Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $10,500,000 in funding from the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to improve airport infrastructure at two airports in Arlington and Martinsville.

“We’re pleased to announce this funding to enhance airport infrastructure,” said the Senators. “These grants will support local airports as they help Virginians travel more efficiently.”

  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington will receive a grant of $3,500,000 to rehabilitate an apron.
  • Blue Ridge Airport in Martinsville will receive a grant of $7,000,000 to expand an apron.

This funding was granted through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP), a program that provides grants for the planning and development of public-use airports that are significant to national air transportation.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) today formally requested an FBI briefing on its investigation into the fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police in 2017. The FBI announced the conclusion to its lengthy investigation last week, but did not fully explain its findings, including why the two officers opened fire on Ghaisar.

The senators have long sought transparency into the circumstances surrounding the deadly use of force and the FBI’s review of the case, but the FBI largely declined to provide details at the time, citing an ongoing investigation. Now that the investigation has concluded, the senators are demanding greater clarity to provide needed transparency and preserve the public trust.

“Despite nearly two years of investigating this incident in which considerable FBI resources were used, the Ghaisar family, Congress, and the general public still do not have all the answers.  The FBI needs to provide a full and thorough account of the events that led to Mr. Ghaisar’s untimely death,” the Senators wrote.

In January of 2018, Warner, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of the FBI’s investigation into the fatal 2017 shooting. In October of that year, Warner sent a letter to the head of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar.

Grassley, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, contacted the FBI about the investigation in December of 2018. The FBI responded in March with little information, provoking a follow-up letter from Grassley.

In June, Grassley and Warner decried the opaque and drawn-out nature of the review in letters to both the FBI and NPS. The FBI provided a brief response in August, leaving many questions unanswered. In October, NPS provided a partial response, which prompted a follow-up letter from the Senators seeking more information.

Following the recent conclusion of the FBI’s investigation, the senators pledged to seek greater transparency. Full text of the senators’ official request for a briefing follows. A copy of the letter is available here.

 

November 20, 2019

The Honorable Christopher Wray

Director

Federal Bureau of Investigations

Washington, D.C. 20535

Dear Director Wray:

We write today to request a briefing and a response to Senator Warner’s letter from January 30, 2018, Senator Grassley’s letters from December 17, 2018, and March 22, 2019, and the Senators’ joint letter from June 18, 2019, on the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar.  While the FBI has announced it has concluded its investigation into the shooting of Mr. Ghaisar, the FBI has continuously refused to answer several questions that were raised in the aforementioned letters because the investigation had yet to conclude.  Now that the investigation has concluded, we expect to receive answers to these questions and a briefing on the FBI’s investigative process and findings. 

Investigations into the use of deadly force must be handled in a way that reinforces public confidence in law enforcement.  Following completion of these types of investigations, it is necessary for investigators to be fully transparent to ensure that the public understands the circumstances of each incident.  This creates transparency and builds public trust in law enforcement.  Despite nearly two years of investigating this incident in which considerable FBI resources were used, the Ghaisar family, Congress, and the general public still do not have all the answers.  The FBI needs to provide a full and thorough account of the events that led to Mr. Ghaisar’s untimely death.

In order to shed light on this delicate situation, we ask that you respond to Senator Grassley’s and Warner’s letters and provide us with a briefing summarizing the findings of this investigation by no later than December 15, 2019.   Additionally, we ask that you please arrange a time to provide our staffs with a briefing no later than December 6, 2019.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

Mark Warner

United States Senator

###

Washington, DC -- Today, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) in sending a letter requesting that the National Park Service (NPS) conduct a reconnaissance survey to evaluate the suitability of designating the George C. Marshall House, known as Dodona Manor, in Leesburg as an “affiliated area” under NPS.

“Designating the George C. Marshall House as an affiliated area under NPS would bring increased public interest and awareness of Dodona Manor and would produce additional funds to further assist in its preservation,” said the lawmakers in the letter. “Dodona Manor has a clear historic value to our nation. To honor General Marshall’s life and legacy, it would be fitting for Dodona Manor to become an affiliated area under NPS to ensure its preservation for future generations.”

