Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Rules Committee responsible for election legislation, spoke on the Senate floor and warned of a rise in voter suppression tied to the coronavirus pandemic. He highlighted specific steps that states and the federal government should take to protect the right to vote, including implementing no-excuse absentee ballots, curbside voting, and expanded early voting opportunities.  

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Warner said in part, “Americans must be able to exercise their right to vote in a way that is safe and secure this November. From Wisconsin to Georgia to Kentucky, we are already seeing a dangerous trend of making voters choose between their safety and their right to vote. And I fear that if we head into November without a plan… without a strategy for protecting the right to vote and ensuring equal access to the ballot box… we could see levels of voter suppression not seen since the Jim Crow era.”

He continued, If we are going to preserve the integrity of our elections and the trust of the American people, it is essential that states and the federal government adapt to the challenge of this pandemic and expand access to the ballot box. In short, we need to make it easier and safer for Americans to exercise their right to vote.”

In his remarks, Sen. Warner highlighted the ways that voter suppression efforts disproportionately harm the most vulnerable Americans—particularly voters in communities of color. According to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, Black voters, on average, wait 45 minutes longer to vote than white voters, and Latino voters wait 46 minutes longer.

Speaking about voter restrictions that have been implemented in the name of COVID-19 safety this year, Sen. Warner said: “We know who these restrictions disenfranchise: it’s the poor… it’s the elderly… it’s workers just getting off their shift. And disproportionately, it is Black and Latino voters who face the brunt of these restrictions.”

Last week, Sen. Warner led all Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee in calling for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Association of State Election Directors, and the National Association of Secretaries of State to work proactively to counter any attempts to suppress vulnerable and historically-disenfranchised voters during the COVID-19 crisis. The letter included a series of recommendations to prevent voter suppression.

 

The full text of Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below:

Mr./Madam President, I rise today because Americans must be able to exercise their right to vote in a way that is safe and secure this November.

From Wisconsin to Georgia to Kentucky, we are already seeing a dangerous trend of making voters choose between their safety and their right to vote.

And I fear that if we head into November without a plan… without a strategy for protecting the right to vote and ensuring equal access to the ballot box… we could see levels of voter suppression not seen since the Jim Crow era.

It is true, we are in uncharted territory due to COVID-19. Of course, we must make sure that voters and poll workers are protected. We must make sure that polling places do not become another vector for spreading the virus.

But the way we do that is not by restricting access to the ballot box. Not in the United States of America. That is not how the world’s greatest democracy should meet this challenge.

Mr. President, if we are going to preserve the integrity of our elections… and the trust of the American people… it is essential that states and the federal government adapt to the challenge of this pandemic and expand access to the ballot box.

In short, we need to make it easier and safer for Americans to exercise their right to vote.

The good news is, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. A number of states—red, blue, purple—have adopted a range of ‘convenience voting’ procedures that work quite well. Some of those procedures including ample early voting opportunities and no-excuse absentee ballots… both of which reduce the risk that voters will be forced to break social distancing guidance in order to vote. 

In my home state of Virginia, we have curb-side voting for seniors and people with disabilities.

This has greatly expanded access to the ballot for Virginians with health issues that prevent them from going into a polling place. 

Every single state already has some form of convenience voting… to support voters who can’t make it to the polls on Election Day. And every election cycle, Americans securely cast millions of votes using these programs. 

We need to build on the success of these programs to ensure that every voter, regardless of circumstance, can safely and easily vote in our elections.

Unfortunately, despite these effective and secure tools at our disposal, we have also seen states implement restrictions in the name of safety that have disenfranchised far too many Americans.

In Wisconsin’s April primary, for example, Milwaukee reduced its number of polling places from 180 to just 5 locations. We saw similar moves this month in Georgia and Kentucky.

We know who these restrictions disenfranchise: it’s the poor… it’s the elderly… it’s workers just getting off their shift. And disproportionately, it is Black and Latino voters who face the brunt of these restrictions.

According to a new report from the Brennan Center, Black voters, on average, wait 45 minutes longer to vote than white voters. And Latino voters wait 46 minutes longer.

This is not right, Mr. President. We have a moral obligation to make sure that our tools to counter COVID-19 are not used to intimidate and suppress voters.

Just last week, Senator Klobuchar and I sent letters raising the warning that bad actors could use testing, immunity and protective equipment as a pretense to turn away voters or increase the difficulty of reaching the ballot box on Election Day.

Ideally, our elections officials could come together around a national strategy… of preparing every polling place and precinct… for administering our elections during a pandemic.

Unfortunately, there are those, including the President, who have tried to politicize this issue. In fact, we’ve seen the President spreading utter misinformation about mail-in voting.

The President seems to have forgotten that he has voted by mail in the last three elections. But what he fundamentally fails to understand is that the right to vote belongs to the voters, not to the politicians. It is our job to make sure Americans can exercise their rights in a way that is safe and secure.

Mr. President, that’s why Congress must rise to the occasion and ensure Americans can vote safely and securely.

The time is now to start serious preparations on contingencies to protect our elections from both the pandemic and those who would take advantage of it. I am a sponsor of the bill Sen. Klobuchar has tried to UC tonight, and I am disappointed it was blocked from passing.

I look forward to continuing with this group and the rest of our colleagues to do so. Thank you. 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va) joined Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 (NDAA) that would require President Trump to unlock the full authority and power of the Defense Production Act to scale up nation-wide production of the testing supplies, personal protective equipment, and medical equipment needed at the local level to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“New coronavirus cases are rising in states across the country, which means we need more testing supplies, more testing, and more personal protective equipment for workers on the frontlines of this pandemic,” said Senator Baldwin. “President Trump’s response to this pandemic has been a failure of leadership, so this amendment will force action to increase national production of testing supplies, personal protective equipment, and medical equipment needed to save lives.”

The amendment includes legislation she introduced in April with Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT). The Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act requires the president to utilize all available authorities under the Defense Production Act to mobilize a federal response to the pandemic through an equitable and transparent process. Key parts of Baldwin’s legislation are included in the House-passed HEROES Act, but the Republican majority in the Senate has failed to take action on the legislation.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the amendment is cosponsored by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). 

The NDAA is being considered on the Senate floor this week.

The full amendment is available here.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) pressed Facebook regarding its failure to prevent the propagation of white supremacist groups online and its role in providing such groups with the organizational infrastructure and reach needed to expand. In a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Senators criticized Facebook for being unable or unwilling to enforce its own Community Standards and purge white supremacist and other violent extremist content from the site. They also called on Zuckerberg to answer a series of questions regarding Facebook’s policies and procedures against hate speech, violence, white supremacy and the amplification of extremist content.

“The United States is going through a long-overdue examination of the systemic racism prevalent in our society. Americans of all races, ages, and backgrounds have bravely taken to the streets to demand equal justice for all,” wrote the Senators. “While Facebook has attempted to publicly align itself with this movement, its failure to address the hate spreading on its platform reveals significant gaps between Facebook’s professed commitment to racial justice and the company’s actions and business interests.”

Citing reports by the Tech Transparency project and other numerous investigative reports, the Senators highlighted ways in which right-wing extremist groups have used Facebook as a recruitment and organizational tool. They also underscored Facebook’s own contributions to the public safety problem, which include autogenerating pages for white supremacist organizations, promoting white supremacist pages and even directing users who visit these groups to other extremist or far-right content.

“This evidence stands in marked contrast to Facebook’s professed commitment to combat extremism by redirecting users who search for terms associated with white supremacy or hate groups to the page for ‘Life After Hate,’ an organization that promotes tolerance,” the Senators added.  “The Tech Transparency Project found that Facebook directed users to the ‘Life After Hate’ page in only six percent of the searches for white supremacist organizations.”

Sens. Warner, Hirono and Menendez also cited a number of instances where online radicalization facilitated by Facebook led to real life consequences, such as when three members of a “boogaloo” group on Facebook plotted to bring Molotov cocktails to a Black Lives Matter Protest, or when Air Force Staff Sergeant Steven Carrillo used Facebook to talk about committing violent acts and to meet the individual who eventually drove his getaway van after Carrillo shot and killed a federal security officer. 

In the letter, the Senators requested answers to the following questions by July 10th:

  1. Does Facebook affirm its policy against hate speech and will it seriously enforce this policy?
  2. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove hate speech from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  3. Does Facebook affirm its policy against violence and incitement and will it seriously enforce this policy?
  4. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove violence and incitement from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  5. Does Facebook affirm its commitment to ban “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram” as detailed in the company’s May 27, 2019 post and will it seriously enforce this commitment?
  6. What steps has Facebook implemented since announcing this policy to remove “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram?”
  7. Please provide our offices with any Facebook internal research concerning the platform’s amplification of extremist groups.
  8. How often are you personally briefed on the status of domestic extremist and white supremacist groups on Facebook and the platform’s efforts to address these groups?
  9. Who is the senior-most Facebook official responsible for addressing white supremacist groups’ activity on Facebook and which Facebook executive does this employee report directly to?
  10. What role did Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan play in Facebook’s decision to shut down and de-prioritize internal efforts to contain extremist and hyperpolarizing activity on Facebook?
  11. What role did Mr. Kaplan play in the participation of the Daily Caller, an outlet with longstanding ties to white nationalist groups, in Facebook’s fact-checking program?
  12. When violent extremist groups actively and openly use a platform’s tools to coordinate violence, should federal law continue to protect the platform from civil liability for its role in facilitating that activity?

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

 

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

We write to express our serious concerns about Facebook’s lack of action to prevent white supremacist groups from using the platform as a recruitment and organizational tool. The United States is going through a long-overdue examination of the systemic racism prevalent in our society. Americans of all races, ages, and backgrounds have bravely taken to the streets to demand equal justice for all. While Facebook has attempted to publicly align itself with this movement,[1] its failure to address the hate spreading on its platform reveals significant gaps between Facebook’s professed commitment to racial justice and the company’s actions and business interests.

