 EDCs have been sent to Jordan since 2008. From 2008 through 2016, at least ten dogs died as a result of medical conditions.

The report found multiple instances of dogs that had been severely mistreated in Jordan, including Zoe, a 2-year-old female Belgian Malinois that died of heatstroke; Mencey, a 3-year-old male Belgian Malinois that was euthanized after she contracted two diseases spread by sandflies and ticks; and Athena, a 2-year-old female Malinois who made a full recovery in the United States after a State Department veterinary team conducted a site visit in Jordan and found her “severely emaciated” and housed in a kennel that was “covered in dirt and feces,” according to the IG. While the IG advised that the State Department cease providing canines to Jordan until “there is a sustainability plan in place to ensure canine health and welfare,” the State Department has not yet agreed to that recommendation.  

“The Department spends millions of taxpayer dollars in order to train the canines, provide appropriate veterinary care, and embed mentors in partner nations, among other expenses associated with the program. Yet once the dogs are deployed, many face mistreatment, malnutrition and unsafe facilities,” Sen. Warner wrote today. “I ask that you provide my office with a plan for how you will improve this program to protect taxpayer resources and ensure the safety and health of these highly-trained bomb-detection dogs.”

The full text of the letter is below, and a PDF is available here.

 

September 17, 2019

The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

I am writing to express my concern over a recent State Department Office of Inspector General report, which documented the failure of the Department to protect highly skilled explosion-detection dogs trained by the U.S. government and deployed to Jordan, an important U.S. counterterrorism partner, and additional countries. 

Earlier this month, the Inspector General for the State Department released a report entitled, “Evaluation of the Antiterrorism Assistance Explosive Detection Canine Program – Health and Welfare,” which evaluated the Department’s program to provide Explosive Detection Canines (EDCs) to foreign countries for counterterrorism purposes. Many of these dogs were trained in the Canine Validation Center (CVC) in Winchester, Virginia.  As of September 30, 2018, the CVC had trained 100 dogs, which were sent to six foreign partner nations. In addition, 66-89 dogs trained by a pre-existing program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) were still active in seven partner nations.  

The IG report outlined a series of problems in the program, which led to the premature deaths of many dogs due to preventable illness, lack of veterinary care, and poor working conditions. Overall, the report makes clear the Department of State is not adequately monitoring and protecting the canines it provides to these countries. Some specific findings from their investigation include the following:

  • The Bureau of Counterterrorism and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security “do not have mechanisms in place to ensure effective management of the health and welfare of canines in the EDC program” including an absence of policies, procedures, written standards for the Department, or written agreements with partner nations to ensure the dogs’ health and safety.
  • The treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan, where the majority of the dogs are sent, is of particular concern.
    • Despite longstanding concern over the treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan’s care, at least 100 EDCs have been sent to Jordan since 2008. From 2008 through 2016, at least 10 dogs died as a result of medical conditions including canine parvovirus and heat exhaustion.
    • The Department does not sufficiently monitor the trained canines that are provided to partner nations, including through follow-up visits and agreements that outline standards.

The Department spends millions of taxpayer dollars in order to train the canines, provide appropriate veterinary care, and embed mentors in partner nations, among other expenses associated with the program. Yet once the dogs are deployed, many face mistreatment, malnutrition and unsafe facilities.

I ask that you provide my office with a plan for how you will improve this program to protect taxpayer resources and ensure the safety and health of these highly-trained bomb-detection dogs. Should you have any questions, please contact Caroline Wadhams in my office at (202) 224-2023. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, issued the following statement today following the Senate passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, a two-year bipartisan budget deal that would suspend the debt ceiling until July 2021:

“Today I voted to preserve the full faith and credit of the United States and steer us away from another harmful government shutdown in the fall. By suspending the debt ceiling for two years, the bipartisan budget agreement guarantees that the United States will continue to pay our bills, while also preventing harmful sequester cuts that would hurt our military and jeopardize important programs that serve our veterans, prepare our children for the future, and rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges.

“Even with this deal, overall spending on education, research and development, homeland security, and other important investments will still be near historic lows as a percent of the economy. Our nation’s long-term fiscal challenges are real, but they are primarily due to declining tax revenue and a failure to reform our mandatory spending programs. It is disappointing that congressional and White House negotiators chose to pay for only a fraction of this deal, with fee increases and cuts to spending, when there are more sustainable and equitable ways we could have paid for this must-pass legislation. We should be asking large corporations and the wealthiest among us to contribute more—not putting $2 trillion in tax breaks that disproportionately benefit them on the nation’s credit cards. I continue to believe that we must do more to strengthen our nation’s balance sheet, so it is strong enough to sustain continued economic growth for the long term, and I urge my colleagues from both parties to more seriously address our financial challenges in the future.”

The legislation, which passed the House of Representatives on July 25 by a vote of 284 – 149, now heads to the President’s desk for approval.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  A bipartisan group of senators, led by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Senator James Lankford (R-OK), is calling on the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to make a list of all federal programs publicly available on a central government-wide website in order to identify and eliminate program waste and duplication. In addition to Senators Enzi and Lankford, the group included Senators John Kennedy (R-LA), Mike Braun (R-IN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), David Perdue (R-GA), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Rick Scott (R-FL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Providing a comprehensive list of these federal programs “is critical to helping Congress make informed budgetary decisions and ensuring that we are able to identify – and take appropriate steps to eliminate – duplication, fragmentation, and overlap in federal programs,” wrote the senators.  This list “is a key component of ongoing efforts to improve the federal budgeting process, including by better incorporating performance metrics into budget decision-making.”

The Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 requires OMB to issue guidance to agencies for implementing the inventory requirement and identifying information about each program for publication. An initial program inventory published by OMB in May 2013 had 1,524 programs, but in October 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the 2013 effort had fallen short. GAO made a number of recommendations to OMB to update relevant guidance, develop a more coherent picture of all federal programs, and better ensure information is useful for decision-makers. These recommendations remain open.

The senators specifically want to know OMB’s strategy and timeline for the program inventory. They also are requesting information about the process OMB is using in its approach to developing a federal program inventory.

Read the full letter here.

# # #

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced the Agriculture Research Integrity Act, which would bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from reorganizing and moving the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) out of the National Capital Region. Experts agree that Secretary Perdue’s proposal would undermine their effectiveness and relevance, and the rank-and-file staff opposes the move – just yesterday, it was reported that federal employees at both agencies “have quit in unusually large numbers” since the Secretary announced he would relocate the offices.

“The proposed relocation of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture from the National Capital Region could severely impact the ability of these agencies to carry out their critical research missions,” said Senator Warner. “These agencies provide invaluable research that drives agricultural, nutritional, and environmental policy in the U.S. Removing these agencies from the National Capital Region would negatively impact their work by disconnecting them from other vital research agencies located in the region and could impact their ability to attract and retain highly-qualified personnel.”