General Marshall led a lifetime of public service, serving as Chief of Staff to the Army during America’s entry into World War II, as Secretary of State where he orchestrated the historic Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe following the war, and as Secretary of Defense after the onset of the Korean War.

Dodona Manor is currently registered as a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior and has been designated by the Commonwealth of Virginia as a Virginia Landmark.

The Marshall House has been an integral part of the Leesburg community for over two centuries. General Marshall and his wife Katherine purchased the property in 1941 as a weekend retreat house, and regularly spent time at the property throughout General Marshall’s tenure as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.

Today, the property hosts international exchanges, historical exhibits, community events, and educational programming about the life and legacy of the Marshall family.

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

November 20, 2019

The Honorable David Vela 
Deputy Director, Operations 
Exercising the Authority of the Director 
National Park Service 
1849 C Street NW 
Washington, DC 20240

 

Dear Deputy Director Vela:

We write to urge the National Park Service (NPS) to conduct a reconnaissance survey to explore the suitability of designating General George Catlett Marshall’s home and gardens, known as Dodona Manor, located at 217 Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg, Virginia as an affiliated area under NPS. Dodona Manor has great historical and educational significance and NPS’s designation would help preserve the property for future generations. 

As one of only five individuals to serve the United States as a five-star General of the Army, General George C. Marshall was known for his integrity and selfless service that made him an American visionary and hero. General Marshall’s Dodona Manor is rich in history. General Marshall and his wife Katherine purchased Dodona Manor in 1941 and they lived there during the most important period of General Marshall’s career. The Marshall family owned the House during General Marshall’s tenure as U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Special Envoy to China, Secretary of State, President of the American Red Cross, Secretary of Defense after the onset of the Korean War, and Chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission. Notably, General Marshall was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, the only professional soldier so honored, for his leadership and contributions to the economic recovery of Europe following World War II while living in Dodona Manor.

Dodona Manor is now used to preserve and advance General Marshall’s life’s work and legacy. The Marshall home has been impeccably restored to museum standards with original Marshall furnishing, which accurately displays a picture of how this American hero lived to the public. It also presents in an educational format how the Marshall family dedicated themselves to public service and supports educational programming based on General Marshall’s desire to inspire future leaders. By hosting international exchanges, historical exhibits, and community events, Dodona Manor perpetuates his memory and contributes directly to the character and viability of Leesburg.

General Marshall’s House is currently registered with the Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark and has been designated by the Commonwealth of Virginia as a Virginia Landmark. Designating the George C. Marshall House as an affiliated area under NPS would bring increased public interest and awareness of Dodona Manor and would produce additional funds to further assist in its preservation.

 Dodona Manor has a clear historic value to our nation. To honor General Marshall’s life and legacy, it would be fitting for Dodona Manor to become an affiliated area under NPS to ensure its preservation for future generations. Therefore, we would appreciate your consideration of our request to conduct a reconnaissance survey. Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $23,185,283 in federal funding from the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) to support improvement projects at 11 airports.

“We’re excited to announce that these federal dollars will benefit 11 Virginia airports,” said the Senators. “We look forward to seeing how these grants will help improve safety and increase efficiency at airports all across the Commonwealth.”

  • Washington Dulles International Airport will receive $854,786 to support Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) infrastructure.
  • Manassas Regional Airport/Harry P. Davis Field will receive $3,513,300 to construct a taxiway, improve a runway safety area, and rehabilitate a runway.
  • Warrenton-Fauquier Airport will receive $150,000 to rehabilitate a taxiway and rehabilitate a runway.
  • Leesburg Executive Airport will receive $205,000 to construct an apron.
  • Richmond International Airport will receive $8,733,800 to construct a taxiway.
  • Lynchburg Regional Airport/Preston Glenn Field will receive $305,148 to rehabilitate and construct aprons, and rehabilitate a taxiway.
  • Norfolk International Airport will receive $3,591,524 to acquire land for approaches, install airfield guidance signs, rehabilitate taxiway lighting, rehabilitate a taxiway and acquire friction-measuring equipment.
  • Franklin Municipal-John Beverly Rose Airport will receive $90,000 to conduct a study.
  • Virginia Highlands Airport will receive $4,150,000 to extend a runway.
  • Luray Caverns Airport will receive $1,291,725 to construct an apron.
  • Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport will receive $300,000 to construct a taxiway and acquire safety and/or security equipment.

