Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined his Senate colleagues in a letter to United States Postmaster General Louis DeJoy calling on him to immediately reverse all operational and organizational changes that have resulted in delays of critical medications to Americans.  

“The Postal Service is an essential public institution that must uphold its duty to serve every community. Your recently implemented changes pose an unacceptable threat and continue to have a devastating effect on communities that rely on consistent access to medication through the mail. We have received numerous reports from seniors about delays in receiving their prescriptions through the mail, leaving some without life-sustaining medication for days. Others have been forced to obtain emergency prescriptions from their doctors and pay out-of-pocket for medication because their original prescriptions covered by insurance never arrived,” wrote the Senators to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

“We call on you to immediately reverse all operational and organizational changes that have resulted in life-threatening delays of critical medications to Americans. As you noted, ‘it is imperative for the Postal Service to operate efficiently and effectively, while continuing to provide service that meets the needs of [its] customers.’ Right now, the Postal Service is failing to meet the needs of many Americans and adhere to its mission of ‘prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas.’ As we continue to fight this pandemic, the Postal Service is integral to keeping millions of Americans safe, especially seniors, people with chronic conditions, and people with disabilities,” continued the Senators.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was led by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Gary Peters (D-MI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH),  Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Last month, Sen. Warner fired off a letter to Postmaster General sharing concerns he’s heard directly from Virginians regarding delayed mail service following those structural and operational changes at the Postal Service. Sen. Warner also recently called on DeJoy to testify before Congress regarding service delays in Virginia. Additionally, he joined a number of Senate Democrats in raising concerns over the heightened impact of these changes to servicemembers and their families, and in pushing DeJoy and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to correct the changes that are needlessly delaying veterans’ access to life-saving prescriptions.

In June, Sen. Warner sounded the alarm about the Administration’s efforts to undermine state work to expand mail-in voting. Following the USPS policy changes, Sen. Warner joined other Senate Democrats in an effort to urge the Postmaster General to provide answers regarding reports of recent changes to long-standing practices at USPS that would result in increased delivery times and costs for election mail, and urged him not take any further action that makes it harder and more expensive for states and election jurisdictions to mail ballots. He has since called on DeJoy to answer for service delays and urged him not to take any further action that makes it harder for states to mail ballots. In addition, Sen. Warner asked Virginia’s election registrars to ensure that all Virginians can access their right to vote.

 

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

Dear Mr. DeJoy:

In your three months as U.S. Postmaster General, you have made detrimental operational and structural changes to the U.S. Postal Service. After facing criticism from members of Congress, states, and the public as well as lawsuits from multiple state attorneys general you announced the reversal of some—but not all—of these policies.  Damage from your decisions has already been done as Americans continue to experience potentially life-threatening delays in the delivery of prescription medications. These delays will continue to disproportionately harm the same individuals who are most at risk during the COVID-19 crisis, including seniors, people with chronic conditions, and people with disabilities. 

While we hope that your recent policy reversals will curtail some of the harmful effects and delays we have seen, we continue to have grave concerns regarding widespread delays in the delivery of critical medications that millions of Americans rely upon every day. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now more important than ever for Americans to have safe and timely access to their medications from their homes. For years, Americans have entrusted the Postal Service to deliver essential goods—yet during this public health crisis, a number of Americans continue to await needed medications that are lost or delayed in the mail. 

The Postal Service is an essential public institution that must uphold its duty to serve every community. Your recently implemented changes pose an unacceptable threat and continue to have a devastating effect on communities that rely on consistent access to medication through the mail. We have received numerous reports from seniors about delays in receiving their prescriptions through the mail, leaving some without life-sustaining medication for days. Others have been forced to obtain emergency prescriptions from their doctors and pay out-of-pocket for medication because their original prescriptions covered by insurance never arrived. 

The National Association of Letter Carriers reported that the Postal Service delivers 1.2 billion prescription drug shipments each year – amounting to four million shipments every day, six days a week.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Mail Order Pharmacy provides prescriptions to approximately 80 percent of all veterans via mail, processing 470,000 prescriptions daily.  Despite these figures, “prescription medication can only be as effective as a patient’s ability to access it.” 

The Postal Service’s role in delivering medications to Americans has only grown during the COVID-19 crisis. When COVID-19 stay-at-home orders began in March, mail-order prescriptions reportedly increased by 21 percent from the year prior.  What was previously a routine visit to the pharmacy now places millions of Americans at an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises Americans to “limit in-person visits to the pharmacy” and, if possible, to use drive-thru windows, mail-order, or other delivery services to pick up medications.   As Postal Service delays cause Americans to worry when, if at all, they will receive their next supply of medication in the mail, patients across the country may be forced to seek their prescriptions in person at a pharmacy—increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19 at a time when staying home is vital to their health and well-being.

We call on you to immediately reverse all operational and organizational changes that have resulted in life-threatening delays of critical medications to Americans. As you noted, “it is imperative for the Postal Service to operate efficiently and effectively, while continuing to provide service that meets the needs of [its] customers.”  Right now, the Postal Service is failing to meet the needs of many Americans and adhere to its mission of “prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas.”  As we continue to fight this pandemic, the Postal Service is integral to keeping millions of Americans safe, especially seniors, people with chronic conditions, and people with disabilities.

To that end, please provide the following information by September 21, 2020:

  1. What considerations did you give to mail-order medications before implementing the recent operational and structural changes throughout the Postal Service?
  1. What, if any, actions did you take to prevent potential delays in the delivery of mail-order medications? If you made no specific adjustments or considerations, please explain why.
  1. What steps, if any, does the Postal Service intend to take to address existing delays in the delivery of mail-ordered prescriptions that have occurred as a result of the operational and structural changes you implemented? 
  1. Please identify the operational and structural changes implemented during your tenure that you plan to reverse.
    1. Please explain how you decided which changes to reverse, as well as your rationale for each reversal.
    2. Do you plan to re-implement any of these changes after the November 2020 election? If so, what safeguards will you put in place to avoid significant mail delays and keep Americans safe?
  1. Please identify the operational and structural changes implemented during your tenure that you chose not to reverse.
    1. Please explain your justification for each decision.
    2. Please explain the consequences these changes could have for the ability of Americans to receive their medications in a timely and consistent manner through the mail, and whether the Postal Service has adopted safeguards to address these issues.  

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committees and a group of twenty-eight senators including Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-MI), and Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), in writing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to raise concerns over the heightened impact of harmful United States Postal Service (USPS) policy and operational changes to servicemembers and their families.  

Because USPS is the only service that can deliver to the Army Post Office (APO) and Fleet Post Office (FPO) addresses used by our military overseas, deployed servicemembers and their families are uniquely impacted by changes that have left USPS “intentionally hamstrung and severely strained.” Active duty servicemembers who are deployed domestically also rely heavily on USPS to vote, pay their bills, receive packages, and stay in touch with family members and loved ones. 

“This population of Americans is disproportionately affected by any actions that restrict or delay the mail, which is sometimes the only reliable connection they have with loved ones during their military service. Servicemembers rely on USPS for the delivery of medicines, ballots, bills, and countless other pieces of vital mail,” the senators wrote.