“The experts at NIFA and ERS conduct the scientific research that helps grow the food our families eat. They need a seat at the table with decision makers,” said Senator Van Hollen. “This proposed move – coupled with other efforts to undermine their work – is part of a broader effort by the Trump Administration to banish facts and science from policy decisions. We are committed to fighting it tooth and nail.” 

“Once again, the Trump Administration is seeking to marginalize scientists and independent research, choosing to scatter federal employees and potentially politicize what has historically been the work of nonpartisan civil servants,” said Senator Cardin. “With this bill, Congress has an opportunity to show it’s respect for our federal workforce and their work in advancing agriculture, food, the environment, and rural America on behalf of all Americans.” 

“USDA is proposing to uproot more than 700 hardworking federal employees from the National Capital Region with no cost/benefit analysis and no obvious public benefit. These federal workers will be forced to sell their homes, take their kids out of school, and move across the country to a location to be determined. This suspicious process is currently under investigation by the USDA Inspector General. Until USDA gives Congress and its own employees some straight answers, this move should be stopped,” said Senator Kaine. 

“The National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service carry out vital science and research missions that our nation’s farmers, consumers, and lawmakers rely on.  Uprooting those agencies and their staffs would undermine those missions.  That would be a ‘solution’ to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Senator Leahy.

“The National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service play a critical role in ensuring that our agriculture industry remains a global leader and can meet the needs of American families for generations to come,” said Senator Merkley. “There is no reason why taxpayer money should be wasted on moving these research facilities hundreds of miles away, far from the officials who make sure their findings are honest and not influenced by politics or food manufacturers. I’m urging all of my colleagues in Congress to protect the future of American agriculture by saying no to any plan to move these essential agencies.”

“We rely on these workers to provide quality research about our food, our farming and our rural economy, and they deserve a say in this process. Uprooting families and workers is a bad idea that undermines productivity,” said Senator Brown.    

“U.S. farmers face constant uncertainty – not least of which comes from the extreme weather variability brought on by a changing climate. Secretary Perdue has added fuel to the uncertainty by proposing to uproot, reorganize, and ultimately gut two research agencies essential to the stability of a productive and sustainable food system. Since the Trump administration has been unable to provide evidence of how this move will benefit farmers, eaters, and the public interest, Congress must stop the reorganization and relocation. We thank Senator Van Hollen for leading the way,” said Rebecca Boehm, an economist for Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment program

“Under the Trump administration, the USDA is suppressing the publication of scientific research that ERS employees conduct and has proposed upending employees’ lives by relocating the agency outside the nation’s capital,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. “Just like we have been standing up and fighting back against numerous other anti-worker proposals from the Trump Administration, we will join the employees at ERS and NIFA in fighting against efforts to relocate them and politicize their research. AFGE thanks Senator Van Hollen for introducing this important legislation that will aid in our fight for fairness for these federal workers.” 

“The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the farmers we represent from all regions of the country applaud the sponsors for introducing this bill.  We believe that nothing less than the future of public agricultural research and objective, policy-relevant economic analysis is at stake.  We encourage the Senate to follow the House lead and prohibit the misguided, unauthorized, and unfunded effort to move and undermine NIFA and ERS,” said Nichelle Harriott, Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

The House companion bill has been introduced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and language prohibiting the ERS and NIFA move was included in the House Agriculture funding bill released yesterday. 

###

 

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,

 

###

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 – 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, 

 

###

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has introduced the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act, bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would help save millions of federal dollars by curbing erroneous payments to deceased individuals.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains the most complete federal database of individuals who are reported to have died. However, only a small number of federal agencies have access to this official list, and most federal agencies rely on a slimmed down, incomplete, and less timely version of the death information. In addition, most Inspectors General lack access to the complete death information. As a result, many federal agencies make erroneous payments to people who are actually deceased. 

“This should be a no-brainer: One of the easiest ways we can cut down on government waste, fraud, and abuse is by stopping fraudulent payments made to dead people,” said Sen. Warner. “This bill will save millions in taxpayer dollars. It’s just common sense.” 

The SSA Office of the Inspector General reported that in 2015, according to the agency’s own records, there were 6.5 million people who have active Social Security numbers who are 112 years of age or older. In reality, there are only a few dozen people known to be that old in the entire world. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimated that it paid $239 million in “suspect” tax refunds in 2016.

Key provisions in the bill include:

·         Allowing Federal Agencies Access to the Complete Death Database. Under current law, only federal agencies that directly manage programs making beneficiary payments have access to complete death data.  The Act allows all appropriate federal agencies to have access to the complete death data for program integrity purposes, as well as other needs such as public safety and health.

·         Requiring Use of Death Data to Curb Improper Payments. The Act would require that federal agencies make appropriate use of the death data in order to curb improper payments.

·         Improving the Death Data. The legislation would establish procedures to ensure more accurate death data. For example, the bill requires the SSA to screen for “extremely elderly” individuals. This is in response to a 2015 Inspector General Report that identified 6.5 million individuals currently listed as being older than 112 years of age as still alive.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act was introduced by Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), John Kennedy (R-LA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Bipartisan companion legislation has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-MT).

 

###

 

Washington – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement regarding the signing of the Executive Order transferring responsibility for background investigations to the Department of Defense:

“I am pleased that after many months of delay, the President has kept the background investigation mission intact, signing an executive order transferring the remaining portion of the National Background Investigation Bureau to the Department of Defense. This is an important step toward transforming the security clearance system. 

“There is much more we can do to reform decades-old policies and processes to reflect today’s threat environment, adapt to the dynamic of a modern mobile workforce, and capitalize on opportunities offered by modern information technology. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration to pass my legislationenacting further critical reforms to the security clearance process.”

In February, Sen. Warner reintroduced the Modernizing the Trusted Workforce for the 21st Century Act of 2019, which draws on provisions from the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2018/2019, which was unanimously reported out of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in June 2018. The Modernizing the Trusted Workforce for the 21st Century Act 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.
  • Implement practical reforms so that policies and clearance timelines can be designed to reflect modern circumstances.
  • Require that reforms be implemented equally for all departments, and for personnel requiring a clearance, regardless of whether they are employed by the government or 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.

 

###

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) called on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act portions of an essential bill to address hazards in private military housing. The Senators introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act last month in response to a Reuters investigation that exposed health, safety and environmental hazards in privatized military housing throughout the United States.

“While we are pleased that the military services have realized the scope and severity of the problem, and have begun to circulate a ‘Resident Bill of Rights’ for servicemembers living in privatized housing, we strongly believe that Congress must enact legal protections for our military families and strengthen accountability mechanisms for these private companies,” the Senators wrote. 

They concluded, “We believe these reforms are necessary to ensure that contractors are responsive to servicemembers’ concerns, that military housing officials are exercising proper oversight, that servicemembers are empowered to leave any home they feel is unsafe for their family without fear of incurring a financial penalty, and, most importantly, for servicemembers and their families to live in safe and secure housing.”