The funding was awarded through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which supports infrastructure improvement projects at airports across the nation. Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for greater infrastructure investments, including for Virginia’s airports. They have pushed back against the Trump Administration’s suggested budget cuts to DOT to help ensure that critical upgrades like these can happen. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced a bill to strengthen our nation’s infrastructure, create jobs, and generate economic stimulus.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released a statement today following a decision by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to include Warren County in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program:

“Despite increased public awareness about the dangers of opioids, this epidemic continues to devastate families all across the Commonwealth,” said the Senators. “We applaud the Office of National Drug Control Policy for including Warren County in the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA Program. We look forward to seeing these federal resources put to use to prevent future tragedies in Warren County as we continue working to channel additional federal dollars to fight this ongoing crisis.”

Opioid overdoses have surpassed car accidents and gun violence as the leading cause of accidental death in Virginia, with more than 1,500 overdose-related deaths in 2017. In Warren County alone, pharmacies distributed an average of 45 opioid pills per person, per year between 2006 and 2012.

HIDTA, a program created by Congress, is designed to facilitate law enforcement coordination at the federal, state, local, and tribal level in areas designated as critical drug-trafficking regions. In addition to facilitating law enforcement cooperation, HIDTA aims to enhance the sharing of intelligence among law enforcement agencies, facilitate the design of effective enforcement strategies and operations, and support coordinated law enforcement strategies in order to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in the United States.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long advocated for increased federal funding to combat the opioid epidemic in Virginia. Last year, the Senators worked to successfully pass bipartisan legislation to help communities across Virginia by improving opioid treatment and recovery efforts and providing new tools for law enforcement. In 2016, Sens. Warner and Kaine also successfully advocated for the inclusion of other Virginia counties into HIDTA.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $1,455,722.85 in federal funding for the Lexington, Manassas, Bristol, and Portsmouth Fire Departments. The funding will be awarded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program.

“It’s crucial for firefighters to have the tools necessary to best serve their communities,” the Senators said. “We’re pleased to announce this funding to help local fire departments across Virginia purchase equipment to enhance public safety.”

The following Virginia fire departments will receive funding under the AFG program:

  • The City of Lexington Fire Department will receive $88,460.95 to purchase equipment.
  • The City of Manassas Fire Department will receive $332,500 to purchase personal protective equipment.
  • The City of Bristol Fire Department will receive $404,761.90 to purchase communications equipment.
  • The City of Portsmouth Fire Department will receive $630,000 to purchase equipment.

FEMA’s AFG program works to strengthen the safety of the public and firefighters by providing direct financial assistance to eligible fire departments, nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Services organizations, and State Fire Training Academies for critically-needed resources.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $9,771,259 in federal funding to support access to safe and affordable housing in Norfolk, Roanoke City, and Loudoun County. This funding, from the United States Department of Housing (HUD), was awarded through three grant programs – the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), and the Emergency Solutions Grants Program (ESG).

“We are happy to know that these federal dollars will help back efforts in Norfolk, Roanoke City, and Loudoun County to increase access to suitable, reasonably-priced housing for families who need it the most,” said the Senators.

The funding will be awarded as below.