On April 22, a full month before Americans started recent protests for racial justice, the Tech Transparency Project issued a report detailing the ways right-wing extremist groups were using Facebook to plan a militant uprising in the United States in response to stay-at-home orders issued to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.[2] The organization’s research uncovered “125 Facebook groups devoted to the ‘boogaloo,’” a term with ties to white supremacist movements used to describe a coming civil war.[3] Many of the groups’ posts were explicit in their calls for violence, including discussions of “tactical strategies, combat medicine, and various types of weapons, including how to develop explosives and the merits of using flame throwers.”[4] The groups experienced unchecked growth in the months leading up to the report and remained on Facebook at least as of early June,[5] despite Facebook’s prior claims that it was “studying trends around [boogaloo] and related terms on Facebook and Instagram” and that it “do[es]n’t allow speech used to incite hate or violence, and will remove any content that violates our policies.”[6]

A subsequent report issued on May 21 provided further detail regarding the extent of Facebook’s white-supremacist problem—and Facebook’s lack of attention to this public safety problem.[7] The Tech Transparency Project found that 113 of the 221 white supremacist organizations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League—a staggering 51%—have a presence on Facebook.[8] Many of the organizations’ pages were actually auto-generated by Facebook after a Facebook user identified a white supremacist or neo-Nazi organization as his or her employer.[9] Perhaps more troubling, Facebook actively promoted these and other white supremacist sites. According to the Tech Transparency Project, “Facebook’s ‘Related Pages’ feature often directed users visiting white supremacist Pages to other extremist or far-right content, raising concerns that the platform is contributing to radicalization.”[10] 

The Tech Transparency Project report echoes similar findings by the Southern Poverty Law Center (which has also tracked how these groups spread dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 on Facebook),[11] along with several investigative news reports.[12] One investigative report even concluded that Facebook served as a key recruitment tool for right-wing militia groups to recruit police officers to their movements.[13]Facebook is hardly a passive actor in this context: a recent exposé by The Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook’s own researchers had found that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools.”[14] The report concluded that Facebook senior executives shut down efforts to reform the platform’s tendency to amplify hyperpolarized and extremist content after Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan deemed the efforts “paternalistic.”[15]

This evidence stands in marked contrast to Facebook’s professed commitment to combat extremism by redirecting users who search for terms associated with white supremacy or hate groups to the page for “Life After Hate,” an organization that promotes tolerance.[16] The Tech Transparency Project found that Facebook directed users to the “Life After Hate” page in only six percent of the searches for white supremacist organizations.[17]

Unfortunately, the online radicalization facilitated by Facebook can lead to deadly consequences. On June 16, federal authorities charged Air Force Staff Sergeant Steven Carrillo with the June shooting death of a federal security officer outside a courthouse in Oakland.[18] Authorities also charged the driver of the getaway van,Robert Alvin Justus.[19] Justus and Carrillo had met on Facebook.[20] According to the criminal complaint against Carrillo, a search of Carrillo’s Facebook account revealed not only communications with Justus, but instances where Carrillo expressed his intention to commit violent acts.[21]

In another instance in early June, federal authorities arrested three men on charges that they planned to bring Molotov cocktails to a Black Lives Matter protest.[22] All three were members of a boogaloo group on Facebook.[23] According to the Tech Transparency Project, one of the men arrested was a member of two private boogaloo groups identified in Tech Transparency Project’s April 22 report.[24] Following reporting in the Huffington Post and other media outlets, a Facebook representative told Huffington Post on April 23, “[w]e’ve removed groups and Pages who’ve used [boogaloo] and related terms for violating our policies.”[25] Yet, according to the complaint, the three men used a different online group—a Nevada boogaloo Facebook group—to facilitate organizing a planned attack on the march.[26]

The prevalence of white supremacist and other extremist content on Facebook—and the ways in which these groups have been able to use the platform as organizing infrastructure—is unacceptable. Facebook’s Community Standards expressly state:  “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook.”[27] In a March 27, 2019 post, Facebook made clear that this prohibition “has always included white supremacy.”[28] At that same time, Facebook expanded its prohibition to include “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism.”[29] And the Community Standards purport to prohibit “organizations and individuals that proclaim a violent mission,” including “organized hate” groups.[30]

In light of these clear policies—and others against “Violence and Incitement” and “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations”—we are concerned Facebook is unable (or unwilling) to enforce its own Community Standards[31] and rid itself of white supremacist and other extremist content. 

We request that you to answer the following questions by July 10, 2020:

  1. Does Facebook affirm its policy against hate speech and will it seriously enforce this policy?[32]
  2. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove hate speech from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  3. Does Facebook affirm its policy against violence and incitement and will it seriously enforce this policy?[33]
  4. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove violence and incitement from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  5. Does Facebook affirm its commitment to ban “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram” as detailed in the company’s May 27, 2019 post[34]and will it seriously enforce this commitment?
  6. What steps has Facebook implemented since announcing this policy to remove “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram?”
  7. Please provide our offices with any Facebook internal research concerning the platform’s amplification of extremist groups.
  8. How often are you personally briefed on the status of domestic extremist and white supremacist groups on Facebook and the platform’s efforts to address these groups?
  9. Who is the senior-most Facebook official responsible for addressing white supremacist groups’ activity on Facebook and which Facebook executive does this employee report directly to?
  10. What role did Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan play in Facebook’s decision to shut down and de-prioritize internal efforts to contain extremist and hyperpolarizing activity on Facebook?[35]
  11. What role did Mr. Kaplan play in the participation of the Daily Caller, an outlet with longstanding ties to white nationalist groups,[36] in Facebook’s fact-checking program?
  12. When violent extremist groups actively and openly use a platform’s tools to coordinate violence, should federal law continue to protect the platform from civil liability for its role in facilitating that activity? 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this critical matter. 

Sincerely,

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke on the Senate floor and offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) aimed at preventing foreign election interference. The amendment would incorporate into the annual defense bill Sen. Warner’s Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act, which would require campaigns to report to the appropriate federal authorities any contacts from foreign nationals seeking to interfere in a presidential election.

The FIRE Act was initially set to be included in the NDAA as part of Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA), which passed out of the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month and was later incorporated into the NDAA. Over the weekend, Senate GOP leadership removed the FIRE Act from the NDAA, which is currently being debated on the Senate floor.   

Sen. Warner, who has attempted to pass the FIRE Act several times over Republican objections in the past year, took to the Senate floor today to decry the backroom deal and offer the FIRE Act as a floor amendment, setting the stage for a possible up-or-down vote in the coming week.  

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Warner said in part, “In a different time, with a different president, this bill would not be controversial. It would simply say to all presidential campaigns going forward: if a foreign power reaches out to your campaign offering assistance or offering dirt on a political opponent, the appropriate response is not to say ‘thank you.’ The appropriate response is to call the FBI. What a sad statement about partisan politics in our country, when we can’t even agree on that.”

He continued, The [Intelligence] Committee voted 14-1 to pass an intel authorization bill that included theFIRE Act. So, you can imagine my surprise and frustration when I learned of a backroom deal to strip the FIRE Act out of the Intelligence Committee’s legislation because of a supposed turf war with another Committee. Mr. President, I am back again today because the security of our elections cannot wait. Let’s not hide behind process and turf wars. The stakes are far too high to continue the partisan blockade of election security legislation that we’ve seen over the last three years.” 

The full text of Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below:

 

Mr. President, I’m here today because I fear the Senate is about to fail once again…to protect our elections from foreign interference.

For the last three years, I’ve worked as Vice Chairman of the Intel committee to investigate Russia’s attack on our democracy in 2016. We are the only bipartisan investigation of Russian election interference to make it to the finish line. 

Any member of the public can read our declassified conclusions. And any member of this body can read additional classified materials. 

Our report offers a stark warning of Russia’s intent to interfere in future U.S. elections… and a clear roadmap for how to defend our democracy from Russia or other adversaries copying their playbook. 

Unfortunately, the White House and the leadership of the United States Senate seem to be the only ones not taking this threat seriously. Since 2016, this body has failed to vote on a single piece of standalone election security legislation. 

So, four times in the last year, I have come to the floor in an attempt to pass my bipartisan election security legislation, known as the FIRE Act, by unanimous consent. 

And each time, those efforts were blocked by my Republican colleagues— earning applause from the President on Twitter. 

In a different time, with a different President, this bill would not be controversial.

It would simply say to all Presidential campaigns going forward: if a foreign power reaches out to your campaign offering assistance…or offering dirt on a political opponent the appropriate response is not to say ‘thank you.’ The appropriate response is to call the FBI

What a sad statement about partisan politics in our country when we can’t even agree on that.

Mr. President, I introduced this bipartisan legislation months before the facts came to light… about the President pressuring Ukraine into announcing politically motivated investigations into the Bidens. 

I’m not here to rehash the impeachment trial, but I do want to note one thing.

A number of my Republican colleagues justified their votes by saying that, while not impeachable, it was wrong for the President to solicit foreign interference in our elections.

I take my colleagues across the aisle at their word that they believe foreign interference has no place in our elections.

But at some point, you have to put your money where your mouth is. 

We know the President tried to trade election favors with Ukraine. According to the new book from John Bolton, the President tried to trade political favors with Xi Jinping during trade negotiations. Maybe that happened, maybe it didn’t. 

But I’d be much more inclined to give the President the benefit of the doubt, if he hadn’t asked China to investigate the Bidens on national television; if he hadn’t asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign; or if he’d shown even a shred of interest in defending our democracy from foreign interference over the last four years.

Mr. President, we are under attack from adversaries who see this new era of cyberwarfare and disinformation as a golden opportunity to undermine American democracy. 

We cannot afford to have a system that allows Presidential candidates to welcome this interference with open arms. If we can’t trust the President of the United States and his campaign to do the right thing and report foreign interference, then we need to require it by law.

I’ve spent over a year inviting my colleagues across the aisle to work with us on this already bipartisan legislation. I’ve answered every objection and worked through the right channels to get this legislation to the floor as part of the NDAA.