“Even more alarming is the reality that servicemembers depend on the mail to exercise their most important rights as American citizens: the right to vote. Absentee ballots are the only way that most of the military community can use their constitutionally protected right to cast a ballot. Making absentee voting more difficult disenfranchises the very Americans who serve and sacrifice on the front lines in defense of our right to vote and live in a democratic society – a cruel irony to our men and women in uniform that must be remedied immediately.” 

Today’s letter was also signed by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), Bob Casey (D-PA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

 

The full text of today’s letter is available here and copied below.

 

August 20, 2020 

Louis DeJoy

Postmaster General

U.S. Postal Service

475 L’Enfant Plaza West, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20260

Dear Mr. DeJoy: 

As it has become more obvious that your oversight of the postal service is severely distressing the domestic mail system, we urge you to consider the impact of your recent changes to United States Postal Service (USPS) policy and operations on the 1.3 million servicemembers and their families who serve both domestically and overseas. USPS is the only service that can deliver to the Army Post Office (APO) and Fleet Post Office (FPO) addresses used by our military overseas. While your recent suspension of operational changes is a necessary first step and needed course correction, it is insufficient and unclear that this suspension will mitigate the damage that has already been done to the postal system, and prevent the disruption and harm to Americans who serve our nation in uniform. We are also concerned that your statements regarding suspension of these changes are not actually being carried out.

Since your appointment as Postmaster General, you have implemented many harmful operational and policy changes that have already resulted in mail being delayed in many areas by weeks. Reports of hiring freezes, scheduling and route changes, reshuffling of leadership, decommissioning and removal of mail-sorting machines, and other reorganization of operations have left a once proud and efficient system intentionally hamstrung and severely strained. In fact, USPS recently sent detailed letters to 46 states warning that it cannot guarantee that all mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted.

Your changes have also had a direct impact on deployed servicemembers who rely on USPS as the only avenue to deliver mail from the United States to the APO & FPO addresses used by our military overseas. This population of Americans is disproportionately affected by any actions that restrict or delay the mail, which is sometimes the only reliable connection they have with loved ones during their military service. Servicemembers and their families who are stationed overseas for months and years at a time also depend on the USPS, as do military families who are stationed domestically, but away from their home of record. Servicemembers rely on USPS for the delivery of medicines, ballots, bills, and countless other pieces of vital mail.  There are virtually no members of the military who will be unaffected by these changes, which will negatively impact their quality of life and hamper their ability to communicate with their family members and loved ones – ultimately hindering military readiness.

Even more alarming is the reality that servicemembers depend on the mail to exercise their most important rights as American citizens: the right to vote. Absentee ballots are the only way that most of the military community can use their constitutionally protected right to cast a ballot. Making absentee voting more difficult disenfranchises the very Americans who serve and sacrifice on the front lines in defense of our right to vote and live in a democratic society – a cruel irony to our men and women in uniform that must be remedied immediately.

We urge the White House and all Trump Administration officials to reconsider their opposition to necessary stimulus funding for the USPS during this COVID-19 pandemic. The Heroes Act, which was passed by the House in May, would provide $25 billion to the USPS and we must immediately pass this critical funding need. 

The USPS is a public service that is critical to all American citizens, particularly our military. They are depending on us to provide this vital service, and we stand ready to protect it at all costs.

### 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Gary Peters, Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the entire Senate Democratic caucus to demand answers from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on significant operational changes he directed that have caused serious delays for postal customers in Virginia and across the country. In a letter, the Senators called on DeJoy to testify before Congress and provide clear, transparent answers on service delays that have caused seniors and veterans to miss their prescription medications, small businesses to lose money and customers over delayed packages, and other serious disruptions that affect communities across the country who count on the Postal Service for timely delivery.

“In the weeks since you began to implement these changes, we have seen a steep increase in constituent concerns about mail delays, including restricted mail movement, limitations on carriers’ abilities to timely deliver mail, and most concerning, risks to receipt of critical mail involving life-saving medication and ballots for the upcoming general election,” wrote the Senators. “The Postal Service is a public institution that both serves and belongs to every person in our nation. As a result, we call on you to testify before Congress about all changes you have made and plan to make as Postmaster General.  The lack of transparency so far regarding the intent, scope, and responsibility for changes at the Postal Service is unacceptable.” 

Last week, Warner and Kaine joined their colleagues in a letter to urge DeJoy to provide answers regarding reports of changes to long-standing practices at USPS that result in increased delivery times and costs for election mail, and urged him not to take any further action that makes it harder and more expensive for states and election jurisdictions to mail ballots. Sen. Warner also demanded immediate action last week to ensure that  Veterans and the VA can count on USPS for the timely delivery of essential prescription drugs. He has also previously pressed the Postmaster General regarding concerns from Virginians regarding delayed mail service.  

Text of the letter is copied below and available here.

  

Dear Mr. DeJoy:

We write to seek answers about changes to the U.S. Postal Service under your leadership that are adversely affecting mail delivery for Americans across the country.  We call on you to testify before Congress about these changes and their impact on every person in our nation.  

The Postal Service is an essential public institution with an obligation to serve every community in the nation.  As Postmaster General, you should not make changes that will slow down mail or compromise service for veterans, small businesses, rural communities, seniors, and millions of Americans who rely on the mail for medicines, essential goods, voting, correspondence, and for their livelihoods. 

Last week, however, you confirmed to Congress that you recently directed operational changes in post offices and processing centers. On August 7, 2020, you also announced a significant reorganization of Postal Service leadership and functions. These changes include the elimination of extra mail transportation trips, the reduction of overtime, the start of a pilot program for mail sorting and delivery policies at hundreds of post offices, and the reduction of equipment at mail processing plants.   

The Postal Service has characterized these changes as efficiency or cost-saving measures and minimized any “temporary service issues” as an “inevitable” side effect of implementing new procedures. However, in practice and in the midst of a pandemic, these actions, whether intentionally or not, are causing mail delays and appear to constitute an unacceptable threat to the Postal Service and the millions of Americans who depend on it.

In the weeks since you began to implement these changes, we have seen a steep increase in constituent concerns about mail delays, including restricted mail movement, limitations on carriers’ abilities to timely deliver mail, and most concerning, risks to receipt of critical mail involving life-saving medication and ballots for the upcoming general election.  There are also reports that post offices have significantly reduced their hours, including in West Virginia, where postal officials circulated an alarming document announcing potential post office closures before quickly withdrawing it and calling it a misunderstanding.

As Postmaster General, you have avoided answering questions about the magnitude of delays we have seen and have not yet provided any evidence that you studied or considered how your changes would affect delays and mail service before implementing these changes.  Furthermore, you have refused to engage with nearly all Members of Congress who have reached out to you or raised concerns about these issues.  Inevitably, without additional information or engagement from you or the Postal Service with stakeholders about these changes, your actions raise questions regarding your intent and whether you have adequately sought to fully understand the Postal Service’s current capabilities, personnel, and public service mission before implementing these changes.   

The Postal Service is a public institution that both serves and belongs to every person in our nation. As a result, we call on you to testify before Congress about all changes you have made and plan to make as Postmaster General.  The lack of transparency so far regarding the intent, scope, and responsibility for changes at the Postal Service is unacceptable.  We understand you have committed to being more forthcoming and transparent with Congress and the American people regarding these changes, including providing documentation of the operational changes you have made and will be making since beginning your term.  For every American who relies on the Postal Service, we call on you to fulfill that commitment without delay. 