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program provides annual grants on a formula basis to states, cities, and counties to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing, and expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons:     

Recipient

Amount

 

Norfolk

$4,384,883

Roanoke City

$1,734,157

Loudoun County

$1,324,740

 

The HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) provides formula grants to states and localities to fund a wide range of activities including building, buying, and/or rehabilitating affordable housing for rent or homeownership as well as providing direct rental assistance to low-income people. HOME is the largest federal block grant to state and local governments designed exclusively to create affordable housing for low-income households:

Recipient

Amount

 

Norfolk

$1,191,349

Roanoke City

$622,255

The Emergency Solutions Grants Program (ESG) provides funding to engage homeless individuals and families living on the street, improve the number and quality of emergency shelters for homeless individuals and families, rapidly re-house homeless individuals and families, and prevent families and individuals from becoming homeless:

Recipient

Amount

 

Norfolk

$366,887

Roanoke City

$146,988


###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded the passage of a bill to continue providing financial support to those who suffered physical harm or families of those who were killed as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks or ensuing debris removal efforts. With the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) set to expire in 2020, the bipartisan Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act will secure funding for the VCF through Fiscal Year 2090 and ensure that all first responders and victims suffering from certified 9/11 illnesses can continue to count on this crucial program.

“Virginians will never forget 9/11 or the brave individuals who put their lives on the line in service of their fellow Americans. Unfortunately, many first responders and survivors today are reminded of that fateful day by the health issues they now face,” said the Senators. “While we can never repay the sacrifices of our first responders or their families, we can at least ensure that they receive the financial support they deserve. We applaud the passage of this important bill and urge the President to sign it into law as soon as possible.”

During the September 11th terrorist attacks, thousands of first responders and survivors were exposed to toxic materials, including burning chemicals, pulverized drywall and powdered cement. As a result of this exposure, many victims and first responders have become injured, fallen ill or lost their lives. The VCF provides compensation for those affected and has awarded more than $5 billion in benefits, with approximately 21,000 claims pending. From the Pentagon, 152 responders and 69 non-responders filed claims. Of those, the fund approved 36 claims by responders and thus far paid 32. It has also approved 16 claims from non-responders and paid all 16. In addition to reauthorizing funding, this legislation will also modify the VCF by allowing claims to be filed until October 2089 and adjusting the annual limit on economic loss compensation to account for inflation.

The bipartisan bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), passed through the House earlier this month by a 402-12 vote. It passed through the senate by a vote of 97-2.

###

WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $40,942,352 in federal funding to support affordable housing development across Virginia. The funding was awarded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block, Emergency Solutions, HOME, HOPWA, and Housing Trust Fund grant programs.

“Virginia families deserve access to safe and affordable housing,” the Senators said. “We are pleased that this federal funding will provide people across the Commonwealth with opportunities to improve their living conditions.”

The funding will be awarded as shown below:

The Community Development Block (CDBG) Grants program provides annual grants to state and local governments to develop communities by expanding economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income Americans and providing decent housing and a suitable living environment. The following will receive CDBG funding:

Recipient                              Amount

ALEXANDRIA                     $ 1,027,042

ARLINGTON COUNTY     $ 1,345,258

BRISTOL                               $ 257,838

PETERSBURG                      $ 617,397

VIRGINIA                             $ 18,152,427

The Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) program provides annual grants to state, local, and private entities to help people regain stability in permanent housing after experiencing a housing crisis and/or homelessness.  The ESG program also provides funding for improving both the quality and number of emergency homeless shelters. The following will receive ESG funding:

Recipient                              Amount

VIRGINIA                             $ 2,885,391

The HOME program works to expand the supply of decent, affordable housing to low-income families by providing grants to state and local governments to support housing programs that meet local needs and priorities. The following will receive HOME funding:

Recipient                              Amount

ALEXANDRIA                     $ 535,017

VIRGINIA                             $ 9,890,363

ARLINGTON COUNTY     $ 712,272

The Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) program provides housing assistance and related supportive services to state and local governments, and non-profit organizations for projects that benefit low-income Americans medically diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and their families. The following will receive HOPWA funding:

Recipient                              Amount

VIRGINIA                             $ 1,087,223

The Housing Trust Fund (HTF) is an affordable housing program that complements existing efforts to increase and preserve the supply of decent, safe, and sanitary affordable housing for low-income households, including homeless families. The following will receive HTF funding:

Recipient                              Amount

VIRGINIA                             $ 4,432,124

###

 

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) led a bicameral letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue about the proposed relocation of the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

He was joined on the letter by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and U.S. Representatives Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), David Trone (D-Md.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), and Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio). 