We went back to the Intelligence Committee—the only committee engaged in serious efforts to prevent foreign election interference. We made sure that this year’s intel authorization bill included several provisions to strengthen our defenses ahead of the November elections.

The Committee voted 14-1 to pass an intel authorization bill that included the FIRE Act. 

So, you can imagine my surprise and frustration when I learned of a backroom deal to strip the FIRE Act out of the Intelligence Committee’s legislation… because of a supposed turf war with another Committee.  

So, Mr. President, I am back again today because the security of our elections cannot wait. Let’s not hide behind process and turf wars. The stakes are far too high to continue the partisan blockade of election security legislation that we’ve seen over the last three years.

If my Republican colleagues want to strip this legislation out of the NDAA behind closed doors, then I’m going to offer it as an amendment… force an up-or-down vote and put every member of this body on the record. 

More than ever, it is time to put country over party… and defend our democracy from those who would do it harm. I encourage my colleagues to support this amendment and send a clear message: foreign interference has no place in our elections.  

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and 18 of their Senate colleagues in urging the Trump Administration to grant emergency refugee protections to Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan facing persecution as religious minorities. In a bipartisan letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the senators called on the State Department to prioritize resettlement opportunities under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program allocation ceilings for Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities, whose populations have plummeted markedly due to years of persecution by the Taliban and more recent terrorist actions perpetrated by ISIS Khorasan (ISIS-K).

“This Administration has repeatedly highlighted protecting religious freedom as a top foreign policy priority,” the senators wrote. “Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan face an existential threat from ISIS-K because of their religion. To protect religious freedom, we urgently ask that you take these essential steps to defend these threatened religious minorities.” 

The letter also calls on Secretary Pompeo to offer additional support to members of the Sikh and Hindu communities that choose to remain in Afghanistan, and to ensure that Afghan religious minorities benefit from the $20.6 million in American aid already provided to address COVID-19.

“Ensuring that religious minorities receive U.S. COVID-19 assistance should be a priority in all countries where protection of religious minorities is a challenge,” the senators added.

Joining Sens. Warner and Menendez in signing the letter were Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and James Lankford (R-Okla.).

A copy of the letter may be found below:

 

Dear Secretary Pompeo: 

We are writing to express our concern about the serious threats facing religious minorities in Afghanistan. Terrorist attacks by ISIS Khorasan (ISIS-K) threaten the very survival of Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities, which have already reached historically low numbers. To protect members of these vulnerable religious minority communities, we urge the State Department to provide emergency refugee protection to Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus as they face terrorist violence at the hands of ISIS-K. We further urge the State Department and USAID to ensure that U.S. COVID-19 assistance reaches religious minorities in Afghanistan.

ISIS-K targets religious minorities in Afghanistan and poses an existential threat to Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities in particular. The Sikh and Hindu communities once numbered around 250,000 people but now have fewer than 1,000 individuals due to decades of persecution. The communities continue to face discrimination in access to housing and employment, and the Taliban has previously mandated that Sikhs and Hindus wear yellow armbands or patches as a marker of their religious status. In recent years a new threat to Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities has emerged: terrorist attacks from ISIS-K. In March, ISIS-K launched an attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul that killed 25 worshippers, and later detonated an explosion during a funeral service for those victims. As ISIS-K continues to attack civilians and international troops draw down in Afghanistan, Sikhs and Hindus are likely to face more violence.

In light of this existential threat, we urge the State Department to provide emergency refugee protection to Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus by referring them to the FY20 U.S. Refugee Admissions Program through Priority 1 (P1) embassy referrals. We further request that the Department consider designating this group for Priority 2 (P2) referrals. We believe the potential to eliminate this population of less than 1,000 people represents a dire circumstance that requires both the urgency of individual P1 referrals as well as access to the P2 designation. A P2 designation would maximize opportunities for resettlement of Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus under the FY20 allocations ceilings for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, including the allocation for refugees who “have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion.” For members of the Sikh and Hindu communities who prefer to remain in Afghanistan despite this existential threat, we urge State to work with the Government of Afghanistan to ensure that it provides proper protection for these communities.

In addition, the United States has provided $20.6 million in total assistance to Afghanistan to address COVID-19. We urge the State Department and USAID to ensure that religious minorities in Afghanistan benefit from this assistance, as well as from any future COVID-19 assistance sent there. Ensuring that religious minorities receive U.S. COVID-19 assistance should be a priority in all countries where protection of religious minorities is a challenge.

Finally, we recommend that you engage with other members of the International Religious Freedom Alliance and encourage them to help ensure the security of vulnerable religious minorities in Afghanistan in the face of this existential threat.

This Administration has repeatedly highlighted protecting religious freedom as a top foreign policy priority. Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan face an existential threat from ISIS-K because of their religion. To protect religious freedom, we urgently ask that you take these essential steps to defend these threatened religious minorities. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)  today introduced the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act, which would restore semiconductor manufacturing back to American soil by increasing federal incentives to stimulate advanced chip manufacturing, enable cutting-edge research and development, secure the supply chain and bring greater transparency to the microelectronics ecosystem, create American jobs, and ensure long-term national security. U.S. Representative Doris Matsui (CA-6) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaul (TX-10) will introduce this legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives tomorrow. 

“America’s innovation in semiconductors undergirds our entire innovation economy, driving the advances we see in autonomous vehicles, supercomputing, augmented reality, IoT devices and more. Unfortunately, our complacency has allowed our competitors – including adversaries – to catch up. This bill reinvests in this national priority, providing targeted tax incentives for advanced manufacturing in the US, funding basic research in microelectronics, and emphasizing the need for multilateral engagement with our allies in bringing greater transparency and attention to security and integrity threats to the global supply chain,” said Sen. Warner.

“Semiconductors underpin nearly all innovation today and are critical to U.S. communications and defense computing capabilities. While Texas has been a leader in manufacturing this technology and the U.S. leads the world in chip design, most of those chips are manufactured outside the United States,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This legislation would help stimulate advanced semiconductor manufacturing capabilities domestically, secure the supply chain, and ensure U.S. maintains our lead in design while creating jobs, lowering our reliance on other countries for advanced chip fabrication, and strengthening national security.” 

“As the global economy becomes more interconnected, it is essential that the U.S. maintains the ability to produce the hardware that our high-tech economy depends on. Semiconductors are fundamental components of our phones, medical devices, and the future of quantum computing,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “In order for the U.S. to stay at the forefront of this strategically important industry, we must ensure that we lead from research and development all the way to the assembly line. The CHIPS for America Act will make needed investments in this essential hardware, allowing our domestic industry to continue to innovate and thrive.”

“Ensuring our leadership in the future design, manufacturing, and assembly of cutting edge semiconductors will be vital to United States national security and economic competitiveness. As the Chinese Communist Party aims to dominate the entire semiconductor supply chain, it is critical that we supercharge our industry here at home. In addition to securing our technological future, the CHIPS Act will create thousands of high-paying U.S. jobs and ensure the next generation of semiconductors are produced in the US, not China,” said Rep. McCaul.

The CHIPS For America Act: 

  • Creates a 40-percent refundable ITC for qualified semiconductor equipment (placed in service) or any qualified semiconductor manufacturing facility investment expenditures through 2024. The ITC is reduced to 30 percent in 2025, 20 percent in 2026, and phases out in 2027. 
  • Directs the Secretary of Commerce to create a $10 billion federal match program that matches state and local incentives offered to a company for the purposes of building a semiconductor foundry with advanced manufacturing capabilities.
  • Creates a new NIST Semiconductor Program to support advanced manufacturing in America. The program’s funds will also support STEM workforce development, ecosystem clustering, U.S. 5G leadership, and advanced assembly and test.
  • Authorizes funding for DOD to execute research, development, workforce training, test, and evaluation for programs, projects, and activities in connection with semiconductor technologies and direct the implementation of a plan to utilize Defense Production Act Title III funding to establish and enhance a domestic semiconductor production capability.
  • Requires the Secretary of Commerce to complete a report within 90 days to assess the capabilities of the U.S. industrial base to support the national defense in light of the global nature of the supply chain and significant interdependencies between the U.S. industrial base and that of foreign countries as it relates to microelectronics.
  • Establishes a trust fund in the amount of $750M over ten years to be allocated upon reaching an agreement with foreign government partners to participate in a consortium in order to promote consistency in policies related to microelectronics, greater transparency in microelectronic supply chains, and greater alignment in policies towards non-market economies. To incentivize multilateral participation, a common funding mechanism is established to use this fund to support the development of secure microelectronics and secure microelectronics supply chains. A report to Congress is required for each year funding is available. 
  • Directs the President to establish, through the National Science and Technology Council, a Subcommittee on Semiconductor Leadership responsible for the development of a national semiconductor research strategy to ensure U.S. leadership in semiconductor technology and innovation, which is critical to American economic growth and national security, and to coordinate semiconductor research and development.
  • Creates new R&D streams to ensure U.S. leadership in semiconductor technology and innovation is critical to American economic growth and national security:
    • $2 billion to implement the Electronics Resurgence Initiative of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
    • $3 billion to implement semiconductor basic research programs at the National Science Foundation.
    • $2 billion to implement semiconductor basic research programs at the Department of Energy.
    • $5 billion to establish an Advanced Packaging National Manufacturing Institute under the Department of Commerce to establish U.S. leadership in advanced microelectronic packaging and, in coordination with the private sector, to promote standards development, foster private-public partnerships, create R&D programs to advance technology, create an investment fund ($500M) to support domestic advanced microelectronic packaging ecosystem, and work with the Secretary of Labor on establishing workforce training programs and apprenticeships in advanced microelectronic packaging capabilities.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was joined by Senate Intelligence Committee members Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Angus King (I-ME), and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services Committee, in urging the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to ensure than any potential plan to withdraw military personnel from Afghanistan is orderly, conditions-based, and planned in conjunction with military and diplomatic counterparts. The letter comes shortly after reports revealed that President Trump is considering a withdrawal of U.S. forces November of 2020 – without regard for the conditions on the ground and much earlier than the timeline established in the Taliban peace agreement that was signed earlier this year.