To that end, please provide the following information by August 21, 2020:

1.               Please explain how the changes you have made to Postal Service operations since becoming Postmaster General have affected on-time mail delivery (i.e. service performance).  Please provide all nationwide, Area, and regional service performance data since June 15, 2020.

2.               Did you conduct any formal analysis before making these changes to Postal Service operations, including analysis of the potential effect on service performance?  If so, please provide the analysis.  If not, explain why not.   

3.               It appears the Postal Service did not consult meaningfully with any stakeholders, including unions, mailing industry stakeholders, or others, before implementing these operational changes.  Please explain why. 

a.     Did you discuss these operational changes, or any other potential operational changes, with Administration officials outside the Postal Service?  Please list and describe any such discussions.

4.               What analysis did you conduct over your 8 weeks as Postmaster General to determine an “organizational realignment” was necessary and that the previous structure was inadequate?  Please provide copies and descriptions of any analysis, including any discussions with employees and business stakeholders.  

a.     The reorganization reshuffles reporting relationships and Postal Service geographic Areas.  How will this affect coordination among essential functions of the Postal Service during this pandemic?  How will this affect reports of service performance and other essential performance metrics? 

5.               What, if any, plans are under consideration for further post office or facility hour reductions, suspensions, closures, or consolidations?

6.               What steps will you be taking to suspend or halt any changes adversely affecting mail delivery during this pandemic and in advance of the general election?

 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the entire Senate Democratic caucus in demanding answers from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on significant operational changes he directed that have caused serious delays for postal customers in Michigan and across the country. In a letter, the Senators called on DeJoy to testify before Congress and provide clear, transparent answers on service delays that have caused seniors and veterans to miss their prescription medications, small businesses to lose money and customers over delayed packages, and other serious disruptions that affect communities across the country who count on the Postal Service for timely delivery. 

In the weeks since you began to implement these changes, we have seen a steep increase in constituent concerns about mail delays, including restricted mail movement, limitations on carriers’ abilities to timely deliver mail, and most concerning, risks to receipt of critical mail involving life-saving medication and ballots for the upcoming general election,” wrote the Senators. “The Postal Service is a public institution that both serves and belongs to every person in our nation. As a result, we call on you to testify before Congress about all changes you have made and plan to make as Postmaster General.  The lack of transparency so far regarding the intent, scope, and responsibility for changes at the Postal Service is unacceptable.”  

Text of the letter is availabe below.

  

August 17, 2020

Mr. Louis DeJoy

Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer

United States Postal Service

475 L’Enfant Plaza, S.W.

Room 4012

Washington, D.C. 20260

Dear Mr. DeJoy:

We write to seek answers about changes to the U.S. Postal Service under your leadership that are adversely affecting mail delivery for Americans across the country.  We call on you to testify before Congress about these changes and their impact on every person in our nation. 

The Postal Service is an essential public institution with an obligation to serve every community in the nation.  As Postmaster General, you should not make changes that will slow down mail or compromise service for veterans, small businesses, rural communities, seniors, and millions of Americans who rely on the mail for medicines, essential goods, voting, correspondence, and for their livelihoods. 

Last week, however, you confirmed to Congress that you recently directed operational changes in post offices and processing centers. On August 7, 2020, you also announced a significant reorganization of Postal Service leadership and functions. These changes include the elimination of extra mail transportation trips, the reduction of overtime, the start of a pilot program for mail sorting and delivery policies at hundreds of post offices, and the reduction of equipment at mail processing plants.   

The Postal Service has characterized these changes as efficiency or cost-saving measures and minimized any “temporary service issues” as an “inevitable” side effect of implementing new procedures. However, in practice and in the midst of a pandemic, these actions, whether intentionally or not, are causing mail delays and appear to constitute an unacceptable threat to the Postal Service and the millions of Americans who depend on it.

In the weeks since you began to implement these changes, we have seen a steep increase in constituent concerns about mail delays, including restricted mail movement, limitations on carriers’ abilities to timely deliver mail, and most concerning, risks to receipt of critical mail involving life-saving medication and ballots for the upcoming general election.  There are also reports that post offices have significantly reduced their hours, including in West Virginia, where postal officials circulated an alarming document announcing potential post office closures before quickly withdrawing it and calling it a misunderstanding.

As Postmaster General, you have avoided answering questions about the magnitude of delays we have seen and have not yet provided any evidence that you studied or considered how your changes would affect delays and mail service before implementing these changes.  Furthermore, you have refused to engage with nearly all Members of Congress who have reached out to you or raised concerns about these issues.  Inevitably, without additional information or engagement from you or the Postal Service with stakeholders about these changes, your actions raise questions regarding your intent and whether you have adequately sought to fully understand the Postal Service’s current capabilities, personnel, and public service mission before implementing these changes.  

The Postal Service is a public institution that both serves and belongs to every person in our nation. As a result, we call on you to testify before Congress about all changes you have made and plan to make as Postmaster General.  The lack of transparency so far regarding the intent, scope, and responsibility for changes at the Postal Service is unacceptable.  We understand you have committed to being more forthcoming and transparent with Congress and the American people regarding these changes, including providing documentation of the operational changes you have made and will be making since beginning your term.  For every American who relies on the Postal Service, we call on you to fulfill that commitment without delay. 

To that end, please provide the following information by August 21, 2020:

1.              Please explain how the changes you have made to Postal Service operations since becoming Postmaster General have affected on-time mail delivery (i.e. service performance).  Please provide all nationwide, Area, and regional service performance data since June 15, 2020. 

2.              Did you conduct any formal analysis before making these changes to Postal Service operations, including analysis of the potential effect on service performance?  If so, please provide the analysis.  If not, explain why not.   

3.              It appears the Postal Service did not consult meaningfully with any stakeholders, including unions, mailing industry stakeholders, or others, before implementing these operational changes.  Please explain why.

a.     Did you discuss these operational changes, or any other potential operational changes, with Administration officials outside the Postal Service?  Please list and describe any such discussions.

4.              What analysis did you conduct over your 8 weeks as Postmaster General to determine an “organizational realignment” was necessary and that the previous structure was inadequate?  Please provide copies and descriptions of any analysis, including any discussions with employees and business stakeholders. 

a.     The reorganization reshuffles reporting relationships and Postal Service geographic Areas.  How will this affect coordination among essential functions of the Postal Service during this pandemic?  How will this affect reports of service performance and other essential performance metrics?

5.              What, if any, plans are under consideration for further post office or facility hour reductions, suspensions, closures, or consolidations?

6.              What steps will you be taking to suspend or halt any changes adversely affecting mail delivery during this pandemic and in advance of the general election?

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

 

###

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in demanding immediate action following reports of significant delays in veterans’ prescription medications through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

In a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, Sens. Warner, Tester, and Peters and 28 Senate colleagues urged USPS to correct operational changes that are needlessly delaying veterans’ access to life-saving prescriptions.