While members continue to oppose the relocation, they have raised two specific issues with the Secretary following his conversation with Senator Van Hollen on Sunday:

·         First, it is our understanding that AFGE Local 3403 sent a letter to USDA requesting an extension of the July 15 deadline to accept or decline the employee reassignment to Kansas City.  The union issued a demand to bargain on June 18, and requested to meet on June 24 to begin bargaining. However, ERS and USDA management and labor relations officials refused to meet before July 15.  Working out some issues with the union would help to ensure more employees can make an informed decision about whether to relocate, potentially mitigating at least some of the serious damage that this move will do to the ability of these agencies to carry out their missions.  We understand that in your view, July 15 was a preliminary deadline, and that the final deadline is September 30.  Can you confirm that the deadline for employees to accept or decline reassignment to Kansas City is now September 30?

·         Second, the General Services Administration recently extended the deadline by one month for Kansas City real estate companies to submit bids to hold the future lease for the ERS and NIFA.  It is our understanding that the process of securing and building out a new space in Kansas City could take up to two years.  This predicament makes it nearly impossible for your employees to determine where they will be living, where to send their children to school, and other important decisions until they know where the final office space will be located in Kansas City.  Will you also commit to utilizing available office space and teleworking capabilities to keep your employees in the National Capital Region unless and until a final office space is completed and ready for occupancy in Kansas City? 

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

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We again write to express our opposition to your proposal to reorganize USDA, specifically the proposal that would relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) away from the National Capital Region to Kansas City. 

These agencies are national research institutions that provide vital information on national and local issues that are critically important to farmers, families, and rural communities. In order to provide this world-class research, ERS and NIFA need to be able to coordinate with other U.S. statistical agencies as well as other stakeholders that are connected to on the ground efforts, which are headquartered in the National Capital Region. We remain concerned that this restructuring will gut the ability of these agencies to successfully carry out their important missions.  We also remain concerned that the quality of work being done at ERS and NIFA has already been undermined and will continue to degrade. 

In particular, data compiled by American Federal Government Employees Local 3403, as part of a summary of all employees, found that ERS could expect more than 4 out of 5 of its more than 200 employees and more than 90% of NIFA’s more than 300 employees to decline reassignment to the temporary offices in Kansas City, and instead seek employment elsewhere. With such a high rate of projected attrition, this move will have catastrophic impacts on the scientific capabilities of USDA, thereby hurting the farmers, families, and rural communities who benefit from the important work of these agencies. 

While we oppose entirely the relocation and will continue to work to stop this move, we write today with two principal requests on which we ask for your immediate response.

First, it is our understanding that AFGE Local 3403 sent a letter to USDA requesting an extension of the July 15 deadline to accept or decline the employee reassignment to Kansas City.  The union issued a demand to bargain on June 18, and requested to meet on June 24 to begin bargaining. However, ERS and USDA management and labor relations officials refused to meet before July 15.  Working out some issues with the union would help to ensure more employees can make an informed decision about whether to relocate, potentially mitigating at least some of the serious damage that this move will do to the ability of these agencies to carry out their missions.  We understand that in your view, July 15 was a preliminary deadline, and that the final deadline is September 30.  Can you confirm that the deadline for employees to accept or decline reassignment to Kansas City is now September 30? 

Second, the General Services Administration recently extended the deadline by one month for Kansas City real estate companies to submit bids to hold the future lease for the ERS and NIFA.  It is our understanding that the process of securing and building out a new space in Kansas City could take up to two years.  This predicament makes it nearly impossible for your employees to determine where they will be living, where to send their children to school, and other important decisions until they know where the final office space will be located in Kansas City.  Will you also commit to utilizing available office space and teleworking capabilities to keep your employees in the National Capital Region unless and until a final office space is completed and ready for occupancy in Kansas City?