Among other things, the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act would create stronger oversight mechanisms, allow the military to withhold payments to contractors 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.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long advocated for servicemembers and military families. Last week, they filed an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget resolution to ensure military families have safe and healthy housing. Sen. Warner also recently met with military families in Newport News to hear about their experiences living in privatized military housing, and Sen. Kaine recently toured privatized military housing near Naval Station Norfolk. Last month, the Senators also visited Fort Belvoir to hear from military families about their experiences with military housing.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Feinstein, and Harris, the letter was signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Jon Tester (D-MT). 

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

 

April 1, 2019

 

The Honorable James Inhofe

Chairman

Senate Committee on Armed Services

Russell Senate Building, Room 228

 

The Honorable Jack Reed

Ranking Member

Senate Committee on Armed Services

Russell Senate Building, Room 228

 

Dear Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Reed:

 

We write today to request that the Armed Services Committee include provisions of our legislation, entitled the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, to improve privatized military housing, in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

 

As you know, major problems with privatized military housing have surfaced since Reuters first published a series of articles last year. The Reuters articles, and hearings held by your committee, have revealed that many servicemembers and their families have been forced to live in homes with serious health, safety and environmental hazards, without sufficient recourse.

 

The contractors who operate privatized military housing have too often failed to properly remedy these hazards, or outright ignored servicemembers’ concerns. The military housing officials and installation commanders responsible for ensuring that our servicemembers have safe housing have frequently fallen well short of their charge.

 

While we are pleased that the military services have realized the scope and severity of the problem, and have begun to circulate a “Resident Bill of Rights” for servicemembers living in privatized housing, we strongly believe that Congress must enact legal protections for our military families and strengthen accountability mechanisms for these private companies.

 

To that end, our bill would:

 

1)      Require installation commanders to withhold payment of a servicemember’s basic allowance for housing (BAH) until a military housing official has inspected an environmental, safety or health hazard, verified that appropriate remediation has taken place, and the servicemember concurs that the remediation is satisfactory. In the case that the hazard requires the servicemember to leave the housing unit, the contractor will pay all relocation costs. 

 

2)      Prohibit payment of a deposit, and any fee or penalty related to ending a lease early, except for normal wear and tear. The bill also requires contractors to reimburse servicemembers for damage to their private property caused by a hazard. 

 

3)      Require the Secretary of Defense to withhold incentive fees to any contractor who persistently fails to remedy hazards.

 

4)      Create standard credentials for health, safety and environmental inspectors across the services, and including contractors, to ensure consistent inspection practices.

 

5)      Require the DOD to establish an electronic system so that installation commanders and servicemembers can track and oversee work orders.

 

We believe these reforms are necessary to ensure that contractors are responsive to servicemembers’ concerns, that military housing officials are exercising proper oversight, that servicemembers are empowered to leave any home they feel is unsafe for their family without fear of incurring a financial penalty, and, most importantly, for servicemembers and their families to live in safe and secure housing.

 

We thank you for your leadership and we look forward to continuing to work on this vitally important issue.

 

Sincerely,

 

###

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, along with 45 of their colleagues, introduced the For the People Act, a sweeping package of comprehensive reforms that would make government work for the people. The landmark legislation aims to restore the promise of American democracy by making it easier, not harder, to vote; ending the dominance of big money in politics; and ensuring that public officials work for the public interest. Earlier this month, the House passed their companion legislation, H.R. 1, by a vote of 234-193.  

“Our nation belongs to the people – not just the wealthy or the powerful people – but all the people,” said Warner. “I’m proud this legislation includes the Honest Ads Act, a bill I introduced to bring overdue transparency and accountability to online political ads. By facilitating access to the ballot box, addressing the influence of money in politics, and ensuring that lawmakers can be held accountable by those they serve, this bold legislation will strengthen democracy and put power back in the hands of everyday Americans.”

“I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce landmark legislation to protect the power of the American people in our democracy,” said Kaine. “This bill is about ensuring Americans can exercise their right to vote, securing our elections, and bringing more transparency to money in politics.”

The For the People Act would:

Make It Easier, Not Harder, To Vote

— Improve Access and Secure Voting Rights – Expands access to the ballot box by taking aim at institutional barriers to voting, such as cumbersome registration systems, limited voting hours, and many other roadblocks. The bill creates automatic voter registration across the country, ensures that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full rights restored, expands voting by mail, promotes early voting and online voter registration, and modernizes the U.S. voting system. 

— Promote Integrity – Fights back against the assault on voting rights by reaffirming Congress’s commitment to restoring the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting voter roll purges like those seen in Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere, and ensuring that discriminatory voter ID laws do not prevent Americans citizens from exercising their rights. This bill would also end partisan gerrymandering to prevent politicians from picking their voters and making Americans feel like their voices do not count. 

— Bolster Election Security – Ensures that American elections are decided by American voters without interference by foreign adversaries. The bill creates a national strategy to protect our democratic institutions, increases oversight over election vendors, and enhances federal support for state voting system security upgrades, including paper ballot voting systems.

End The Dominance of Big Money In Politics 

— Guarantee Disclosure – Shines a light on dark money in politics by requiring all political organizations to disclose their donors, which will break the nesting-doll system that allows big-money contributors and special interests to hide their spending in networks of so-called “social welfare” organizations; expands “Stand By Your Ad” provisions; and harmonizes internet disclosure rules with existing broadcast rules.

— Empower Citizens – Builds a 21st-century campaign finance system to increase the power of small donors, reaffirms Congress’s authority to regulate money in politics, and pushes back against Citizens United. This bill levels the political playing field for Americans, creating a multiple matching system for small donations and allowing the American people to exercise their due influence in a post-Citizens United world, while reaffirming that Congress should have the authority to regulate money in politics. The new system of citizen-owned elections will decrease special interests’ influence on Congress and the White House and lay the groundwork for an agenda that serves the American people.

— Strengthen Oversight – Repairs and restructures the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to break gridlock and enhance enforcement mechanisms, tightens rules on super PACs, and repeals policy riders that block sensible disclosure measures. 

Ensure Public Officials Work For The Public Interest

— Fortify Ethics Laws and Slow the Revolving Door – Breaks the influence of special interests in Washington and increases accountability by expanding conflict of interest law and divestment requirements, slows the revolving door, prohibits members of Congress from serving on for-profit corporate boards, limits first class travel for government officials, ends taxpayer-financed settlements for officeholders, and requires presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.

— Impose Greater Ethics Enforcement – Gives teeth to federal ethics oversight by overhauling the Office of Government Ethics, requires the Supreme Court to create a new ethical code, and closes registration loopholes for lobbyists and foreign agents.

The legislation is sponsored by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR). In addition to Warner and Kaine, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Angus King (I-ME), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Doug Jones (D-AL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

The full text of the legislation is available HERE.