“Veterans and the VA should be able to count on USPS for the timely delivery of essential prescription drugs,” the Senators wrote. “No veteran should have to wonder when their antidepressant or blood pressure medication may arrive – and the effects can be devastating if doses are missed.”

The Senators continued, “USPS needs to immediately cease operational changes that are causing mail delays so that veterans do not needlessly suffer from illnesses exacerbated by delayed medication deliveries. Those who gave so much to serve this country should be able to count on the nation’s Postal Service to deliver their medications in a timely manner.”

The VA fills about 80 percent of its prescriptions through their Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy (CMOP), which primarily uses the U.S. Postal Service to deliver to veterans’ homes. The VA CMOP fills almost 120 million prescriptions a year, with deliveries arriving daily to about 330,000 veterans across the country. According to the VA website, “prescriptions usually arrive within 3 to 5 days.” Reports from veterans and VA staff have said that recently these medications are sometimes taking weeks to be delivered and causing veterans to miss doses of vital medications.

Read the Senators’ full letter HERE.

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee, Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Tom Carper (D-DE), and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with the entire Senate Democratic caucus, in a letter urging U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to provide answers regarding reports of recent changes to long-standing practices at USPS that would result in increased delivery times and costs for election mail, and urged him not take any further action that makes it harder and more expensive for states and election jurisdictions to mail ballots.  

Despite numerous reports from across the country of slow delivery, mail left sitting in facilities overnight and challenges delivering absentee ballots on time to election officials, DeJoy has refused to provide Congress with satisfactory answers on his actions he has taken and continues to assert that election officials must pay the First Class rate for election mail to be prioritized. This letter follows previous requests from the lawmakers that demanded answers from DeJoy after he refused to answer whether reported changes restricting mail delivery came at his direction. DeJoy has since confirmed changes in delayed mail came at his direction. 

“Like voting itself, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is vital to our democracy. Since you assumed the role of Postmaster General, there have been disturbing reports regarding changes at USPS that are causing significant delays in the delivery of mail. Under normal circumstances, delayed mail is a major problem – during a pandemic in the middle of a presidential election, it is catastrophic,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“Instead of taking steps to increase your agency’s ability to deliver for the American people, you are implementing policy changes that make matters worse, and the Postal Service is reportedly considering changes that would increase costs for states at a time when millions of Americans are relying on voting by mail to exercise their right to vote.

“We have received reports that in the last several weeks, the Postal Service sent letters to state election officials that indicate that the Postal Service will not automatically treat all election mail as First Class. If any changes are made to longstanding practices of moving election mail just months ahead of the 2020 general election, it will cause further delays to election mail that will disenfranchise voters and put significant financial pressure on election jurisdictions.”

The full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Postmaster DeJoy:

We write to express significant concern regarding reports that you are implementing policy changes that will increase the cost for timely delivery of election mail, and to urge you not to take any action that makes it harder and more expensive for Americans to vote.  

Like voting itself, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is vital to our democracy. Since you assumed the role of Postmaster General, there have been disturbing reports regarding changes at USPS that are causing significant delays in the delivery of mail. Under normal circumstances, delayed mail is a major problem – during a pandemic in the middle of a presidential election, it is catastrophic. Instead of taking steps to increase your agency’s ability to deliver for the American people, you are implementing policy changes that make matters worse, and the Postal Service is reportedly considering changes that would increase costs for states at a time when millions of Americans are relying on voting by mail to exercise their right to vote.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) allows state and local officials to send materials authorized or required under the Act, such as absentee ballot applications, at USPS Nonprofit Marketing Mail prices. These prices are lower than the regular USPS Marketing Mail prices and election officials across the country rely on the lower rates to send voters important election mail in a cost-effective manner. Absentee ballots themselves are not specifically covered under the NVRA; however, many jurisdictions receive the lower rate for ballots as well because they utilize the Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) information from returned ballots for list maintenance activities prescribed under the NVRA. The practice of mailing out ballots as Marketing Mail has been formalized to the degree that the 2020 Official Election Mail Kit (Kit 600) sent to election officials in January 2020 includes advice on how to decide whether to send ballots by First Class or Marketing Mail.

While First Class mail normally has a delivery standard of 2-5 days, and Nonprofit Marketing Mail has a delivery standard of 3-10 days, it has been the practice of USPS to treat all election mail as First Class mail regardless of the paid class of service. Reports from the USPS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) support the fact that USPS has traditionally prioritized election mail. An OIG report on the 2018 elections found that 95.6 percent of election and political mail was delivered within the 1-3 day service standard applied to First Class mail. That is extremely close to the USPS overall goal of delivering 96 percent of First Class mail within the 1-3 day service standard and clearly indicates that election mail was being processed across the country as if First Class service standards applied. In addition, the OIG also conducted interviews in which area and facility managers stated that they treat all election mail as First Class mail. 

We have received reports that in the last several weeks, the Postal Service sent letters to state election officials that indicate that the Postal Service will not automatically treat all election mail as First Class. If any changes are made to longstanding practices of moving election mail just months ahead of the 2020 general election, it will cause further delays to election mail that will disenfranchise voters and put significant financial pressure on election jurisdictions. Many state deadlines allow voters to request absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots within a few days of Election Day, so it is vital that standard delivery times remain low and pricing remain consistent with past practices to which election officials and voters are accustomed.

As you know, state laws set deadlines for voter registration, absentee ballot requests, and ballot postmarking and/or delivery. Changes to previous practices regarding election mail would upset these timelines. Furthermore, changing any policy for election mail only months before Election Day does not give election officials sufficient time to respond by changing deadlines set in law, especially since many state legislatures have adjourned.

Although some election jurisdictions may be able to send their election mail at the First Class rate, the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions simply do not have sufficient resources to do so. Election officials are coping with budgets that are severely strained by the increase in requests for absentee ballots and other costs associated with the pandemic. Despite our continued efforts, Congress has so far only provided states with $400 million in emergency funding for elections—billions short of what experts say is needed to keep voters safe this year. As election officials across the country plead with Congress to authorize additional election funding, reports suggest the Postal Service could implement changes that suddenly increase costs for Americans to safely vote. That is wrong and unacceptable.

As Postmaster General, you have a duty to our democracy to ensure the timely delivery of election mail. Millions of Americans’ right to vote depends on your ability to get the job done. We urge you not to increase costs for election officials, and to direct all Postal Service employees to continue to prioritize delivery of election mail.

We understand you have committed to being more forthcoming and transparent with Congress and the American people regarding your work as Postmaster, including the Postal Service’s plan to successfully deliver election mail during the 2020 elections. Accordingly, we ask you to publicly release this plan and provide answers to the following questions no later than August 25.

1.     Prior to 2020 it was the practice of the Postal Service to prioritize the delivery of all election mail, including voter registration materials, absentee ballot request, and ballots, to meet the equivalent of First Class delivery times no matter what class of mail was used to send it. Will the Postal Service commit to continuing this practice?

2.     Will the Postal Service commit to continuing its longstanding practice of allowing election officials to mail ballots to voters at Nonprofit Marketing Mail Rates?

3.     Has USPS headquarters staff provided any guidance, formally or informally, in writing or verbally, regarding the service standards to be applied to election mail not sent at the First Class rate? Please provide copies of any such guidance.