“While we support the goal of bringing the war in Afghanistan to a responsible end, we are concerned that a repeat of our hastily-announced withdrawal from Syria could needlessly put more American lives at risk, increase the threat to allies and partners participating in the Resolute Support Mission, and squander important intelligence relationships and counterterrorism operations,” wrote the Senators in the letter to DNI John Ratcliffe. “A rushed and premature withdrawal would also risk losing the gains we have achieved in Afghanistan, not only in counterterrorism but also in building Afghan governance and military forces.”

“We urge you to ensure the Administration has access to the best intelligence available regarding stability and governance in Afghanistan, the threat posed by groups like the Haqqani Taliban Network, al-Qa‘ida, and ISIS, and the risk posed by a precipitous U.S. withdrawal,” they continued.

In their letter, the Senators emphasized the need to give American intelligence professionals the time and space needed to plan for an organized drawdown, and prevent a rash withdrawal similar to the situation in October 2019, where President Trump decided to hastily withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, surprising U.S. and allied personnel in the region and disrupting operations to defeat ISIS.

Additionally, the Senators requested that DNI Ratcliffe provide an update on the Intelligence Community’s force posture plans for Afghanistan – including a detailed description of future basing and personnel plans, security procedures, options for continued partner engagement, and intelligence collection contingencies – if the decision is made to withdraw the U.S. military by November.

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

 

Dear Director Ratcliffe:

As you begin your tenure as Director of National Intelligence, we request that you actively represent the interests of the Intelligence Community as the Administration plans a potential withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement stipulating that our government would remove all military personnel from the country in 12 to 14 months, based on conditions on the ground.  However, recent media reporting indicates that President Trump is seeking to expedite this process, and has requested plans to execute a complete U.S. military withdrawal by November.

During your confirmation hearing last month, you testified that you disagreed with the President’s October 2019 decision to precipitously withdraw U.S. forces from Syria – a move that surprised U.S. and allied personnel in the region, and disrupted operations to defeat ISIS.

While we support the goal of bringing the war in Afghanistan to a responsible end, we are concerned that a repeat of our hastily-announced withdrawal from Syria could needlessly put more American lives at risk, increase the threat to allies and partners participating in the Resolute Support Mission, and squander important intelligence relationships and counterterrorism operations.  A rushed and premature withdrawal would also risk losing the gains we have achieved in Afghanistan, not only in counterterrorism but also in building Afghan governance and military forces.  

Our nation’s intelligence professionals have spent nearly two decades establishing security arrangements with our Afghan partners.  Now, it is incumbent upon our government to give them the time and space to prepare for an orderly, conditions-based drawdown, in conjunction with military and diplomatic counterparts.

We urge you to ensure the Administration has access to the best intelligence available regarding stability and governance in Afghanistan, the threat posed by groups like the Haqqani Taliban Network, al-Qa‘ida, and ISIS, and the risk posed by a precipitous U.S. withdrawal.

Accordingly, we request that, at the earliest date possible, you update us on the Intelligence Community’s force posture planning for Afghanistan if the decision is made to withdraw the U.S. military by November.  Please include a detailed description of future basing and personnel plans, security procedures, options for continued partner engagement, and intelligence collection contingencies.

Thank you for your attention to this request.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence marked up the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, which includes measures introduced by the Committee’s Vice Chairman, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), to uphold the integrity of the security clearance process, prevent politically-motivated abuse, and enhance contractor insider threat programs.

“With so many national security challenges facing our nation today, it’s critical that we have a trusted workforce that can safeguard our nation’s secrets,” said Sen. Warner. “With the inclusion of several provisions aimed at ensuring the integrity of our security clearance process in today’s bipartisan bill, Americans can have the confidence that we are vetting, hiring, and retaining national security professionals that will pursue our national security interests.”

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

During this year’s markup of the bill, Sens. Warner and Susan Collins (R-ME) successfully secured their provision that builds upon their bipartisan legislation to protect the integrity of the security clearance process from being abused for political purposes. The provision also aims to increase transparency and guarantee the same rights for federal contractors and federal workforce in the security clearance process by requiring the publication of adjudicative guidelines that serve as the exclusive basis for granting, denying, and revoking a clearance. In addition, the provision also establishes a government-wide appeals process, chaired by the Director of National Intelligence, for individuals to appeal denials of requests to overturn a decision made at the agency-level to deny or revoke a clearance or crossover request.

The Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) also includes a provision by Sen. Warner that would allow derogatory information-sharing between federal agencies and cleared federal contractors on potential employee red flags in an effort to prevent and mitigate insider threats. The information-sharing system complies with insider threat programs requirements under the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual and rests on contractors giving prior consent to information-sharing.

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WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released the following statement:

“The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has submitted the fifth and final volume of its bipartisan investigative report into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to the Office of Director of National Intelligence for classification review. In addition to submitting the full, classified report, and in order to help facilitate the Intelligence Community’s review, we have also submitted what we assess to be a properly redacted, unclassified version of the report, totaling nearly 1,000 pages. It is our hope that ODNI can expeditiously review these documents so that the Committee can consider, vote on, and release the report as soon as possible. 

“We want to thank the talented and tireless staff who have contributed to the Committee’s investigation. The work they’ve done has already greatly added to our understanding of and response to foreign threats to our democratic process.”

Background:

·       At a May 5th open hearing for the nomination of Director of National Intelligence, Chairman Burrannounced that the Committee’s fifth report was complete and would be sent for declassification. During questioning, nominee Rep. John Ratcliffe affirmed his commitment as DNI to an expeditious review of the Committee’s report.

·       To date, the Committee has released four out of a total of five volumes in its comprehensive report on Russia’s 2016 election interference. The previously released volumes examined U.S. election security, Russia’s use of social mediathe Obama Administration’s response to Russian interference, and the January 2017 Intelligence Committee Assessment.

·       The fifth and final volume examines the Committee’s counterintelligence findings.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sen.Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 38 of their colleagues in introducing a resolution that encourages U.S. engagement with the international community on the COVID-19 response given the Trump Administration’s failure to participate in global summits on vaccines and therapeutics.  The resolution focuses on the indisputable facts that only with concerted global collaboration and coordination can the COVID-19 pandemic be addressed, and that the U.S. has failed so far to participate in a number of key global collaborative efforts on this issue. 

“I was dismayed when amid the devastating global coronavirus pandemic, the United States sat out a recent virtual conference to collaborate and raise funds to research, manufacture, and distribute possible coronavirus treatments and a vaccine. It was yet another short sighted and critically missed opportunity by the Trump Administration,” Durbin said. “We should be a part of these efforts to not only offer American expertise, but to also share in the lifesaving benefits. That is why 39 Senators have joined me in introducing a straightforward resolution that calls on the United States to join these global efforts.  

“We cannot petulantly isolate ourselves from the international race to find treatments and develop a vaccine. Doing so will only waste more time and cost more lives.”

The following Senators joined Durbin in introducing the resolution: U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Udall (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Tom Carper (D-DE).  

A copy of today’s Senate resolution is available here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke on the floor prior to a cloture vote on the nomination of William Evanina to serve as Director of the United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center.  In his remarks, Warner urged his colleagues to confirm Evanina, who has been serving in that position in an acting capacity for more than two years.

A copy of Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below:

Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of William Evanina to be the first Senate confirmed Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, or NCSC.

Bill is an American patriot and American success story.  Raised in Peckville, Pennsylvania, with very modest means, he was the first in his family to go to college.  Prior to joining the FBI in 1996, his first job was with the General Services Administration in Philadelphia. 

Over his 24-year long career with the FBI, Bill investigated organized crime and violent crimes. He investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the anthrax attacks in Washington, and the Daniel Pearl kidnapping.  Bill also led the counter-espionage group at the Central Intelligence Agency. 

He earned a reputation as the consummate counterintelligence and security professional, fiercely dedicated to the mission, with unquestionable honor.

Then, in June 2014, then-Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper appointed Bill to serve as the director of NCSC.  Many technical and complex activities fall under NCSC, including personnel security policy; information technology protection standards; CI cyber operations; supply chain risk management; threat awareness for U.S. critical infrastructure; and damage assessments from spies and unauthorized disclosures.  And I have partnered with Bill on many topics, to include educating industry about the threats posed by China and reforming an antiquated personnel vetting system.

The Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 recognized the vital work that NCSC does and made the position subject to Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation. 

In February 2018, President Trump nominated Bill to be the first Senate-confirmed Director.  The Senate Intelligence Committee considered the nomination in May 2018 and unanimously recommended his confirmation to the full Senate.  We considered his nomination again in February 2019 in the new Congress.  Again, our committee voted unanimously in favor of his nomination.

Unfortunately, over the last two years, despite universal recognition of Bill’s qualifications for the position, his nomination became entangled in unrelated matters.  Despite the delay, Bill stayed the course, committed to the mission above all else. 

All of those unrelated matters may not be addressed to every Senator’s full satisfaction, but at least today we are here to give this nominee what he and the Country deserve: a vote.

Now I share my colleagues’ concerns about protections for whistleblowers. I have seen this White House’s disregard for whistleblower protections. I believe I have Bill Evanina’s commitment that procedures for processing whistleblower complaints will be dealt with appropriately.

I also feel strongly that at this moment when there is not a single Senate-confirmed appointee in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, now more than ever we need a Senate-confirmed career intelligence professional in place—standing guard over an office that too often seems to be directed by political appointees who disregard protections for whistleblowers and our intelligence community.  

I look forward to Mr. Evanina’s confirmation today so that he can continue addressing the many important counterintelligence and security challenges facing our nation.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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WASHINGTON – Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA), U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, and Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Ben Cline (R-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Denver Riggleman (R-VA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Navy James Guerts expressing strong support for the shipbuilding and ship maintenance industrial base.  