A one-page summary of the bill is available HERE.

A longer summary of the bill is available HERE.  

A section-by-section summary of the legislation is available HERE.

A list of organizations supporting the legislation is available HERE

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) – all members of the Senate Committee on the Budget – filed four amendments to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget resolution aimed at protecting federal employees and contractors. The amendments would put the Senate on the record in favor of preserving retirement security for federal employees, and providing back pay to service contractors affected by the recent federal government shutdown. 

“Federal workers are the backbone of our government. If we want to recruit and retain top talent, we have to offer competitive pay and benefits, including retirement security,” said Sen. Warner, who added, “Though the shutdown itself may be over, for many federal contractors who went without pay for 35 days, the effects have been long-lasting. The Senate cannot forget about these workers, many of whom work paycheck to paycheck. We owe it to them to provide back pay.” 

“This year, federal workers experienced the longest shutdown in history. Their finances were pinched and their families were hurt. As we look at next year’s budget, my priority is to ensure that we’re protecting federal workers against pay cuts, preserving their retirement security, and trying to secure back pay for the service contractors impacted by government shutdowns,” said Sen. Kaine. 

“Our federal workers and federal contract employees provide crucial services to the American people. These amendments will protect the hard-earned paychecks and benefits of our federal employees and help secure back pay for contract workers harmed by the government shutdown,” said Sen. Van Hollen.

One amendment would ensure that federal workers are not shouldering more than their fair share of deficit reduction. This amendment would establish a scorekeeping rule that would prevent federal employees from being subject to increased retirement contributions meant to offset the cost of other, unrelated congressional spending. Despite there being no solvency concerns related to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), Congress has repeatedly increased the required federal employee contribution rate without offering any additional benefit. Combined with years of pay freezes, the increased requirements have resulted in de facto pay cuts for thousands of hardworking federal employees. 

Another amendment would preserve the retirement security of civil service employees by preventing further retirement benefit reductions and protecting the retirement plans that employees have spent decades building.

A third amendment would establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to provide back pay to service contractors affected by the recent government shutdown. The shutdown caused more than 800,000 employees and thousands of contractors to go without pay for 35 days, and while affected federal employees were assured that they would be compensated for their missed wages, their contractor colleagues – who perform essential functions like cleaning, food service, and security – were not given that same guarantee. This amendment would put the Senate on the record in support of making these workers whole, following the record-breaking shutdown. 

A fourth amendment would protect federal workers’ retirement benefits by striking a provision in the draft budget that could cut federal employees’ benefits by at least $15 billion.

Sens. Warner, Kaine, and Van Hollen have fiercely advocated for federal employees and contractors, especially during and following the government shutdown. In January, the Senators, along with several colleagues, introduced a bill to pay back federal contract workers after the shutdown. They also joined a bipartisan group of Senators earlier this month in urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to include contractor back pay in the upcoming disaster package. Additionally, the Senators pressed OMB in February for a timeline detailing the implementation of the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees that the Senators worked to pass into law earlier in the year. 

The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to begin its two-day markup on the FY20 budget resolution on Wednesday, March 27. Though nonbinding, the budget resolution provides a blueprint for future congressional action on federal programs.  

 

###

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), members of the Senate Committee on the Budget, filed an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget resolution to ensure military families have safe and healthy housing. The amendment would protect the wellbeing of our nation’s military families by creating a reserve fund to address health hazards in military housing.

“Thousands of servicemembers call Virginia home, and their experiences with unsafe living conditions in housing are disturbing and unacceptable,” said Sen. Warner. “This amendment would ensure we can improve housing conditions for servicemembers and their families, whether they’re stationed here in the Commonwealth or across the country.” 

“Too many of our troops and their families are living in unacceptable conditions,” said Sen. Kaine. “When servicemembers are deployed, their families not only have to worry about their loved ones in harm’s way, but many of them have to endure added anxiety caused by lead, mold, or rodent infestations in their homes. Military families sacrifice so much to serve our nation – they shouldn’t have to tolerate horrible housing conditions, and our amendment is part of an effort to make sure they never have to again.” 

“Members of our military and their families in California and across the nation make sacrifices every day and their housing should be clean and free from health hazards,” said Sen. Harris.  “I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this common-sense amendment to ensure our nation’s military families live in the safe and comfortable housing that they deserve.”  

The proposed amendment would reaffirm a commitment by Congress to address pervasive allegations of health hazards at privatized military housing under the budget resolution. The health hazard allegations include mold blooms, lead poisoning, cockroaches, rodent infestations, and water leaks.  

In February, Sens. Warner, Kaine and Harris introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, which would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold payments to contractors 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.

The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to begin its two-day markup on the FY20 budget resolution on Wednesday, March 27.

 The budget amendment text can be found here.

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), joined with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a member of the Committee, to introduce bipartisan legislation to protect the integrity of the security clearance process and ensure that it cannot be abused for political purposes.

“Americans should be able to have confidence that the security clearance process is being used only to protect our nation’s greatest secrets,” said Sen. Warner. “Our bipartisan bill will make clear that security clearances are not to be used as a tool to punish political opponents or reward family members, but to ensure personnel are thoroughly vetted to the highest standards.”

“The security clearance system is critical to protecting our country from harm and safeguarding access to our secrets. Americans should have the utmost confidence in the integrity of the security clearance process,” said Sen. Collins. “This bipartisan bill would make the current system more fair and transparent by ensuring that decisions to grant, deny, or revoke clearances are based solely on established adjudicative guidelines.” 

The Integrity in Security Clearance Determinations Act will ensure that the security clearance process is fair, objective, transparent, and accountable by requiring decisions to grant, deny, or revoke clearances to be based on published criteria. It explicitly prohibits the executive branch from revoking security clearances based on the exercise of constitutional rights, such as the right to freely express political views, or for purposes of political retaliation. It also bans agencies from using security clearances to punish whistleblowers or discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, religion, age, handicap, or national origin.

The bipartisan bill also codifies in statute the right of government employees to appeal decisions to deny or revoke a security clearance, and requires the government to publicly publish the results of such appeals – providing transparency, accountability and basic due process rights in an otherwise opaque and irregular process. 

The legislation aims to enhance the rigor and accountability of our security clearance process and to prevent abuses. It complements other reforms the executive branch is undertaking to modernize how the government processes clearances, and was developed with input from a wide range of experts across the government and in private law practice. 

A copy of the bill text is available here. 

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), in light of newly-released deferred maintenance numbers, emphasized the need to pass the Restore Our Parks Act – bipartisan legislation to address the maintenance backlog at national parks across the country. New numbers from the National Park Service (NPS) show that the national backlog of deferred maintenance needs grew by more than $313 million last year – with a $100 million increase in Virginia alone. The total overall cost of backlogged maintenance projects at NPS sites nationwide now reaches $11.9 billion. 