 4.     Please provide copies of any letters or guidance sent to state or local election officials regarding the service standards that will be applied to election mail.

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Postmaster General raising concerns that he’s heard directly from Virginians regarding delayed mail service following structural and operational changes at the Postal Service. The current public health crisis has resulted in an unprecedented rise in Americans relying on mail service to receive prescription drugs, groceries, and other basic necessities in an effort to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. However, since Postmaster General Louis DeJoy implemented sweeping operational changes to the agency last month under the guise of cost-saving measures, mail service has been significantly delayed.

“I have heard from many of my constituents in Virginia that vital packages, including medicine, are being delayed and some constituents report that they are going days without any mail delivery at all. This sudden decline in USPS quality of service poses a significant hardship in the context of COVID-19, when so many Americans are depending on the mail for delivery of groceries, household necessities, and medications. Even in the best of times, many seniors, some people with disabilities, and those living in rural areas particularly rely on the Postal Service as a critical link to vital resources. I strongly urge you to rescind any policy changes that are contributing to delays in mail delivery,” wrote Sen. Warner to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

In his letter, Sen. Warner also notes that like many Virginians, he worries that new policies that have already delayed mail delivery across the Commonwealth could also jeopardize timely distribution and processing of mail-in ballots for the upcoming November elections. 

“My constituents have also raised concerns that recent delays in mail delivery are part of the administration’s broader effort to erode the effectiveness of, and confidence in, voting by mail. Millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail in November so as not to risk their health by voting in-person. I am gravely concerned that instead of working to dispel misinformation about the security of voting by mail and supporting states in expanding access as a public health measure, the Trump administration is instead casting doubt on the integrity of mailed ballots and accusing states that seek to expand it of “cheat[ing]”. It is imperative that we do everything possible to protect our electoral process from political interference and ensure that the process of voting by mail during the pandemic runs as seamlessly as possible. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to rescind any policy that might hamper the delivery and processing of mail-in ballots,” continued Sen. Warner.

In his letter, Sen. Warner also calls on the Postmaster General to answer a series of questions after the Postal Service’s Appalachian District erroneously posted notices at some Virginia Post Offices indicating that they would be closing in late August 2020.

“I heard from constituents in Danville real-time that the closure notification had appeared suddenly and without following statutory and regulatory processes. Although it was later communicated to my office that the postings were made in error, I remain concerned that established processes could break down so easily and spark such concern in the community,” wrote Sen. Warner.

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Mr. Louis DeJoy
Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer
United States Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 4012
Washington, DC 20260

Dear Mr. DeJoy:

I write to express deep concern about a number of issues related to the United States Postal Service (USPS or Postal Service) that my constituents have raised with me in recent weeks.

Several of my colleagues have written to you with questions and apprehension about operational changes implemented since your tenure as Postmaster General began on June 15, 2020. These abrupt changes are resulting in widespread delays in mail delivery and appear to have been implemented without proper consultation with Congress or key postal stakeholders, including unions. I echo these concerns and urge you to respond to their inquiries promptly and meaningfully.

I have heard from many of my constituents in Virginia that vital packages, including medicine, are being delayed and some constituents report that they are going days without any mail delivery at all. This sudden decline in USPS quality of service poses a significant hardship in the context of COVID-19, when so many Americans are depending on the mail for delivery of groceries, household necessities, and medications. Even in the best of times, many seniors, some people with disabilities, and those living in rural areas particularly rely on the Postal Service as a critical link to vital resources. I strongly urge you to rescind any policy changes that are contributing to delays in mail delivery.

My constituents have also raised concerns that recent delays in mail delivery are part of the administration’s broader effort to erode the effectiveness of, and confidence in, voting by mail. Millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail in November so as not to risk their health by voting in-person. I am gravely concerned that instead of working to dispel misinformation about the security of voting by mail and supporting states in expanding access as a public health measure, the Trump administration is instead casting doubt on the integrity of mailed ballots and accusing states that seek to expand it of “cheat[ing]”. It is imperative that we do everything possible to protect our electoral process from political interference and ensure that the process of voting by mail during the pandemic runs as seamlessly as possible. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to rescind any policy that might hamper the delivery and processing of mail-in ballots.

I also continue to have concerns and unanswered questions about the series of events that led to the Postal Service’s Appalachian District erroneously posting notices at some Virginia Post Offices indicating that they would be closing in late August 2020. I heard from constituents in Danville real-time that the closure notification had appeared suddenly and without following statutory and regulatory processes. Although it was later communicated to my office that the postings were made in error, I remain concerned that established processes could break down so easily and spark such concern in the community. I respectfully request a detailed accounting of how many Post Offices nationwide and in Virginia were affected by similar inaccurate notifications; from what list(s) or based on what characteristic(s) these Post Offices were identified; what steps have been taken to correct the record and inform the general public that these Post Offices are, in fact, remaining open; and how many Post Offices are currently being considered or evaluated for closing, consolidation, or having their operating hours reduced. For all of the reasons detailed above, it is unconscionable to me that USPS would seek to limit access to postal services, and I seek your commitment that no such closings, consolidations, or reductions in hours will be pursued before the November 2020 election or before the COVID-19 public health emergency ends, whichever is later.

In addition to playing a vital and constitutionally mandated role in the life of every American, the Postal Service also directly supports nearly 17,000 jobs in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I strongly oppose any policy change or other effort to undermine the mail delivery that countless Virginians will continue to rely on to exercise their democratic right to vote and safely access groceries, medication, and other basic necessities in the midst of the pandemic. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reverse course and commit to strengthening and defending the Postal Service for the remainder of your tenure as Postmaster General.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09) and a number of colleagues in introducing bicameral legislation to establish an Inspector General (IG) for the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to provide independent oversight, and increase transparency and accountability at the agency which has recently come under increased scrutiny over reports and allegations of political favoritism, inconsistent policy implementation and conflicts of interest.

“Americans deserve honest and transparent trade policy,” said Sen. Menendez. “Recent reports of political favoritism, opaque decision-making, and conflicts of interest highlight just how dangerous it can be when an Administration hides public business from the American people. This bill will help ensure that trade policy is determined by our country’s economic interests – and no one else’s.”

“Sunlight remains the ultimate disinfectant, and that is especially true when it comes to our trade policy,” said Rep. Pascrell. “Our nation’s trade policies impact virtually every aspect of our economy and so Americans deserve to know that they are being formulated free of tainting influences and double-dealing. The opaqueness and outright corruption of Trump’s regime has revealed the need for a watchdog in all corners of our government. Our bill will ensure our trade policy will not be wielded for personal or political gain.”

In a June hearing, Sen. Menendez confronted USTR Robert Lighthizer over allegations that President Trump asked Chinese President Xi to make agricultural purchases to help him in the election. "Because if it's true, it shows how clear it is that the administration doesn't really have any intention of actually solving our trade problems with China,” Menendez said.

USTR’s Section 301 China tariff exclusion process has raised concerns over its lack of transparency, inconsistent decision-making, and political favoritism. Further, in June, Bloomberg reported that two USTR employees who helped negotiate USMCA may have violated federal law barring conflicts of interest when they offered their services as private-sector advisers to future clients while still on the federal payroll.