“We believe that the private shipbuilding and ship maintenance industrial base is performing a vital public function during this pandemic and should remain open for business, sustaining employment and providing products and services which contribute to our Navy’s recapitalization and readiness,” they wrote. “During these challenging times, we are particularly concerned about the shipbuilding and ship repair enterprise and safety of our ship workers.”  

The entire Virginia Delegation requested that the Navy ensure that safety of shipworkers remain the highest priority. They also requested the Navy’s support with expeditious contractual adjustments between Navy and industry to ensure a healthy partnership that fully alleviates the negative impacts, to both workers and shipyards, associated with COVID-19 relief, for the Navy’s support in expediting access to loans and loan guarantees provided that could be used to assist the shipbuilding and ship maintenance industrial base, for the Navy to ensure small business participation in ship repair, and for the Navy to ensure a sustained industrial base, development of the LHA-9 acquisition effort and use of the FY19 LHA-9 Advanced Procurement monies to accelerate construction of an additional large deck amphibious ship.

 

See signed letter here and text below. 

 

The Honorable James F. Geurts

Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition)

1000 Navy Pentagon

Washington, DC 20350-1000

 

Dear Mr. Geurts,

We are writing to express strong support for the shipbuilding and ship maintenance industrial base. Because of our support of this critical but fragile industry, we are deeply concerned about their viability during the national emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We applaud the actions you directed in your March 20 memorandum and encourage your continued engagement on contracting issues which may arise as the shipbuilding and ship maintenance industrial base works through the pandemic.

We believe that the private shipbuilding and ship maintenance industrial base is performing a vital public function during this pandemic and should remain open for business, sustaining employment and providing products and services which contribute to our Navy’s recapitalization and readiness. During these challenging times, we are particularly concerned about the shipbuilding and ship repair enterprise and safety of our ship workers.  We would ask your support for the following items: 

  • We request your support in ensuring that the safety of our shipworkers remains the bedrock of any future discussion with additional contractual adjustments provided to alleviate any hazards experienced by workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Similar to the authority provided by section 3610 of the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136), we request your support with expeditious contractual adjustments between Navy and industry to ensure a healthy partnership that fully alleviates the negative impacts, to both workers and shipyards, associated with COVID-19 relief. 
  • Pursuant to section 4003 of the CARES Act, we request your support to expediting access to loans and loan guarantees provided that could be used to assist the shipbuilding and ship maintenance industrial base.
  • To ensure continued small business participation in ship repair, your assurance that previously programmed continuous maintenance availability will continue.
  • To ensure a sustained industrial base, development of the LHA-9 acquisition effort and use of the FY19 LHA-9 Advanced Procurement monies to accelerate construction of an additional large deck amphibious ship. 

We would like to thank you for your leadership of Navy acquisition during this critical time for our Navy and our nation. We look forward to continuing to work with you on providing for our future fleet with a strong, robust, and resilient shipbuilding and ship maintenance industrial base.

 

Sincerely, 

# # #

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue needed direction for consistent implementation of a section in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that provides relief to the contractor community supporting many critical national security missions. In a letter to Acting Director Russell Vought, Sen. Warner stressed the importance of promptly issuing clear direction to agencies and contracting officers in order to assure continuity in the contractor community and avoid agencies issuing their own guidance, creating a confusing patchwork for industry.

“Without such overarching directive, I fear that agencies and their contracting officers will take disparate approaches, leading to uncertainty and instability in the contractor industrial base, if not a permanent loss of capability,” wrote Sen. Warner. “In addition, I want to avoid draconian cutbacks that may create significant counterintelligence risks.”

Section 3610 of the CARES Act allows government agencies to continue to pay contractors if they cannot perform their work because of coronavirus-related restrictions, such as the closure of federal or contractor facilities and/or the inability to telework. Such restrictions disproportionately affect contractors who perform classified work that cannot be undertaken outside of a secure facility.

In his letter, Sen. Warner noted that agencies are already issuing implementation memoranda that potentially diverge from one another. He also requested that any directive: 

  • Fully endorses and supports contractors teleworking or otherwise working remotely, and payment therewith, consistent with mission requirements, law, and Office of Personnel Management memorandum M-18-20, “Managing Federal Contract Performance Issues associated with the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)”;
  • Applies equally to contractor work conducted at government or contractor facilities or sites, whether they support unclassified or classified work;
  • Provides a fair cost reimbursement methodology that allows for reasonable direct and indirect costs and in-progress payments for work normally paid on a lump-sum basis;
  • Provides standard contract modification language, preferably made available within 15 days of issuance of OMB guidance, to maintain ready state (on-call) contractor capability, reflects dependencies on subcontractors and suppliers whose performance may be impaired by COVID-19, and adjust contract performance issues, including reductions in scope or schedule changes due to COVID-19;
  • Allows expedited consideration of extensions in periods of performance and adjustments in contract ceiling values to minimize unnecessary disruption in contract execution for the duration of the emergency; and
  • Applies to contractor work done for all government agencies to the greatest extent practicable to promote consistency for existing and new work.

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

 

The Honorable Russell Vought

Acting Director

Office of Management and Budget

Washington, D.C.  20503

Dear Acting Director Vought:

I write to ask that you promptly issue a directive so that government agencies consistently implement Sec. 3610 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides relief to the contractor community supporting many critical national security missions.  Without such overarching directive, I fear that agencies and their contracting officers will take disparate approaches, leading to uncertainty and instability in the contractor industrial base, if not a permanent loss of capability.  Agencies are already issuing memoranda on this topic that potentially diverge from one another.  In addition, I want to avoid draconian cutbacks that may create significant counterintelligence risks.

Specifically, I request you issue a directive that: 

  • Fully endorses and supports contractors teleworking or otherwise working remotely, and payment therewith, consistent with mission requirements, law, and Office of Personnel Management memorandum M-18-20, “Managing Federal Contract Performance Issues associated with the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)”;
  • Applies equally to contractor work conducted at government or contractor facilities or sites, whether they support unclassified or classified work;
  • Provides a fair cost reimbursement methodology that allows for reasonable direct and indirect costs and in-progress payments for work normally paid on a lump-sum basis;
  • Provides standard contract modification language, preferably made available within 15 days of issuance of OMB guidance, to maintain ready state (on-call) contractor capability, reflects dependencies on subcontractors and suppliers whose performance may be impaired by COVID-19, and adjust contract performance issues, including reductions in scope or schedule changes due to COVID-19;
  • Allows expedited consideration of extensions in periods of performance and adjustments in contract ceiling values to minimize unnecessary disruption in contract execution for the duration of the emergency; and
  • Applies to contractor work done for all government agencies to the greatest extent practicable to promote consistency for existing and new work.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  If you have any questions, please contact Jon Rosenwasser of the Committee staff at (202) 224-1700.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today expressed concern with the health and welfare of military personnel aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt – an American aircraft carrier that has been reported to have more than 100 sailors aboard who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In a letter, the Senators questioned Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly about the conditions aboard the vessel and about any actions being taken to ensure the health and safety of sailors and other military personnel.

“We are writing about the recent developments aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) due to coronavirus (COVID-19) infections, so we can better understand the Navy’s plans for safeguarding its personnel and what Congress can do to assist your efforts,” wrote the Senators.“As you are aware, there are countless Virginians with family members serving aboard Navy warships who are all concerned about the health and well-being of their loved ones.  We share these concerns for all our personnel serving in the military at this challenging time.” 

On Monday, in a letter to senior military officials, Capt. Brett Crozier detailed the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s deteriorating conditions, noting that the ship’s environment is especially conducive to the spread of the disease due to the large number of confined sailors and the sharing of resources and facilities, among other things. The vessel – which is currently docked in Guam – has more than 4,000 crew members onboard, including the more than 100 sailors who have tested positive for COVID-19.

In their letter to the Navy, the Senators – who have heard directly from the relatives of servicemembers aboard the ship – requested answers to the following questions: 

  1. Has the Navy developed new measures and policies to ensure critical components are managed by crew that are known to be free of COVID-19?   How many COVID-19 tests would the Navy require to implement such a policy?  How many tests do you currently possess?
  2. Does the Navy have an adequate number of berthing barges to house crewmembers for nuclear vessels that require daily maintenance of critical components while those ships are cleaned/decontaminated?  
  3. Does the Navy have an adequate number of berthing barges to house crewmembers for vessels slated for deployment in the next 120 days while they are cleaned and decontaminated?
  4. Is there any plan, similar to those being pioneered by the US Transportation Command for military airlift pilots, to effectively “cocoon” ships’ crews to avoid new contamination from outside sources?
  5. What measures are in place to safely re-supply currently deployed ships without unnecessarily exposing the crew to COVID-19?
  6. Is there any requirement to extend personnel slated for retirement or separation to safely operate Navy vessels?  Can Congress provide additional incentive pay for Navy personnel whose separations, retirements, deployments or working conditions have been impacted by COVID-19?
  7. Have you been in contact with the Department of Energy about the lessons learned from the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Roosevelt for dissemination amongst nuclear power plants operating in the U.S.?
  8. Are there any other authorities or resources the Navy requires to better secure the health and safety of Navy personnel & their families during this crisis? 

Text of the letter is available here and below. 

 

April 1, 2020       

The Honorable Thomas B. Modly

Secretary of the Navy 

1000 Navy Pentagon 

Washington, DC 20350-1000  

Dear Acting Secretary Modly: 

We are writing about the recent developments aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) due to coronavirus (COVID-19) infections, so we can better understand the Navy’s plans for safeguarding its personnel and what Congress can do to assist your efforts. 

As you are aware, there are countless Virginians with family members serving aboard Navy warships who are all concerned about the health and well-being of their loved ones.  We share these concerns for all our personnel serving in the military at this challenging time. 