“Unfortunately, these numbers show what we already know – the longer we wait, the worse this backlog becomes,” said Sen. Warner. “Our national parks are hurting, and with the parks maintenance backlog in Virginia alone totaling $1.1 billion, we cannot afford to delay these repairs any longer. We need to pass the Restore Our Parks Act and fund the critical renovations our parks require.”

According to NPS, despite completing more than $671 million in needed repair work during FY18, the deferred maintenance backlog at the Park Service has ballooned to over $11.9 billion – an increase of over $300 million from FY17. Additionally, Virginia’s total maintenance backlog increased from $1 billion dollars in FY17 to $1.1 billion in FY18. This includes an increase of almost $10 million in deferred maintenance at Shenandoah National Park, more than $12 million at Colonial National Historical Park, more than $60 million for the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and more than $26 million for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Restore Our Parks Act has widespread support among legislators and conservation groups and would reduce the maintenance backlog by establishing the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” and allocating existing revenues from onshore and offshore energy development. This funding would come from 50 percent of all revenues that are not otherwise allocated and deposited into the General Treasury, not exceeding $1.3 billion each year for the next five years.

Sen. Warner, who will be meeting with Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent J.D. Lee on Thursday to discuss the backlog and other issues, reintroduced the Restore Our Parks Act in February along with Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Angus King (I-ME). A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and has the backing of more than 120 cosponsors.

VA National Park Deferred Maintenance as of 2018 is available here. The chart below reflects VA data for FY17 and FY18.

National Park:

FY17 Deferred Maintenance

FY18 Deferred Maintenance

Change   

 

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

$1,998,224

$3,263,249

$1,265,025

 

Assateague Island NS

$2,774,577

$2,545,865

– $228,712

 

Blue Ridge Parkway

$186,619,608

$212,702,891

 $26,083,283

 

Booker T Washington National Monument

$1,370,913

$1,418,420

$47,507

 

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP

$327,072

$823,242

$496,170

 

Colonial National Historical Park

$421,872,932

$433,899,266

$12,026,334

 

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

$1,848,864

$1,805,537

– $43,327

 

Fort Monroe National Monument

$2,280,548

$2,495,127

$214,579

 

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefields Mem NMP

$10,371,731

$12,688,403

$2,316,672

George Washington Birthplace National Monument

$1,306,614

$1,648,576

$341,962

 

George Washington Memorial Parkway

$233,441,316

$293,494,667

$60,053,351

 

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

$64,760

$498,101

$433,341

 

Maggie L Walker National Historic Site

$531,648

$702,422

$170,774

 

Manassas National Battlefield Park

$6,516,560

$8,186,965

$1,670,405

 

Petersburg National Battlefield

$11,754,041

$8,924,807

– $2,829,234

 

Prince William Forest Park

$18,619,932

$24,148,020

$5,528,088

 

Richmond National Battlefield Park

$6,581,205

$5,261,371

– $1,319,834

 

Shenandoah National Park

$79,208,621

$88,765,195

$9,556,574

 

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

$31,149,289

$34,175,868

$3,026,579

 

 

Total

 

$1,018,629,457

 

$1,137,447,992

 

$118,818,535

 

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, today released the following statement regarding the Trump Administration’s budget proposal:

“There is much to be concerned by in the Trump Administration’s proposed budget, which is chock-full of short-sighted, draconian cuts to critical programs like medical research, education, environmental protection, transportation, and health care. It’s difficult to take seriously the Administration’s newfound commitment to deficit reduction after they pushed through a budget-busting tax cut that is already adding $1.9 trillion to the deficit, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. 

“It’s particularly galling that, just weeks after the longest government shutdown in history, the President’s proposed budget takes direct aim at the federal workers who bore its brunt by pushing for yet more cuts: retirement cuts. Benefit cuts. Another pay freeze. Federal workers are the backbone of a functioning government, and they deserve better than what we’ve seen from this Administration.”

 

###

 

 

 

Washington – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, wrote today to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, requesting areview of the Trump administration’s compliance with security clearance policies and procedures. This request comes on the heels of alarming reports that detail how President Trump ignored objections from White House Counsel Donald McGahn and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, and granted security clearances to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner.

“We write to request that you review compliance by the Executive Office of the President (EOP) with policies and procedures governing security clearances and access to secure compartmented information (SCI),” the Senators wrote. “We also request that you review the adequacy of policies and procedures to ensure that mitigation measures are implemented when eligibility to access to classified information is granted despite potential security risks. We believe that you have the authority and expertise to conduct this review, including in your role as Security Executive Agent under Executive Order 13467.” 

The improper handling of these clearances is just the latest in a series of allegations that highlight substantial irregularities and questionable decisions by the Trump Administration. Additional reports claim that former White House Staff Secretary Robert Porter was allowed to handle extremely sensitive information for over a year with an interim clearance, despite his record of domestic abuse, and that the White House overturned an unprecedented 30 clearance adjudication recommendations made by career security professionals. 

Noting that the Trump Administration is currently working on transforming the security clearance system to reflect new threats, modern technologies, and the nation’s mobile workforce, the Senators emphasized the need to ensure that today’s system operates with integrity, especially at the White House.

Sen. Warner has been an outspoken critic of the Trump Administration’s abuse of the security clearance process. He also recently reintroduced legislation to modernize the government’s antiquated security clearance system and reduce the background investigation backlog.

 

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

 

March 8, 2019

 

The Honorable Daniel Coats

Director of National Intelligence

Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Washington, DC 20511

 

The Honorable Michael K. Atkinson

Inspector General of the Intelligence Community

Washington, DC 20511

 

Dear Director Coats and Inspector General Atkinson:

 

We write to request that you review compliance by the Executive Office of the President (EOP) with policies and procedures governing security clearances and access to secure compartmented information (SCI).  We also request that you review the adequacy of policies and procedures to ensure that mitigation measures are implemented when eligibility to access to classified information is granted despite potential security risks.  We believe that you have the authority and expertise to conduct this review, including in your role as Security Executive Agent under Executive Order 13467.

 

Public reporting over the last two years has raised serious concerns of alleged irregularities and questionable decisions related to eligibility determinations for EOP personnel access to classified information. These allegations include abuse in granting interim clearances, to include for access to SCI; revoking a former senior intelligence official’s eligibility for access to classified information seemingly for reasons of political retribution; overruling unfavorable adjudications made by career security professionals in some 30 cases; and the President’s decision himself to grant his daughter and son-in-law clearances despite the documented concerns from the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff.

 

The Administration is undertaking an important transformation of the security clearance system to reflect today’s threats, today’s mobile workforce, and modern technologies.  While we must stay focused on that larger reform effort, we must ensure that today’s system operates with integrity, particularly at the White House.

 

We look forward to your attention to this matter and request you brief us on the results of your reviews within 60 days.