USTR is one of the only cabinet-level agencies without an IG, which means decisions that impact billions of dollars in trade are currently without the same degree of oversight as other federal agencies.

The legislation is co-sponsored by all the Democratic Finance Committee members, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). Reps. Sanford Bishop (Ga.-02), Peter DeFazio (Ore.-04), Alcee Hastings (Fla.-20), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio-09), Jim McGovern (Mass.-02), Frank Pallone (N.J.-06), Jose Serrano (N.Y.-15) and Judy Chu (Calif.-27) are cosponsoring the companion bill in the House.

The USTR Inspector General Act of 2020 would:

  • Establish a statutory IG for the United States Trade Representative under the Inspector General Act of 1978, similar to IGs for the Departments of Commerce, Defense, State, Justice, Treasury, etc. to perform independent oversight, improve transparency and accountability, and crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse;
  • Require the president to appoint an individual to serve as USTR IG, subject to advice and consent of the Senate, not later than 120 days after enactment; and
  • Direct the USTR IG to commence an audit of the Section 301 China tariff exclusion process within 180 days of enactment.

A copy of the bill can be found here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today approved Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Senator Mark R. Warner’s legislation (D-VA) to strengthen federal financial management. The bill would update the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act of 1990, which created a new foundation for federal financial management. The law established a financial management leadership structure, provided for long-range planning, and required audited financial statements.

The legislation, S. 3287, is cosponsored by Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI), Gary Peters (D-MI), James Lankford (R-OK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), David Perdue (R-GA), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and Mike Braun (R-IN). The Data Coalition, Citizens Against Government Waste, the Project on Government Oversight, National Taxpayers Union, Truth in Accounting, R Street Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Americans for Prosperity, Government Accountability Project and Grant Thornton, among others, have endorsed the legislation.

“The Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act was hugely instrumental in promoting financial management at the federal level, and laid the groundwork for a lot of the improvement we’ve seen in the 30 years since it was signed into law,” said Senator Warner.  “With today’s Committee passage of this commonsense bipartisan proposal, we are one step closer to enacting much-needed reforms to the financial oversight established in the original CFO Act. This legislation will help boost financial accountability in our government by promoting consistency across agencies, making it easier for them to carry out long-term initiatives and planning, and empowering them to make more informed and strategic policy decisions through the use of performance data. Now that this bill passed an important hurdle, we are almost to the finish line in taking action to help modernize our financial management structures, and renew Americans’ trust that their government is making smart, informed decisions about how we use taxpayer dollars.”

“The CFO Vision Act will lead to better financial and performance data and increase accountability in government programs and operations,” said Chairman Enzi.  “It will also help ensure our financial information is complete, reliable, timely and consistent and allow Congress to make informed decisions about the financing, management, and evaluation of federal agencies and programs.”

The bill would:

  • Standardize CFO responsibilities across government by helping to enhance strategic decision-making, and correct inconsistencies;
  • Provide deputy CFOs with sufficient authority to ensure continuity in agency financial management operations when CFO vacancies occur;
  • Revise government-wide and agency-level financial management planning requirements by requiring OMB to update the government’s financial plan every four years and provide annual status updates. Additionally, the bill would require the government-wide plan to include actions for improving financial management systems, strengthening the federal financial management workforce, and better linking performance and cost information for decision-making;
  • Develop a broader set of key selected financial management performance-based metrics by requiring OMB to develop a plan to determine the status and progress agencies are making towards achieving cost-effective and efficient government operations.  The bill would also require that information be included in the government-wide and agency-level financial management plans and status reports; and
  • Strengthen internal controls by requiring agency management to identify key financial management information needed for effective financial management and decision making. The bill would also require agencies to annually assess and report on the effectiveness of internal control over financial reporting and other key financial management information.

# # #

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and a group of 30 senators in writing a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, urging him to reject politically motivated conditions on financial relief for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which is a critical lifeline for many Americans, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The senators also expressed their strong opposition to the use of coronavirus as a pretext to pursue privatization of USPS, which is widely unpopular with the American people.

The senators’ letter comes as the Treasury Department considers a $10 billion loan to support the USPS, which continues to see mail traffic, and thus revenue, drop immensely during this COVID-19 pandemic, all the while becoming an even more important lifeline to Americans and businesses.  President Trump recently publicly threatened that he will not approve the loan unless the USPS raises package rates by an exorbitant amount, in what appears to be a thinly-veiled attempt at retaliation against the president’s perceived critics.

“Enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the USPS has always provided an invaluable service —delivery to anyone with an address, regardless of living in an urban versus rural area, being rich or poor, or old or young,” wrote the senators. “Now, during the COVID-19 crisis, millions of people are receiving their much-needed relief checks through the mail. An affordable delivery service is needed more than ever in these times—to ensure everyone is able to get their essential medicine prescriptions, purchase items not available in their area, or to keep in touch with loved ones in a time of social distancing. U.S. businesses, especially small and medium-sized businesses that are suffering greatly because of lost revenue because of the coronavirus, also rely on receiving goods through the USPS’s affordable pricing structure.

“We are therefore very disturbed to hear President Trump’s public statements threatening approval of the $10 billion loan unless conditions are added such as hiking prices perhaps to even four or five-times as high as current levels. These threats appear to be thinly-veiled attempts to retaliate against what he sees as a vocal critic of his presidency, the Washington Post, and its owner Jeff Bezos. We are concerned about President Trump’s history of invoking another of Bezos’ assets, Amazon, in conjunction with calls to increase prices charged by the USPS, strongly suggesting personal and political motivations on this matter. It would be highly inappropriate and unacceptable for the Department of Treasury to act on such motivations when considering the USPS loan or other USPS relief.” 

The senators further outlined their opposition to privatizing USPS. “We similarly oppose, in the strongest possible terms, using the coronavirus crisis as a way to push through a privatization of the USPS. The White House Office of Management and Budget in 2018 advocated for privatization of the Postal Service, an idea which has been around for a long time but is extremely unpopular with the American people.”

“Taking advantage of this pandemic by raising prices on shipping companies or pursuing privatization for political purposes will only mean one thing—increased prices for everyday consumers, as well as the huge numbers of businesses that depend on the mail service. These reported planned conditions President Trump seeks to impose on the $10 billion loan to the USPS stand in stark contrast with the relative lack of strings placed on monies made available to corporations in recent relief efforts, no matter how badly a company might have been managed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the senators continued. “We urge you to reject these political and ideological calls to use this pandemic to further the President’s agenda while burdening everyday Americans and U.S. companies already struggling to make ends meet.”

In addition to Udall the letter was joined by U.S. Senators Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Il.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Il.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif).

The full text of the letter can be found below and here.

 

Dear Sec. Mnuchin:

We write to you to express our deep concern that the solvency of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which provides essential delivery services for 160 million American homes and businesses, is being jeopardized for political reasons. We urge you to reject imposing counterproductive or politically motivated conditions on the pledged $10 billion emergency loan to the USPS and any other relief that the USPS needs. 

Enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the USPS has always provided an invaluable service —delivery to anyone with an address, regardless of living in an urban versus rural area, being rich or poor, or old or young. Now, during the COVID-19 crisis, millions of people are receiving their much-needed relief checks through the mail. An affordable delivery service is needed more than ever in these times—to ensure everyone is able to get their essential medicine prescriptions, purchase items not available in their area, or to keep in touch with loved ones in a time of social distancing. U.S. businesses, especially small and medium-sized businesses that are suffering greatly because of lost revenue because of the coronavirus, also rely on receiving goods through the USPS’s affordable pricing structure. 

We are therefore very disturbed to hear President Trump’s public statements threatening approval of the $10 billion loan unless conditions are added such as hiking prices perhaps to even four or five-times as high as current levels. These threats appear to be thinly-veiled attempts to retaliate against what he sees as a vocal critic of his presidency, the Washington Post, and its owner Jeff Bezos. We are concerned about President Trump’s history of invoking another of Bezos’ assets, Amazon, in conjunction with calls to increase prices charged by the USPS, strongly suggesting personal and political motivations on this matter. It would be highly inappropriate and unacceptable for the Department of Treasury to act on such motivations when considering the USPS loan or other USPS relief.

We similarly oppose, in the strongest possible terms, using the coronavirus crisis as a way to push through a privatization of the USPS. The White House Office of Management and Budget in 2018 advocated for privatization of the Postal Service, an idea which has been around for a long time but is extremely unpopular with the American people. In addition to privatizing parts of the USPS, the Treasury Department’s Presidential Task Force on the Postal Service called for hiking prices charged by the USPS as well as cuts in services and decreased benefits for postal workers. Privatization efforts like these would lead to putting profits over people—meaning rural areas would suffer from service cuts and Americans would be left to the whims of corporations constantly seeking to maximize their bottom lines—and should be off limits during this crisis.

Taking advantage of this pandemic by raising prices on shipping companies or pursuing privatization for political purposes will only mean one thing—increased prices for everyday consumers, as well as the huge numbers of businesses that depend on the mail service. These reported planned conditions President Trump seeks to impose on the $10 billion loan to the USPS stand in stark contrast with the relative lack of strings placed on monies made available to corporations in recent relief efforts, no matter how badly a company might have been managed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge you to reject these political and ideological calls to use this pandemic to further the President’s agenda while burdening everyday Americans and U.S. companies already struggling to make ends meet. 

In addition to being highly inappropriate, any attempt to retaliate against the USPS in this way would also be deeply unpopular with the American people. Recent opinion polling released by the Pew Research Center shows how important the USPS is to all Americans—across political party affiliation. Ninety one percent of survey respondents stated that they viewed the USPS in a positive light, reflecting almost identical majorities from both Republican and Democratic parties. And, our democracy may very well depend on the ability of immunocompromised and otherwise vulnerable people to vote-by-mail in a time where going to polls is risking their very lives.

Finally, these threats are an insult to the hardworking men and women of the USPS, who are on the front lines keeping our society and economy functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic. To provide these critical services to our nation, hundreds of thousands of postal workers are heroically facing the coronavirus every day so that their fellow Americans can more safely remain in their homes and not spread the virus. This is a heavy burden in addition to making sure that “snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” keeps them from guaranteeing everyone with an address receives their mail. Tragically, 44 postal carriers have already lost their lives from COVID-19.

We urge you to do what is right not only for the postal workers bravely delivering our essential goods, but also for the American people and businesses who rely on affordable mail services. We strongly recommend that you reject any politically-motivated conditions that would force price increases, service or benefit cuts, or otherwise hinder the excellent work of the USPS when considering the pledged $10 billion emergency loan or any other relief for the USPS.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released a statement today on a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, which he helped stand up to bring greater scrutiny to the privatized military housing program. The GAO study found deficiencies in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) oversight of privatized military housing and issued a series of recommendations, including ones suggesting that DoD take steps to better track maintenance data and to improve communication with servicemembers and their families –  measures that Sen. Warner successfully worked to pass into law and has been fighting to get implemented ever since. 

“This GAO study, the result of a year-long investigation of privatized military housing, shows what many military families already know – that the DoD has not done enough to protect servicemembers and their families, who have been forced to put up with unacceptable living conditions in private military housing for far too long. Last year, the President signed into law our nation’s annual defense bill, which included a number of measures I authored to give military families new tools to hold private housing companies accountable. This bill also created the first ever Tenants Bill of Rights,” said Sen. Warner. “We need to ensure that every single one of these provisions are implemented as soon as possible. As the GAO study pointed out, there needs to be more transparency in how work order data and maintenance records are tracked. Families deserve to be able to access and follow the status of their work orders so that they can make more informed decisions. In addition, the services need to better communicate the responsibilities of the services and the partners, and to make clear distinctions between the military housing office and the private partner.”  

“Families also need to have the ability to withhold their Basic Housing Allowance if issues in their homes are not addressed, and to have a process for dispute resolution if these problems persist,” he continued. “Congress has acted, but my work is not done. I’m committed to keep pushing the DoD to implement these provisions as quickly as possible. It’s about time to even out the power imbalance between our servicemembers and privatized military housing companies, and these GAO findings are a stark reminder of that.”  

Among other things, the GAO study found that work order data collected by military departments and private partners was not captured reliably or consistently and therefore could not be used by the military services to monitor the quality of homes. The report also found that the data in reports provided to Congress was unreliable – leading to misleading results – and that the performance metrics used by military departments to monitor private partners did not provide meaningful information on housing conditions.

Last year, Sen. Warner introduced legislation to make much-needed reforms to privatized military housing, following reports of health hazards in military homes across the country. He successfully secured large portions of his legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed in December.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after voting in favor of a $2 trillion bipartisan package to provide financial relief to businesses and families as well as hospitals and local governments during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: 

“This is not the first step Congress has taken to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, nor will it be the last. This bill provides significant financial relief to our families and businesses struggling with the effects of widespread closures and other public health measures. It greatly expands access to unemployment benefits – including, for the first time, gig workers, contractors and the self-employed –  and includes tax credits and other incentives I negotiated with the Trump Administration to help small businesses keep workers on payroll and keep them from going out of business during this crisis. This bipartisan bill also includes a massive infusion of resources for hospitals, frontline caregivers, and states and localities dealing with the brunt of COVID-19. I strongly urge the House of Representatives to pass this bill without delay, so that we can get this urgently-required relief to those who so badly need it.

“This is a challenge unlike any we have faced in recent memory, but I believe that we as a country can and will get through this together. I will remain in close touch with state, local and health officials to ensure that we are doing everything possible to provide the resources needed to fight the coronavirus.”

Previously, the President signed a bipartisan $8.3 billion emergency funding bill that directed needed resources to federal, state and local agencies responding to coronavirus. This legislation immediately provided Virginia with $13.3 million in federal funding to help cover the costs of preparations for this public health emergency. It also included language based on Sen. Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act of 2019, which reduces restrictions on the use of telehealth for public health emergency response, as well as $500 million to facilitate its implementation.

On March 18, the President signed a second bipartisan coronavirus response bill that focused on the immediate economic impact of the coronavirus. This legislation expanded paid sick leave to many Americans, cut restrictions on unemployment insurance for workers who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut, and guaranteed freed coronavirus testing. It also included significant emergency funding for Medicaid, nutrition assistance, state unemployment programs, and coronavirus testing at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers.