In an effort to ensure Congress is best assisting the Navy in meeting the challenges posed by the coronavirus, we ask that you provide a response to the following in an appropriate format, as we understand that details affecting readiness are sensitive and potentially classified: 

  1. Has the Navy developed new measures and policies to ensure critical components are managed by crew that are known to be free of COVID-19?   How many COVID-19 tests would the Navy require to implement such a policy?  How many tests do you currently possess?
  2. Does the Navy have an adequate number of berthing barges to house crewmembers for nuclear vessels that require daily maintenance of critical components while those ships are cleaned/decontaminated?  
  3. Does the Navy have an adequate number of berthing barges to house crewmembers for vessels slated for deployment in the next 120 days while they are cleaned and decontaminated?
  4. Is there any plan, similar to those being pioneered by the US Transportation Command for military airlift pilots, to effectively “cocoon” ships’ crews to avoid new contamination from outside sources?
  5. What measures are in place to safely re-supply currently deployed ships without unnecessarily exposing the crew to COVID-19?
  6. Is there any requirement to extend personnel slated for retirement or separation to safely operate Navy vessels?  Can Congress provide additional incentive pay for Navy personnel whose separations, retirements, deployments or working conditions have been impacted by COVID-19?
  7. Have you been in contact with the Department of Energy about the lessons learned from the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Roosevelt for dissemination amongst nuclear power plants operating in the U.S.?
  8. Are there any other authorities or resources the Navy requires to better secure the health and safety of Navy personnel & their families during this crisis? 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Ben Cline (R-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Denver Riggleman (R-VA) Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to swiftly approve federal funding for the Virginia National Guard to help combat the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“We write to urge you to quickly approve the request made by Governor Ralph Northam for additional authorities and funding under Title 32 U.S. Code 502(f)(2)(A) to assist the Commonwealth of Virginia to combat the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Governor Northam requests this authority and funding for the Virginia National Guard as they work to respond to incidents related to the preservation of life and property in connection with COVID-19 emergency response efforts,” wrote the members of Congress in their letter to President Donald Trump. 

Several states across the country have begun to mobilize their National Guards to assist in their response to the coronavirus outbreak. Under Title 32, Virginia’s Governor would have the authority to deploy units to communities across the Commonwealth to help distribute food, support local test facilities, and assist first responders and health providers. Additionally, this request would allow the federal government to cover the cost for these critical missions.

On March 24, the Governor of Virginia determined the need to increase the Virginia National Guard force to full-time status in an effort to help with the coronavirus emergency response across the Commonwealth.

“We urge your prompt approval of this request so Governor Northam may fully task the Virginia National Guard as he finds necessary to support the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response efforts in support of this National emergency declaration,” they concluded.

Earlier this week, the Senate approved a $2 trillion bipartisan coronavirus economic relief package that includes $1.4 billion for deployment of the National Guard. This funding level will sustain up to 20,000 members of the National Guard under the direction of the governors of each state for the next six months in order to support state and local response efforts to the health crisis. The House of Representatives will vote on the economic package later today.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

 

The Honorable Donald J. Trump

President of the United States

The White House 

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20500 

 

Dear President Trump, 

We write to urge you to quickly approve the request made by Governor Ralph Northam for additional authorities and funding under Title 32 U.S. Code 502(f)(2)(A) to assist the Commonwealth of Virginia to combat the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Governor Northam requests this authority and funding for the Virginia National Guard as they work to respond to incidents related to the preservation of life and property in connection with COVID-19 emergency response efforts. 

On March 24, Governor Northam determined the need to increase the Virginia National Guard force to full time status and intends to utilize the Virginia National Guard to fulfill immediate COVID-19 emergency response requirements across the Commonwealth.

We urge your prompt approval of this request so Governor Northam may fully task the Virginia National Guard as he finds necessary to support the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response efforts in support of this National emergency declaration. Thank you for your timely support to this important request.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, pushed the Department of Defense (DoD) to issue guidance for uniformed, civilian, and contractor personnel to help them better understand their options for paid leave and telework amid the COVID-19 outbreak. In a letter to Secretary Mark T. Esper, Sen. Warner requested that the DoD clarify what types of leave are applicable in a variety of COVID-19 related scenarios, and provide guidance on the types of DoD workers that are eligible for telework.

“An area of particular concern is how administrative leave, weather and safety leave, sick leave, and annual leave apply under a variety of COVID-19 related scenarios,” wrote Sen. Warner. “These personnel should not face uncertainty or obstacles in their efforts to preserve our individual or collective health.” 

Currently, there is fragmentation in the DoD’s current leave policy that creates ambiguity regarding the kind of leave that would apply if employees needed to take time off work in the event that they were symptomatic, exposed but not symptomatic, or if they needed to care for family members who have contracted COVID-19. 

In his letter, Sen. Warner, who has heard from several Virginians who have been forbidden from teleworking despite considerable safety concerns, also urged the DoD to clarify which employees occupy mission-critical positions, and which are eligible for telework.

“The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued guidance for agencies to expand telework flexibility, but at present, guidance issued by OMB, OPM, and the Department have ambiguity that is creating confusion and anxiety,” he continued. “Personnel whose duties and responsibilities do not immediately contribute to a critical national security function would benefit from a clear directive instructing them to work remotely and would make a significant impact for our nation.”

In his letter, Sen. Warner encouraged the Department to create further telework options, as appropriate, for employees currently deemed ineligible for telework in order to protect their safety and health and that of their family members. He also emphasized that any guidance should be consistent and transparent for all eligible personnel stationed across the country and abroad.  

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for federal workers amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Yesterday, he led seven of his Senate colleagues in calling on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to post department and agency contingency plans amid the COVID-19 outbreak as more federal agencies begin to ramp up teleworking capabilities. Additionally, he has urged President Trump to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to utilize telework capabilities to the maximum possible extent, and has called on the House and Senate to address the potential financial hardship for Congress’ support workforce if their work schedules are unexpectedly disrupted as the result of changes to congressional operations.

A copy of the letter is available here and below, and a full list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak is available here.

 

The Honorable Mark T. Esper

Secretary

U.S. Department of Defense 

Washington, D.C.  20301

Dear Secretary Esper:

I write to ask you to clarify personnel policy governing the Department’s response to COVID-19 so that uniformed, civilian, and contractor personnel better understand how they can and should adapt to minimize the spread and impact of this virus.

An area of particular concern is how administrative leave, weather and safety leave, sick leave, and annual leave apply under a variety of COVID-19 related scenarios, to include for personnel whose normal duty station is a classified facility, whether personnel occupy a mission critical position or not, if they are symptomatic or exposed but not symptomatic, and if they must care for family members who have contracted COVID-19.

These personnel should not face uncertainty or obstacles in their efforts to preserve our individual or collective health. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued guidance for agencies to expand telework flexibility, but at present, guidance issued by OMB, OPM, and the Department have ambiguity that is creating confusion and anxiety.  For example, personnel should have due flexibility to telework, as appropriate, to protect their safety and health and that of their family members.

Personnel whose duties and responsibilities do not immediately contribute to a critical national security function would benefit from a clear directive instructing them to work remotely and would make a significant impact for our nation.  For personnel deemed ineligible for telework, the Department should investigate and create further options, when possible, to temporarily make them eligible. The urgency for the Department to take necessary steps and clarify concerns about telework options for personnel will ensure personnel do not feel aggrieved during the outbreak of COVID-19.  This guidance should be consistent and transparent for all eligible personnel stationed across the country and abroad.

Maintaining a healthy workforce with confidence in the government’s commitment to their welfare is of the utmost importance to us.  Thank you in advance for your prompt response and attention to this matter.

I look forward to working with you to address this matter of urgent priority.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the State Department to provide guidance and assistance to Americans stuck abroad after heightened travel restrictions, lockdowns, and border closures across the globe to curb the spread of coronavirus have left U.S. citizens stranded in foreign countries indefinitely.  

“I have heard from an alarming number of Virginians in the past few days who are abroad and unable to return to the United States due to restrictions on movement, closed borders, nationwide lockdowns, and canceled flights. Stranded in Peru, Honduras, Morocco, China, Guatemala and other countries, these Americans are desperately trying to navigate these difficult and rapidly evolving circumstances to return to their homes and their families,” wrote Sen. Warner.

The State Department is responsible for the safety and security of Americans overseas, which includes providing information to help U.S. citizens navigate rapidly shifting travel restrictions in a world wide effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“I have been in touch with State Department personnel, both here and abroad, as well as with foreign embassies based in the United States, and I commend the round-the-clock work by so many to help in this difficult time. But these Americans need greater support by the State Department. I urge you to implement a response effort that is comprehensive, nimble, and timely and gets these Americans home as soon as possible,” continued Sen. Warner.

In his letter to Secretary Pompeo, Sen. Warner asked the agency to provide a prompt response on the following questions:

  1. What outreach are the State Department and embassies conducting to Americans about the current and potential near-term restrictions in their particular country?
  2. What guidance are you providing Americans who are actively attempting to return to the United States?
  3. What guidance and support are you providing to travelers who are facing an impending travel restriction or border closure affecting their ability to leave the country to return home?
  4. What support are you providing to Americans who find themselves already locked down in a country, unable to return home?
  5. What efforts are underway, or are you considering, in terms of emergency repatriation flights and/or chartered options?

 

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

 

The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Pompeo:                                                                           

I write to express serious concerns about American travelers who have found themselves stranded abroad, with no clear way to get home, as other countries close down borders and restrict movement in response to the spread of coronavirus.

I have heard from an alarming number of Virginians in the past few days who are abroad and unable to return to the United States due to restrictions on movement, closed borders, nationwide lockdowns, and canceled flights. Stranded in Peru, Honduras, Morocco, China, Guatemala and other countries, these Americans are desperately trying to navigate these difficult and rapidly evolving circumstances to return to their homes and their families. 

I have been in touch with State Department personnel, both here and abroad, as well as with foreign embassies based in the United States, and I commend the round-the-clock work by so many to help in this difficult time. But these Americans need greater support by the State Department.  I urge you to implement a response effort that is comprehensive, nimble, and timely and gets these Americans home as soon as possible.