 

Sincerely,

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) wrote today to the Secretaries of the U.S. Navy, Army and Air Force, asking for detailed information regarding the military’s contracts with private companies to provide on-base housing for military families in Virginia. Prompted by pervasive allegations of health hazards – including lead poisoning, cockroaches, mice, mold blooms and water leaks – the Senators raised concerns about existing contracts with several private companies that manage thousands of family housing units at military bases across Virginia, and asked each of the services to provide copies of any existing policies and operating procedures meant to hold companies accountable for health and safety failures.  

“Military families make great sacrifices for our nation and they deserve housing that is safe and healthy,” said the Senators. “It is crucial that military leaders prioritize the well-being of military families and hold private housing companies accountable for anyhealth hazards or issues.” 

The specific contracts and locations for which the Senators requested information include:

  • Lincoln Military Housing, a residential real estate management company that 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 Communities, Clark Realty Capital 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.  

In letters addressed to Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper, and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, the Senators asked for: 

  • Copies of housing contracts with private companies;
  • Copies of any service- or department-level guidance and policy documents that relate directly to contracting for on-base privatized housing;
  • Any information about any cure notices that may have been sent to contractors regarding failures to adhere to contractual obligations at Virginia installations; and
  • Copies of standard operating procedures to responding to and rectifying problems in government-owned housing, such as mold, mildew, lead paint,  and other habitability, safety, and health complaints in government-owned housing. 

This is not the first time that Sens. Warner and Kaine have taken actions to address concerns with military housing conditions. In August of 2018, both Senators pressed Secretary Esper to address lead poisoning concerns at a number of Army installations, including Fort Belvoir. Additionally, last November, Sen. Warner asked the Department of Defense to provide a detailed briefing outlining the Defense Department’s plan to ensure the safety of military families residing in both public and private housing. He alsomet with Secretary Esper earlier this month to emphasize the importance of prioritizing improvements to military housing conditions. In the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Kaine has called on military leaders and private companies charged with maintaining housing to work together to quickly address these problems.

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Angus King (I-ME) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to address the $12 billion National Parks Service (NPS) maintenance backlog, which has delayed the upkeep of visitor centers, rest stops, trails, campgrounds and transportation infrastructure operated by NPS in the Commonwealth and across the country. The Restore Our Parks Act, which overwhelmingly passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last year, would take existing government revenue and allocate it to the chronically underfunded National Park Service.

Virginia’s national parks, which host over 25 million visitors every year, are in critical need of this funding to continue preserving some of the nation’s most precious national treasures. Shenandoah National Park alone has outstanding maintenance needs totaling almost $80 million, while Colonial National Historical Park is more than $420 million behind schedule. To make matters worse, recent reports indicate that the 35-day government shutdown exacerbated the NPS maintenance backlog and delayed important work for readying park facilities, roads and trails for the busy summer season.

“The deferred maintenance backlog at national park sites in Virginia is currently over a billion dollars. The Commonwealth trails only California and the District of Columbia in total deferred maintenance needs. Colonial National Historical Park, which is home to Historic Jamestown and Yorktown Battlefield, has over $400 million in deferred maintenance needs alone,” said Sen. Warner. “We owe it to our Commonwealth and to our country to pass this bill and clear the $12 billion maintenance backlog that is holding back essential repairs and renovations at our cherished national parks. This problem will only worsen if we fail to act.” 

“For more than a century, the National Park Service has been inspiring Americans to explore the natural beauty of our country,” Sen. Portman said. “My visits to various national parks in Ohio last year made it clear that we must pass this legislation to ensure that they have sufficient resources to maintain our national parks. This bill will create the Legacy Restoration Fund to provide the National Park Service with funds for deferred maintenance projects. This legislation will also help tackle the more than $100 million in maintenance backlog at Ohio’s eight national parks and will ensure the National Park Service can continue preserving American treasures like Cuyahoga Valley National Park.” 

“Today, too many of our national parks are in bad shape. American families spending their vacations in our national parks are often shocked to find that so many of the roads, picnic areas, trails, campgrounds and visitor centers are run down or even closed,” Sen. Alexander said. “The Restore Our Parks Act would be the biggest help to the National Park Service in 50 years – it would cut in half the maintenance backlog at our national parks and help restore our 418 national parks so Americans can enjoy them. The legislation is supported by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives, the Trump Administration and more than 100 conservation groups. When an idea this good – fixing our national parks for future generations – gets this much bipartisan support, it’s going to happen sooner or later. It is my hope we pass the legislation as soon as this year.” 

“From Acadia to Zion, the National Park System captures our country’s diverse natural beauty and is a proud reminder of America’s dedication to preserving public land for all its citizens,” Sen. King said. “As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.’ We have a collective responsibility to maintain this spirit of the wilderness in our National Parks – and this starts with the $12 billion maintenance backlog. With strong bipartisan support, this bill will ensure our parks are well-maintained so generations of visitors can experience the wonders of our National Parks for years to come.” 

“The Restore Our Parks Act would provide billions of dollars to address the multibillion-dollar repair backlog at our national parks,”said Marcia Argust, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ project to restore America’s parks. “This investment would help preserve these treasured places and support sites that generate more than $18 billion in annual spending in nearby communities by park visitors.”

“For years, our national parks have been plagued with underfunding while also dealing with a mounting backlog of repair needs, totaling nearly $12 billion. Grand Canyon’s water and sewer systems, built during World War II, are failing. Roads in Yellowstone that were originally built in 1905 for carriages, not the millions of cars and RVs that use them today, are sinking. Thanks to the leadership of Senators Portman, Warner, Alexander and King, park staff could get the funding they need to fix our national parks. The bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act would make a much needed and significant investment to address these and so many more infrastructure needs in national parks across the country, ensuring they are ready to welcome the next generation of park visitors,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association. 

“In 2018, our National Parks contributed $35.8 billion in total economic output and supported 306,000 American jobs. National Parks are a huge attraction for visitors across the country and around the world, which makes investment in the maintenance of our national parks not just an environmental necessity but also an economic priority. U.S. Travel applauds Senators Portman, Warner, Alexander and King for reintroducing the Restore Our Parks Act, which will invest in national park infrastructure and facilities and shrink the nearly $12 billion in deferred maintenance facing our parks,” said Tori Barnes, Senior Vice President, Government Relations, U.S. Travel Association. 