Today’s legislation provides for $1,200 in direct payments to most Americans, and includes billions of dollars in lending and grant programs designed to help businesses, workers and municipalities survive this crisis, along with strong transparency and accountability measures to make sure that federal funding doesn’t go towards stock buybacks or bonuses for corporate executives. Today’s bipartisan bill also provides for $150 billion for hospitals and other public health infrastructure, part of an unprecedented investment that Sen. Warner and other Democrats fought to include as our frontline responders struggle under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. It also includes an important change to existing tax policy allowing employers, for the first time, to use pre-tax dollars to help pay down employees’ student debt – provision modeled after Sen. Warner’s bipartisan Employer Participation in Repayment Act.

A more comprehensive list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak is available here.  

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Democratic Whip Dick Durbin along with 29 of their Democratic colleagues to introduce the Restoring Military Priorities Act of 2020.  The bill would reverse and restore the Trump Administration’s recent short-sighted transfer of $3.8 billion from Pentagon priorities to build part of President Trump’s border wall.  The bill also reduces DoD’s transfer authority so that DoD cannot once again attempt to divert additional funding for President Trump’s border wall from Congressionally appropriated DoD funds. 

The most recent DoD reprogramming targeted the men and women of the National Guard and a variety of additional programs funded by Congress to address shortfalls that were in many cases identified by military leaders.  This was the third time in less than one year that the Administration has used this unilateral process to bypass Congress and divert funding to President Trump’s border wall.

“Clearly, this Administration is not afraid to drain essential funding from the Department of Defense to build an ineffective wall across our southern border. Therefore, Congress has a responsibility to make sure that these dollars actually go towards supporting our national security interests and providing our men and women in uniform the resources they need to carry out their duties,” said Warner. “Our legislation will reverse the President’s irresponsible decision to divert $3.8 billion from crucial defense projects in Virginia and across our nation, and will make sure that the DoD cannot bypass Congress in the future and give away essential Defense funding.”

“President Trump is again raiding defense programs to fund his own political pet project. Our bill would reverse this reckless reprogramming and protect the Defense Department’s funding to ensure that it is used to support our men and women in uniform as well as the critical national security projects that Congress initially allocated the money for,” Kaine said.

In the spring of 2019, the Defense Department transferred $2.5 billion in funding to be used to build part of President Trump’s border wall, and the President later raided an additional $3.6 billion in military construction funds for his wall.  Earlier this month, the Defense Department reprogrammed another $3.8 billion from the men and women of the National Guard and a variety of programs added by Congress to address shortfalls that were in many cases identified by military leaders as critical equipment. 

In January, it was reported that President Trump intended to raid $7.2 billion in DoD funds this year to pay for his wall, diverting funding from military families and forcing American taxpayers to pay for his wall.

Warner and Kaine have been outspoken against President Trump’s plan to pull money from military construction projects to build his border wall since it was initially announced last year. Kaine has demanded details on the projects that will lose funding and called on his colleagues in the Senate to oppose the Administration’s efforts.  

Full text of the legislation is available here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, members of the Senate Budget Committee, released the following statements on President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021(FY21) budget: 

“Simply put, the President’s budget fails Virginia. With the deficit at record highs thanks to the President’s massive tax cuts for big business and the wealthiest Americans, this proposal attempts to balance the budget at the expense of hardworking Virginians and investments in our local economy. It completely eliminates funding for the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay – an ecological treasure and important economic engine that supports thousands of jobs. It repays our federal workers for their years of service with deep cuts to their retirement benefits. And instead of investing in our coal communities, the Trump budget would eliminate the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation program that helps communities in Southwest Virginia invest in clean-up and economic revitalization efforts,” said Warner.

“This budget is yet another alarming example of the President’s attempts to leave the most vulnerable Americans behind. It slashes Medicaid, which 1.2 million Virginians rely on for their health care. It cuts food stamp benefits, which keep 695,000 Virginians from going hungry. And it guts other critical programs like community development block grants and home heating assistance. As we have done successfully in years past, we are going to fight on the Budget Committee to reject these harmful cuts and pass a budget that better reflects the needs of all Virginians,” said Kaine.

Below is a list of some of the impacts President Trump’s budget would have on Virginians:

Medicaid: The budget proposes cutting Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. The budget would give states the ability to pursue damaging work requirements, more stringent eligibility criteria, increased co-payments, and more. 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): The budget would restrict access to SNAP, a safety net to prevent the most vulnerable Americans—particularly seniors and children—from going hungry.

Chesapeake Bay: The budget proposes to decimate the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program. These cuts would threaten key federal assistance that helps localities, farmers, and others take steps to reduce the pollution flowing into the Bay.

National Institutes of Health (NIH): The budget proposes $38 billion for NIH, a nearly $4 billion cut from FY20. Millions of Americans rely on NIH research to inform our understanding and development of new and innovative treatments for serious illnesses like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.

After School Programs: The budget would eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding for afterschool programs, which would affect 20,504 children in Virginia.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): The budget would eliminate the PSLF program, denying Virginia’s hardworking public servants—such as teachers, nurses, and first responders, and other public service professionals—the loan forgiveness they earned.

Airports: The budget would eliminate Airport Improvement Program Discretionary grants. In FY19, these grants provided more than $64.8 million for airport improvements across the Commonwealth at both large and small airports.

Port of Virginia: The budget would eliminate the Port Infrastructure Development program. Previously funded at $225 million, funds from this program support critical infrastructure improvements at the Port of Virginia.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields: The budget would eliminate the Heritage Partnership Program, funding to support the maintenance of Shenandoah Valley Battlefields.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): The budget proposes to eliminate LIHEAP, which was previously funded at $8.7 billion. This vital safety net program helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills in localities across the Commonwealth.

Abandoned Mines: The budget would eliminate Abandoned Mine Land Grants, which provided $115 million in discretionary funds last year to help places like Southwest Virginia reclaim and repurpose abandoned coal lands.

Virginia Tribes: The budget would reduce housing block grants to tribes by more than one quarter. Virginia tribes rely on these funds to develop low-income housing.

Affordable Housing: The budget would eliminate the Choice Neighborhoods, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and HOME Investment Partnerships programs—programs that support the building and rehabilitation of affordable housing. In 2019, Virginia cities and counties received $57 million in CDBG grants and $25 million in HOME grants. In 2018, Newport News and Norfolk received $60 million in Choice Neighborhoods grants to build affordable housing in the Marshall-Ridley neighborhood and St. Paul’s area, respectively.

Economic Development Administration (EDA): The budget would eliminate the EDA. Virginia was awarded 12 EDA grants for $4 million in 2018, including funding to help the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) build an apprenticeship academy and prepare young Virginians for jobs in a growing industry. 

Federal Employees: The budget would make federal employees’ health and retirement benefits more expensive for workers. 

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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. 

 

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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,

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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.

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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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 20, 2019

The Honorable Russell T. Vought

Acting Director

Office of Management and Budget

Executive Office of the President

Washington, DC 20503

Dear Acting Director Vought:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), 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, 

 

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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).

 

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

 

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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,

 

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