To that end, I ask that you provide my office with answers to these questions as soon as possible:

1.       What outreach are the State Department and embassies conducting to Americans about the current and potential near-term restrictions in their particular country?
2.       What guidance are you providing Americans who are actively attempting to return to the United States?
3.       What guidance and support are you providing to travelers who are facing an impending travel restriction or border closure affecting their ability to leave the country to return home?
4.       What support are you providing to Americans who find themselves already locked down in a country, unable to return home?
5.       What efforts are underway, or are you considering, in terms of emergency repatriation flights and/or chartered options?

I again ask for your prompt response to this letter, and increased engagement with American citizens abroad. My office will continue our efforts assisting these constituents as they navigate this incredibly complex, rapidly changing, and frightening landscape. I urge you and those hard at work at the State Department to do everything within your power to help these Americans return home.

If there are any questions about this letter, or if either my staff or I can be of assistance to you in this effort, please reach out at 202-224-2023.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA) led a letter urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to continue to prioritize American leadership in talks about international standards for artificial intelligence, and to build an international coalition to preserve the integrity of international standards setting bodies. The letter responds to efforts by China, and technology companies closely aligned with the Chinese Communist Party, to utilize international standards setting bodies, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), to advance and legitimize artificial intelligence-based technologies, such as facial recognition technologies, that have been used to oppress Uyghur Muslims. The United States must ensure that American values remain a part of the international conversation about artificial intelligence and facial recognition.

“We are writing to share our concerns regarding efforts by China, and technology companies closely aligned with the Chinese Communist Party, to utilize international standards setting bodies, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), to internationalize standards for advanced surveillance technology. The evidence from Xinjiang Province of how artificial intelligence-based technologies, such as facial recognition technologies, are used to oppress Uyghur Muslims makes clear that standards setting bodies should not be used to advance or legitimize such practices. We urge you to continue to prioritize American leadership on this issue, and build an international coalition to preserve international standards setting bodies as technical economic fora,” wrote the senators.

Portman and Warner were joined in sending the letter by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Gardner (D-CO), Chris Coons (D-DE), Steve Daines (R-MT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mike Braun (R-IN), Ed Markey (D-MA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Gary Peters (D-MI), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

The full text of the letter to Secretary Pompeo can be found below and here

Dear Secretary Pompeo,

 Thank you for your efforts to draw attention to, and address, the ever growing number of concerns about totalitarian activities by the People’s Republic of China. We are writing to share our concerns regarding efforts by China, and technology companies closely aligned with the Chinese Communist Party, to utilize international standards setting bodies, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), to internationalize standards for advanced surveillance technology. The evidence from Xinjiang Province of how artificial intelligence-based technologies, such as facial recognition technologies, are used to oppress Uyghur Muslims makes clear that standards setting bodies should not be used to advance or legitimize such practices. We urge you to continue to prioritize American leadership on this issue, and build an international coalition to preserve international standards setting bodies as technical economic fora.

International standards setting bodies are foundational to international trade and commerce. Without them, a litany of technical and logistical barriers to trade erected by different countries – with divergence on things as wide-ranging as food labeling, construction materials, and wireless communications standards – would balkanize our global economy. Thanks to American industry’s leadership, the United States has consistently set the bar for international standards setting. We believe it is vital for our economy, and foreign policy, to maintain that leadership.

Unfortunately, China has indicated a willingness to use standard setting bodies in perverse ways to normalize global opinions about Orwellian surveillance technology. By shaping the debate about the legitimate uses of artificial intelligence and facial recognition, China can expand opportunities for countries, particularly those in the developing world, to utilize Chinese surveillance technology. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Chinese companies have supplied AI-based surveillance systems to 63 countries, including 36 of which are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. 

With respect to the Uyghurs, China is using technology in ways never seen before. China use facial recognition to profile Uyghur individuals, classify them on the basis of their ethnicity, and single them out for tracking, mistreatment, and detention. The machine learning techniques used in Xinjiang Province, and throughout China, which are designed specifically, and intentionally, to classify people on the basis of physical traits harken back to troubling practices related to phrenology and eugenics. And these technologies are deployed in service of a dystopian vision for technology governance, that harnesses the economic benefits of the internet in the absence of political freedom and sees technology companies as instruments of state power.

As you know, China is currently working to use standards setting bodies to gain the imprimatur of international legitimacy and support across a range of emerging technologies. China’s censorship and surveillance technologies are the envy of autocratic regimes around the world, with China exporting both its technology and its technology governance vision to countries such as Venezuela, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Mongolia, and Zimbabwe. China’s efforts to steer standards setting bodies towards work in service of this anti-democratic vision for technology undermines the apolitical purposes standard setting bodies serve.

At the same time, we have seen our position as a global leader on technology issues weakened by a retreat of the United States from the global stage. The United States and its allies must build international support for rules and standards that address the internet’s potential for censorship and repression, presenting alternatives that explicitly embrace a free and open internet. To that end, we urge you to work closely with other countries to ensure China cannot use the ITU to advance its techno-nationalist agenda.

Some argue that China has an inherent advantage over the United States with respect to artificial intelligence because of China’s lax privacy standards and lack of respect for human rights—we disagree. We believe privacy and human rights protections are features, not bugs, of our democracy and our culture of innovation; they make America stronger, and more likely to win any “artificial intelligence race” going forward. Ultimately, technology is shaped by the norms of its development. Thank you for your consideration of our views on the intersection of human rights and artificial intelligence in China, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that the American values remain part of the international conversation about artificial intelligence and facial recognition.

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to the Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) urging them to issue clear guidance that ensures the security clearances of intelligence community personnel and contractors will not be jeopardized due to the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I write to ask you to issue guidance directing agencies to exercise appropriate leniency in considering how the coronavirus (COVID-19) may be negatively impacting adjudications for a security clearance or determination of trust,” wrote Sen. Warner.

A key element of the background investigation that supports a security clearance or a determination of trustworthiness is an individual’s financial stability. In his letter, Sen. Warner raised concerns that COVID-19’s impact could not only lead to financial duress for employees with security clearances, but that this financial duress could lead to delays in renewing security clearances. It could even result in personnel losing their positions in the event that they must heed the advice of health professionals and subsequently lose out on a paycheck in order to self-quarantine. The problem is particularly true for younger workers who lack a long credit history.

“While I understand that departments and agencies may already have certain discretion to consider broader contextual factors that may affect personnel vetting decisions, I ask you to issue clear and public guidance that departments and agencies may in no way penalize employees’ clearances or determinations of trustworthiness due to circumstances associated with coping with COVID-19. This guidance should apply to any information used in an initial clearance, a periodic reinvestigation, or a continuous evaluation program,” continued Sen. Warner.

Earlier this week, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) issued a statement that supports Sen. Warner’s recommendation for the DNI Acting Director to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus by issuing guidance that acknowledges that “financial difficulties incurred as a result of a work stoppage should not be treated as derogatory factors affecting workers’ security clearances.”

A copy of the letter is found here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

The Honorable Dale Cabaniss

Director, Office of Personnel Management

1900 E Street, NW

Washington, D.C.  20415

Ambassador Richard Grenell

Acting Director of National Intelligence

Washington, D.C.  20511

Dear Director Cabaniss and Acting Director Grenell:

I write to ask you to issue guidance directing agencies to ensure that the coronavirus (COVID-19) does not negatively impact adjudications for government or contractor employees’ security clearances or determinations of trust.

COVID-19 may have many effects on our workforce, to include financial difficulty and psychological stress.  Efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may require government and contractor personnel to self-quarantine or tend to family members, which in may cause them miss payments on things like rent, mortgage, credit cards, or other forms of debt.  The impact may be particularly acute for hourly workers.  This could impact their credit scores and jeopardize their ability to secure or maintain a clearance or hold a position of trust.  The problem is particularly acute for younger workers who lack a long credit history.  Psychological strain can naturally accompany such circumstances, exacerbating the situation.

While I understand that departments and agencies may already have certain discretion to consider broader contextual factors that may affect personnel vetting decisions, I ask you to issue clear and public guidance to ensure that departments and agencies do not penalize employees’ clearances or determinations of trustworthiness due to circumstances associated with COVID-19.  This guidance should apply to any information used in an initial clearance, a periodic reinvestigation, or a continuous evaluation/vetting program.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged Vice President Mike Pence to take steps to both combat online misinformation related to the coronavirus outbreak and to correct false and misleading statements by the President and other members of the Administration, in the interest of public health. This letter follows reports of widespread misinformation on social media about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) – from conspiracies about the virus’ inception, to false claims about products that were said to provide immunity or cures.

“I am deeply concerned that despite the seriousness of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, your coronavirus taskforce and members of the Administration have failed to consistently counter the significant amount of misinformation conveyed to the American public. In many instances, we have seen misinformation spread by those seeking to profit from untested and potentially dangerous products misrepresented as effective treatments for the virus,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Of even greater concern, false or misleading information has also come directly from prominent members of the Administration, up to and including the President.”

“The President’s injudicious and false statements could gravely undermine ongoing public health efforts to contain the outbreak. His statements directly conflict with the advice and recommendations of your own coordinated federal response and leading public health experts and will likely exacerbate economic uncertainty and discourage individuals from seeking needed care. To date, I am not aware of any steps your Administration has taken to publicly correct this false narrative,” he continued. “Simply put – this conflicting messaging and misinformation will weaken our ability to respond to COVID-19 and significantly undermine ongoing public health efforts. I strongly encourage you to publicly withdraw and correct President Trump’s statements and other false statements made by members of the Administration. In addition I ask that, moving forward, the coronavirus taskforce proactively monitor and develop a comprehensive strategy to counter widespread misinformation, including campaigns by foreign actors or parties seeking to profit from fraudulent health treatments. Information conveyed to the public must accurately reflect the latest guidance from public health experts and other authorities.”