“The nearly $12 billion National Park System deferred maintenance backlog jeopardizes some of our nation’s most iconic historic resources and cultural artifacts. By creating a reliable federal funding source to reduce the backlog, this legislation will enable the National Park Service and other federal agencies to save the historic structures, landscapes, and necessary infrastructure that enable the public to safely enjoy the places that reflect our nation’s history. We commend Reps. Bishop and Kilmer and Sens. Portman, Warner, Alexander and King for their leadership in creating a bipartisan path for Congress to secure the future of important historic and cultural resources now at risk,” said Thomas J. Cassidy, vice president for government relations and policy for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“The time is now for Congress to address this national crisis, particularly in the Nation’s Capital. The National Mall hosts more than 35 million visits each year and has the highest deferred maintenance bill of any National Park across the country. As the greatest symbol of American Democracy, we must improve and preserve this historic legacy for generations to come. We express our gratitude to Representatives Bishop and Kilmer in the House and Senators Portman, Warner, Alexander and King in the Senate for their steadfast leadership of this important legislation,” said Catherine Townsend, president and CEO, the Trust for the National Mall. 

The Restore Our Parks Act would establish the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” to reduce the maintenance backlog by allocating existing revenues the government receives from on and offshore energy development. This funding would come from 50 percent of all revenues that are not otherwise allocated and deposited into the General Treasury not to exceed $1.3 billion each year for the next five years.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Portman, Alexander and King, other original cosponsors include Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kamala Harris (D-CA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Gary Peters (D-MI), John Boozman (R-AR), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Steve Daines (R-MT). 

A similar bill is being introduced in the House today by Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and has the backing of more than 90 cosponsors.

A list of additional organizations supportive of addressing the NPS backlog can be found here

 

VA National Park Deferred Maintenance as of 2017*

 

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

$1,998,224

Assateague Island NS

$2,774,577

Blue Ridge Parkway

$186,619,608

Booker T Washington National Monument

$1,370,913

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP

$327,072

Colonial National Historical Park

$421,872,932

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

$1,848,864

Fort Monroe National Monument

$2,280,548

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefields Mem NMP

$10,371,731

George Washington Birthplace National Monument

$1,306,614

George Washington Memorial Parkway

$233,441,316

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

$64,760

Maggie L Walker National Historic Site

$531,648

Manassas National Battlefield Park

$6,516,560

Petersburg National Battlefield

$11,754,041

Prince William Forest Park

$18,619,932

Richmond National Battlefield Park

$6,581,205

Shenandoah National Park

$79,208,621

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

$31,149,289

Total

$1,018,629,457


*Due to the continuously changing nature of facilities data, only final, year-end data is reported by the National Park Service. The last year for which data is available is FY 2017.

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded Senate passage of a historic lands bill — S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act — that permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program that protects and preserves Virginia’s public lands. Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for permanent reauthorization of LWCF. Authorization for the Fund expired at the end of last fiscal year.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is essential to preserving and protecting Virginia’s rich history and beautiful landscapes,” said the Senators. “By providing long-term security for this critical program, communities across the Commonwealth will be able to continue caring for our natural resources and history for future generations to enjoy.”

The LWCF provides states and local communities with technical assistance, recognition, and funding to help preserve their own history and create close-to-home recreation opportunities. In the span of four decades, Virginia has received more than $350 million in LWCF funding to protect dozens of national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and more. This bipartisan package is supported by dozens of conservation and recreation organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation, the League of Conservation Voters, the Outdoor Industry Association, and the Nature Conservancy. 

The lands package also reauthorizes the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Grant Program. Historically Black Colleges and Universities Grants support the preservation of sites on HBCU campuses that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Eligible projects include pre-preservation studies, architectural plans and specifications, historic structure reports, and the repair and rehabilitation of historic properties according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. Last year, Virginia Union, Hampton University, Virginia State, and Virginia University of Lynchburg received grants totaling $2.27 million under the HBCU grant program.

The lands package also includes a provision introduced by Sen. Warner that expedites access to national parks for Good Samaritans, or eligible search and recovery organizations, after they sign a liability waiver. Sen. Warner pushed for the legislative fix after Alexandria resident Jodi Goldberg’s brother Keith was killed and his body was left at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Las Vegas, Nevada in 2012. His family worked for 10 months to get the permits and secure a million-dollar liability insurance policy required by the National Park Service before it would allow a trained volunteer search and recovery team to search for his body in the national park. 

In addition, the bill includes language backed by Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with the entire Virginia delegation, that designates the George C. Marshall Museum and Research Library in Lexington as the National George C. Marshall Museum and Library.

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance, Banking, Budget and Rules committees and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today wrote to the heads of several federal Departments raising questions about the Trump Administration’s compliance with the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits federal agencies from obligating or expending federal funds not appropriated by Congress. Now in its 32nd day, the current shutdown is the longest in American history, and questions are being raised about the seemingly ad hoc way in which the Trump Administration is picking “winners and losers” during the shutdown – determining which employees will be furloughed and which employees will be deemed “excepted,” expected to continue working without pay to keep certain government services operational. 

Previous presidential administrations have applied a narrow interpretation to determine which employees are considered essential during a shutdown, restricting such a designation only to employees whose jobs were necessary to avoid “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

“Government shutdowns are never good, the current one being no exception, and they never produce positive results. Our hard-working federal employees deserve to be paid for their work, and to be paid in a timely manner rather than waiting weeks, months, or even years for a shutdown to end. Rather than finding ways to minimize the impact of the current government shutdown, and straining legal bounds to do so, it is my strong belief that the best way to fix the current situation is to simply end the shutdown,”Sen. Warner wrote to several Trump Administration officials.

Press reports indicate that Department heads under the Trump Administration have taken a questionable and inconsistent approach towards determining what programs will continue to operate under the shutdown:

  • For example, at the Department of the Interior, furloughed employees from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management were recalled after several weeks in order to work on upcoming offshore oil and gas lease sales;
  • During the shutdown, the State Department proceeded with holding a conference for all U.S. chiefs of mission and ambassadors abroad in Washington, D.C. from January 15-18, requiring many State Department employees to work without pay to organize and work at the conference; moreover, the Department recently recalled all furloughed employees in order to carry out the Department's mission without providing additional explanation on how this complied with the Antideficiency Act and why that move was needed to avoid imminent threats to human life or protection of property;
  • More than three weeks after the shutdown began, the Department of Transportation recalled  thousands of employees to perform work such as air-safety checks, and routine activities such as approving new aircraft for commercial carriers’ fleets and new flight routes;
  • At the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS), employees were recalled, reportedly at the behest of the mortgage industry, to conduct income verification checks, and to process tax refunds, even though both activities were initially designed as non-excepted activities under the IRS’s shutdown plans;
  • The Department of Agriculture recalled 2,500 Farm Service Agency employees to help farmers with existing loans and tax paperwork, among other tasks. 

Letters were sent to the InteriorStateTreasuryAgriculture, and Transportation Departments, as well as the IRS

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter today to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, stressing the importance of sustained funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The lawmakers expressed concern with the agency’s ability to support states and grocery stores, following a decision by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue February SNAP benefits weeks ahead of schedule. The letter also highlights a lack of guidance for recipients who may be forced to go without the assistance if the government shutdown persists beyond the month of February.