We know you care deeply about improving customer service at the Department; however, customers cannot be served if there are not an adequate number of employees to get the job done.  Thank you for your prompt attention to these urgent matters that are of critical importance to our farmers, families, and rural communities.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today requested additional funding for vital improvements to Interstate 81 (I-81) that would enhance safety and reduce traffic congestion.

In a pair of letters to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Senators emphasized I-81’s crucial role in commerce along the East Coast and stressed the need for federal dollars to tackle necessary repairs to the highway. The Senators also encouraged DOT to approve an application from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for federal grant funding to improve I-81, reduce congestion, and address safety problems along the route.

“While improvements have been made in past years to keep up with the growth, I-81 continues to experience heavy congestion and dangerous conditions, which have degraded the corridor,” the Senators wrote in the letter of support to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao. “The proposal put forth by VDOT will undoubtedly transform and improve the lives of many Virginians who travel the interstate every day. Furthermore, upgrades and repairs will improve the safety of those traveling through the Commonwealth.”

The Senators also encouraged the leaders of the EPW Committee to include robust funding for high-priority interstate improvement projects such as I-81 in the next surface transportation bill.

“As you continue to draft the surface transportation reauthorization bill, we urge you to include as much funding as possible for major, high priority interstate improvements projects such as I-81 in Virginia,” the Senators wrote to the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Robust funding through formula programs, as well as additional competitive grant programs like BUILD and INFRA, will be necessary to achieve funding goals for this, and other major projects that involve improvements to hundreds of miles of major interstate arteries.”

More than one-third of all trucks that drive through Virginia and approximately half of the Commonwealth’s value of goods are transported along I-81. In the last decade, I-81 has experienced significant traffic growth, with travel expected to continue increasing along the interstate. Increased I-81 traffic causes severe travel delays and puts travelers at risk, including the drivers involved in the more than 2,000 crashes that happen annually along the route.

A recent study by VDOT that found an unmet need of about $4 billion in improvements along the interstate – only half of which is expected to be covered by the increased truck registration fees and gas tax increases approved by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates of robust financing for the Commonwealth’s infrastructure. In May, the Senators introduced legislation to provide critical safety reforms and strengthen oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Additionally, earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure, create jobs, and generate economic stimulus.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $8,655,600 in federal funding from the Department of Transportation (DOT) to support improvements at airports in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

“We’re excited to announce this funding that will help improve travel for Virginians,” the Senators said. “These grants will revitalize our airports with much-needed upgrades to help ensure safer travel in and out of the Commonwealth.”

  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will receive $4,921,500.
  • Leesburg Executive Airport will receive $900,000.
  • Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport will receive $2,834,100.

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

###

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement regarding the Trump Administration’s decision to scrap plans to transfer Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to the Department of Labor (DOL) and close nine Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers – including the Flatwoods Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center in Coeburn, a top performing center: 

“Job training facilities like Flatwoods are critical to prepare Virginians for success in our economy. It’s welcome news that following our bipartisan calls for the Trump Administration to reverse course on their misguided proposal, they listened and will keep the Flatwoods facility open. We are thrilled that Flatwoods will be able to keep expanding economic opportunities in Southwest Virginia.”

Following the initial USDA and DOL announcement that the Flatwoods Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center in Coeburn and eight other Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers were scheduled to close as part of the program’s transfer from USDA to DOL, Senators Warner and Kaine introduced legislation to prevent the Trump Administration from closing these facilities. The bipartisan Job Corps Protection Act would block the Administration from using federal government funds in 2019 or 2020 to close any Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers in the United States. The Senators also joined Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) in writing a letter urging DOL and USDA to reconsider the closure of these facilities. Separately, Warner and Kaine joined a bipartisan, bicameral group of 18 Senators and 33 Representatives in pushing USDA and DOL to reverse their decision to end the Civilian Conservation Center program in its current form and shutter nine facilities across the nation.