Around the world, the novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people and killed more than 4,000 people to date. In the Commonwealth of Virginia alone, there have been nine identified cases of the virus. 

In his letter, Sen. Warner noted that the President’s false statements “stoke and legitimize already widespread online misinformation concerning the virus.”  He also highlighted indications “that at least some of the misinformation is derived from, or at least amplified by, malicious foreign actors.”

A copy of the letter is available here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

The Honorable Michael R. Pence

Vice President of the United States of America

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Vice President Pence:

I am deeply concerned that despite the seriousness of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, your coronavirus taskforce and members of the Administration have failed to consistently counter the significant amount of misinformation conveyed to the American public. In many instances, we have seen misinformation spread by those seeking to profit from untested and potentially dangerous products misrepresented as effective treatments for the virus.[1] Of even greater concern, false or misleading information has also come directly from prominent members of the Administration, up to and including the President. I believe that, left unaddressed, this misinformation and conflicting messaging will undermine our ability to respond to COVID-19 by reducing public confidence in ongoing public health efforts, creating economic uncertainty and causing the public to respond in counterproductive ways.

As you know, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has sickened more than 118,000 people around the world, and killed more than 4,200 people to date.[2] While this situation is rapidly evolving in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high.[3] It is essential that the Administration communicate timely and accurate information to the American public. This should include a coordinated effort to address potentially harmful misinformation spread through social media and other sources.

On March 4, 2020, during a phone call televised to millions of viewers, President Donald J. Trump indicated that Americans who fear they may have COVID-19 should continue going to work and not seek medical care, and told viewers that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) estimates of the virus’ deadliness were false.[4] In addition, on February 26, 2020 the President carelessly downplayed the seriousness of this outbreak by telling the American public that COVID-19 cases in the U.S. were “going very substantially down, not up” and that the existing 15 cases in the U.S. “is going to be down to close to zero” in two days.[5] As you know, cases have increased exponentially since that time.

The President’s injudicious and false statements could gravely undermine ongoing public health efforts to contain the outbreak. His statements directly conflict with the advice and recommendations of your own coordinated federal response and leading public health experts and will likely exacerbate economic uncertainty and discourage individuals from seeking needed care. To date, I am not aware of any steps your Administration has taken to publicly correct this false narrative.

In addition, such remarks stoke and legitimize already widespread online misinformation concerning the virus. There are indications that at least some of the misinformation is derived from, or at least amplified by, malicious foreign actors.[6] Additional misleading statements from members of the Administration, combined with intentional falsehoods pushed by these malicious actors, will only make matters worse.

Successfully combatting COVID-19 will require that public officials, health care providers and the American public act in a coordinated and responsible manner and, should the need arise, follow recommendations of public health experts to social distance, self-quarantine and take additional safety measures. This will not be possible if the Administration does not take proactive steps to counter false information and consistently relay trusted, accurate and timely information to the American public.

Simply put – this conflicting messaging and misinformation will weaken our ability to respond to COVID-19 and significantly undermine ongoing public health efforts. I strongly encourage you to publicly withdraw and correct President Trump’s statements and other false statements made by members of the Administration. In addition I ask that, moving forward, the coronavirus taskforce proactively monitor and develop a comprehensive strategy to counter widespread misinformation, including campaigns by foreign actors or parties seeking to profit from fraudulent health treatments. Information conveyed to the public must accurately reflect the latest guidance from public health experts and other authorities. Thank you for your attention to this request and I look forward to your response.                                               

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) issued the following statements after their Secure 5G and Beyond Act, which would require the President to develop a strategy and implementation plan to ensure the security of next-gen mobile telecommunications systems and infrastructure in the United States, passed the House of Representatives:

“Securing our telecommunications infrastructure from foreign interference is a priority as we work to keep the United States on the cutting-edge of 5G technology,” said Sen. Cornyn. “I appreciate the House of Representatives for swiftly passing this legislation, and I look forward to it becoming the law of the land soon.”

“5G is the next great technological evolution for the telecommunications industry,” said Sen. Burr. “The same features that make 5G a powerful tool for growth and innovation – its incredible speed and wide reach – also pose an unprecedented national security challenge.  Now is the time for the U.S. to develop a real strategy for confronting these challenges, and I applaud Congress for advancing us toward that goal.”

“5G promises to usher in a new wave of innovations, products, and services. At the same time, the greater complexity, density, and speed of 5G networks relative to traditional communications networks will make securing these networks harder and more complex. It’s why we need a coherent, national strategy to harness the advantages of 5G in a way that addresses those risks,” said Sen. Warner. “I’m glad that the House has passed our bill and is sending it on to the President’s desk for his signature.”

Background on the Secure 5G and Beyond Act:

  • Requires the President to create an inter-agency strategy to secure 5th generation and future generation technology and infrastructure in the United States and with our strategic allies.
  • Designates NTIA to assist the President in managing the implementation plan in coordination with: the Chairman Federal Communications Commission, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.
  • Ensures that the strategy and implementation plan do not include a recommendation to nationalize 5th generation deployment or future generations of mobile telecommunications infrastructure in the United States.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.

###

WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) issued the following statements after the Senate passed their legislation, the Secure 5G and Beyond Act, yesterday to require the President to develop a strategy to ensure the security of next-gen mobile telecommunications systems and infrastructure in the United States, as well as assist allies in maximizing the security of their systems, infrastructure, and software:

“As our telecommunications technology advances, we must have plans in place to keep it secure from foreign interference,” said Sen. Cornyn. “I’m grateful to my colleagues for recognizing the risks that come along with the rewards of 5G technology, and I urge the House to pass this legislation as soon as possible.”

“It’s imperative we not only understand the revolutionary value of next-gen communications, but also the security measures required to ensure the deployment of safe and secure 5G networks,” said Sen. Burr. “I’m proud to work with my colleagues on this important legislation, which will bring together a variety of industry experts, further protect Americans’ privacy rights, and better equip our nation with a comprehensive strategy as we continue to be a global leader in technology.”

“5G promises to usher in a new wave of innovations, products, and services. At the same time, the greater complexity, density, and speed of 5G networks relative to traditional communications networks will make securing these networks harder and more complex. It’s why we need a coherent, national strategy to harness the advantages of 5G in a way that addresses those risks,” said Sen. Warner.

Background on the Secure 5G and Beyond Act:

  • Requires the President to create an inter-agency strategy to secure 5th generation and future generation technology and infrastructure in the United States and with our strategic allies.
  • Designates NTIA to coordinate implementation of the plan in coordination with: the Chairman of the FCC, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.
  • Ensures that the strategy and implementation plan do not include a recommendation to nationalize 5th generation deployment or future generations of mobile telecommunications infrastructure in the United States.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and former telecommunications executive and entrepreneur, applauded Senate passage of bipartisan legislation modeled on legislation he first he introduced to protect American communications networks from threats presented by foreign suppliers like Huawei and ZTE. The legislation would offer relief to reimburse smaller telecommunications providers – largely in rural areas – by reimbursing them for the costs of removing and replacing untrusted foreign equipment.

“As our nation becomes more and more reliant on next-generation telecommunication networks, we need to be doing all that we can to make sure that our networks are secure,” said Sen. Warner. “That includes making sure that we are not allowing our foreign adversaries to infiltrate these networks, and that as a nation, we are not dependent on infrastructure supplied by foreign vendors. This important piece of legislation will help ensure the security of our networks all across the country by making it possible for providers in small and rural communities to rip and replace equipment that might pose a national security risk. I’m very encouraged by this bill’s passage and I look forward to seeing it get signed into law as quickly as possible.”

The Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019, which now heads to the President’s desk after securing the approval of the House and Senate, closely resembles the United States 5G Leadership Act of 2019, S. 1625, introduced by Sens. Warner and Roger Wicker (R-MS), along with Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK).

Specifically, the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 would:

  • Prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from subsidizing the acquisition or maintenance of telecommunications equipment or services from untrusted suppliers.
  • Create a program to reimburse telecommunications providers with fewer than two million customers. These providers will remove equipment that poses a national security risk from their networks to replace it with equipment from trusted suppliers.
  • Establish an information sharing program for telecommunications providers, particularly small and rural operators, to obtain information regarding potential security risks and vulnerabilities to their networks.

Sen. Warner has been a leading voice in Congress about the national security risks posed by Chinese-controlled telecommunication companies. Earlier this year, he and a bipartisan group of leading national security Senators introduced legislation to encourage and support U.S. innovation in the race for 5G, providing over $1 billion to invest in Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE. He is also the lead sponsor of the Secure 5G and Beyond Act – a bill to safeguard next-gen mobile telecommunications systems and infrastructure – and has previously introduced a bill with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to combat tech-specific threats to national security posed by foreign actors like China.

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Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to reverse his decision that would negatively impact the collective bargaining rights of Department of Defense (DOD) employees.  The letter was also signed by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Gary Peters (D-MI).

“More than 700,000 Americans work civilian jobs for the Department of Defense.  They are dedicated to the Department’s mission and a part of the Department’s successes,” the Senators wrote.  “This new memorandum provides the Secretary of Defense and other department officials with the blanket authority to waive the collective bargaining rights of all of these employees when, in fact, labor organizations and collective bargaining in the civil service are in the public interest.”

“A fair collective bargaining process is a cornerstone of American labor law and a right afforded to employees within the federal government.  Any exemptions permitted by the process are not meant to be given widely to an entire Department as a sweeping declaration, but to be carefully considered,” the Senator continued.  “The Department of Defense has a history of working with labor unions that represent the interests of employees…We urge you to reconsider this new memorandum and work to protect the collective bargaining rights of federal employees, including those at the Department of Defense.” 

On January 29, 2020, President Trump issued a memorandum granting the Secretary of Defense the authority to exempt DOD agency employees from collective bargaining. 

Since enactment of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, no president has found it necessary to issue a blanket exemption of all DOD employees from collective bargaining.

Click HERE to read the letter.

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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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