USDA has been particularly impacted by the partial government shutdown. Nearly 95 percent of USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) workers have been furloughed, affecting the agency’s ability to run SNAP—a program that 776,000 Virginians rely on to meet their basic nutritional needs. SNAP keeps more than 150,000 Virginians, including 79,000 children, out of poverty every year by granting families and individuals access to nutritious foods.

“Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it was taking the unprecedented step of issuing SNAP benefits a month early to ensure that individuals are able to receive their benefits for February. While we are pleased that USDA was able to identify funds to continue SNAP benefits during the shutdown, we are concerned the agency is not providing adequate support to states and grocery retailers, who are dealing with the massive logistical challenge of distributing SNAP benefits weeks earlier than normal,” wrote the Senators. 

The Senators continued, “In addition, we are troubled by the lack of information from USDA about its ability to continue SNAP benefits through March and beyond if this shutdown continues into February… We urge you to provide additional information on other funding options you have at your disposal to continue SNAP payments for March and beyond if the shutdown is not resolved in a timely manner… Given the importance of this program for many of our constituents, we ask that you do all you can to ensure the uninterrupted issuance of SNAP benefits as long as this shutdown continues.”

 

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

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary         

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, DC 20250 

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

 

We write today concerning the uncertainty surrounding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the ongoing partial federal government shutdown. Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it was taking the unprecedented step of issuing SNAP benefits a month early to ensure that individuals are able to receive their benefits for February. While we are pleased that USDA was able to identify funds to continue SNAP benefits during the shutdown, we are concerned the agency is not providing adequate support to states and grocery retailers, who are dealing with the massive logistical challenge of distributing SNAP benefits weeks earlier than normal. In addition, we are troubled by the lack of information from USDA about its ability to continue SNAP benefits through March and beyond if this shutdown continues into February.

Every month, approximately 776,000 Virginians receive SNAP benefits to meet their basic nutritional needs. One out of every eleven Virginians received SNAP benefits in 2017 and almost 70 percent of SNAP participants were households with children. According to Michael McKee, CEO of Virginia’s largest food bank, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, a funding lapse for SNAP will prevent food banks from feeding thousands of Virginians. Currently, SNAP provides about 12 times the amount of food as the nation’s food banks combined. A lapse in SNAP funding would be devastating for the thousands of Virginians that depend on this program each month. Low-income Virginians should not suffer the consequences of this unnecessary shutdown. 

Unfortunately, the ongoing government shutdown has impacted the ability of USDA to carry out this essential program. The Food and Nutrition Service, which processes SNAP benefits, has furloughed nearly 95 percent of its workforce. Even with a fully-staffed agency, it would be a tremendous undertaking for USDA and states to issue SNAP benefits weeks earlier than usual. Given the lack of available staff at USDA, the uniqueness of this situation, and the tight timeline, we are worried about the agency’s ability to support states as they rush to ensure their SNAP recipients receive their February benefits by the January 20th deadline. 

Additionally, we are concerned by USDA’s lack of guidance concerning SNAP benefits after February, should the government shutdown continue into next month. Last year, Congress provided USDA $3 billion for a SNAP contingency fund. While not an insignificant number, this fund would likely not cover a full month of SNAP benefits for current users, considering the average monthly cost of the program is $4.8 billion. This means that the nearly 40 million recipients of SNAP do not know when additional funds will be added to their benefit cards after January 20th. We urge you to provide additional information on other funding options you have at your disposal to continue SNAP payments for March and beyond if the shutdown is not resolved in a timely manner.

Beyond providing Virginians access to healthy and nutritious foods, SNAP is one of Virginia’s best tools to fight poverty. The program keeps more than 150,000 Virginians, including 79,000 children, out of poverty annually. Given the importance of this program for many of our constituents, we ask that you do all you can to ensure the uninterrupted issuance of SNAP benefits as long as this shutdown continues.

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your reply.

 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined 28 colleagues, led by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Susan Collins (R-ME), in introducing legislation to guarantee back pay as soon as possible for federal workers who go without a paycheck during the current government shutdown. The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act also clarifies that employees who had previously scheduled approved leave occurring during a shutdown may take that leave without undue penalty. 

“Federal employees have worked hard to serve our country and we must ensure they don’t go without the pay their families were counting on just because of the President’s irresponsible actions,” said Warner and Kaine.  

View text of the Government Employee Fair Treatment ActHERE.

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – Responding to changes in the economy and the nature of work, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Congressman Jim Himes (D-CT) today released a proposal for portable accounts that would make saving for retirement easier for American workers who can increasingly expect to work multiple jobs for multiple employers over the course of a career. 

In a white paper, Sen. Warner and Rep. Himes put forward a proposal for a new type of retirement savings vehicle, the Portable Retirement and Investment Account (PRIA). The accounts – which would be universal for all Americans, and travel from job to job over the course of a lifetime in a workforce – would offer those workers who are not currently well-served by existing retirement programs a new avenue to save and manage their retirement assets. The accounts would not replace 401(k)s, IRAs, and other existing retirement accounts and would also make it easier for employees to consolidate their existing retirement accounts if they change jobs. 

“Changes in the nature of work mean that Americans are more likely to change jobs and be engaged in non-traditional forms of work than they were a generation ago, but our policies haven’t kept up with these shifts. As more and more Americans can expect to hold multiple jobs across a career, a year, and even a day, we need to provide them with access to flexible, portable benefits such as retirement savings that will carry with them from employer to employer and gig to gig,” said Sen. Warner. “Input from stakeholders will be critical as we look towards developing functional solutions that will work for employers and employees alike.”

“Millions of Americans are not properly preparing for retirement and need a mechanism that makes it easier to save throughout their lives. To achieve this, Congress should create a portable retirement account that is personalized and independent from employment status. I’ve introduced a version in the House as a first draft and am grateful to Senator Warner in joining me to develop the idea further in a bicameral way. Today’s release of our white paper is a call to partnership for all interested parties who know our system isn’t working and are committed to fixing it,” said Rep. Himes. “With input from experts and stakeholders, we’ll be able to create a new, flexible and portable plan that will be an integral part of overcoming the challenges facing our retirement system.”

American workers are increasingly likely to hold several different jobs over the course of their careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, younger baby boomers held, on average, 12 jobs by the time they turned 50 – and current economic trends indicate that younger workers can expect to change jobs even more frequently. At the same time, fewer companies now offer traditional defined benefit pensions to their workers, and, whether by choice or necessity, a growing number of Americans are also engaged in alternative work arrangements that offer little or no access to retirement benefits. These trends all point to the need to offer workers a new option to save for their retirement in addition to or in lieu of traditional employer-based plans.

Sen. Warner and Rep. Himes are now seeking input from stakeholders regarding their proposal with an eye towards potential legislation. Submissions can be made to Sen. Warner’s office at PRIA@warner.senate.gov and to Rep. Himes’ office at Mark.Snyder@mail.house.gov by Friday, January 11.

 

###