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement on the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposal to relocate two research agencies, the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City.

“USDA’s proposed relocation of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture will unnecessarily uproot hundreds of dedicated federal employees and could negatively impact the missions of both agencies,” the Senators said. “These agencies play a critical role in setting agricultural, nutritional, and environmental policy in the U.S. Disconnecting them from other vital research agencies in the National Capital Region will undoubtedly disrupt the work they carry out and impact their ability to attract and retain highly-qualified personnel. We have introduced legislation to block this ill-conceived move and will continue to work with our colleagues to keep these agencies in the National Capital Region.”

 In May, Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with other members of Congress representing the National Capital Region, sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue urging him not to relocate ERS and NIFA. The Senators have also introduced legislation barring the research agencies from leaving the National Capital Region. In addition, Sen. Warner has placed a hold on nominee Scott Hutchins for Undersecretary for research, education, and economics at the Department of Agriculture in opposition to the proposed relocation.

###

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

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

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

  • Lincoln Military Housing, a residential real estate management company that provides 36,000 housing units for military families nationwide, including 5,700 units for Navy and Marine Corps servicemembers stationed at Dahlgren, Wallops, Quantico, and throughout Hampton Roads; 
  • Balfour Beatty Communities, Clark Realty Capital and Hunt Military Communities, which manage military homes for families stationed at Fort Belvoir, Fort Story, Fort Eustis, and Fort Lee; and
  • Hunt Military Communities, which manages approximately 1,430 units at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.  

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

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

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

 

###

WASHINGTON – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) led a letter, signed by every Democratic member of the Virginia Congressional Delegation, expressing opposition to the five Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) permits issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last November, and requesting the Trump Administration revoke these IHAs and refrain from issuing seismic airgun survey permits off the coast of Virginia. The letter also expresses opposition to the inclusion of the Commonwealth’s offshore area in the final 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

“Virginians have too much to lose when we prioritize polluters’ profits over the health and safety of our ocean and coastal communities,” said Congressman Donald McEachin. “Seismic airgun blasting can devastate marine life, including endangered species and essential fish stocks. History has shown us that offshore drilling accidents can irrevocably harm coastal communities’ economies, public health and marine life – and compromise military activities that are important to national security. The potential toll from an oil spill—in terms of damages, injuries, deaths, and other harms—is incalculable. I urge the administration to listen to Virginians, who have expressed vehement opposition to all forms of oil and gas exploration off Virginia’s coast.” 

“In Virginia alone, more than 20 communities have officially voiced their opposition to seismic surveys and offshore drilling, including Virginia Beach and Norfolk – Virginia’s most populous cities. The Commonwealth has a diverse and robust economy based on sectors like tourism, recreation, aquaculture, deepwater port commerce, and Department of Defense infrastructure. Moving forward with seismic testing and offshore drilling could threaten these critical engines of Virginia’s economy, along with the valuable ecosystems along the coast and within the Chesapeake Bay. These shores, and the ecosystems and jobs they support, are simply too vital to the Commonwealth to risk,” wrote the Members of Congress. “Our constituents remain concerned with the administration’s efforts to open the Commonwealth’s offshore area to oil and gas exploration and drilling. Accordingly, we again request that the Department of Commerce revoke these IHAs, and that the Department of the Interior deny all pending seismic survey permits for the Atlantic.”

“Assaulting our ocean with seismic airguns in search of dirty and dangerous offshore oil is reckless and wrong,” said Diane Hoskins, Offshore Drilling Campaign Director of Oceana. “Today’s letter calls on President Trump’s administration to do the right thing and protect Virginia from the harms associated with offshore drilling. Seismic airgun blasting threatens serious injury and even death to whales, dolphins and other marine life.  This dangerous blasting is being proposed so that companies can come in and drill for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast. Local communities and businesses up and down the East Coast have objected to expanded offshore drilling activities, like seismic airgun blasting.” 

 

Full letter text is available here and below. 

 

Background:

The issuance of the five IHA permits is a significant step in allowing companies to conduct widespread seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean for the purposes of oil and gas exploration. 

 

###

 

Link to release: https://mceachin.house.gov/media/press-releases/rep-mceachin-leads-members-va-congressional-delegation-letter-opposing-seismic

 

 

Dear Secretary Ross and Acting Secretary Bernhardt:

 

We are writing to express our opposition to the November 30, 2018 issuance by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of five Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) permits—a significant step in allowing five companies to conduct widespread seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean for the purposes of oil and gas exploration. We request that the Department of Commerce revoke these IHAs, and that the Department of the Interior refrain from issuing final seismic survey permits for geological and geophysical exploration off the coast of Virginia. In addition, we oppose the inclusion of the Commonwealth’s offshore area in the final 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

 

The administration’s recent decision to issue these IHA permits runs counter to the explicit wishes of coastal communities up and down the Atlantic that would be at risk from offshore drilling and exploration. Over 240 localities on the East Coast and Florida’s Gulf Coast, 1,600 elected officials, 42,000 businesses, and 500,000 fishing families from Florida to Maine have all voiced their opposition to oil and gas activities.[1] They recognize that these activities have the potential for serious impacts on everything from tourism to fishing catch rates—important sectors of these local economies. 

 

In Virginia alone, more than 20 communities have officially voiced their opposition to seismic surveys and offshore drilling, including Virginia Beach and Norfolk – Virginia’s most populous cities. The Commonwealth has a diverse and robust economy based on sectors like tourism, recreation, aquaculture, deepwater port commerce, and Department of Defense infrastructure. Moving forward with seismic testing and offshore drilling could threaten these critical engines of Virginia’s economy, along with the valuable ecosystems along the coast and within the Chesapeake Bay. These shores, and the ecosystems and jobs they support, are simply too vital to the Commonwealth to risk.

 

Studies have shown that seismic airgun blasting, which involves loud, disruptive, and repeated blasting for days or weeks at a time, can have harmful effects on marine life, including endangered species and essential fish stocks. The repeated, loud noises from seismic airgun surveying could negatively impact the ability of marine life to feed, reproduce, and navigate. Whales and dolphins, which rely on hearing for all aspects of life, can be particularly impacted. The North Atlantic right whale—which is critically endangered—would face threats of particular severity.[2] The impacts of surveying could also potentially diminish fish stocks along Virginia’s coast, putting at risk these communities that rely upon commercial and recreational fishing.

 

Our constituents remain concerned with the administration’s efforts to open the Commonwealth’s offshore area to oil and gas exploration and drilling. Accordingly, we again request that the Department of Commerce revoke these IHAs, and that the Department of the Interior deny all pending seismic survey permits for the Atlantic. We also reiterate our request that Virginia’s offshore area be excluded from the Department of the Interior’s 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for offshore drilling.

 

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) released on the following statement on the findings of a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report regarding Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) capital planning and maintenance program: 

“We requested the GAO study because we were concerned – after multiple safety lapses – about WMATA’s capital funding of and processes for performing maintenance work and replacing capital assets. As their audit found, putting in place clear project ranking methodology, measuring program performance, and developing an accurate inventory of assets will all be critical to improving performance of the Metro system. We appreciate GAO’s work, as well as WMATA’s ongoing efforts to address these recommendations. We plan to give this information careful consideration as we move forward to introduce important WMATA legislation in the coming weeks.”

 

###

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced $2,238,496 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the Loudoun Community Health Center. This funding will enable Loudoun County to provide accessible, quality health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay.

“We’re pleased to announce federal funding to ensure the Loudoun Community Health Center can continue to offer valuable care to those in need of support,” the Senators said. “The Health Center helps ensure that patients of any economic background can access the medical, dental, and mental health services they need.” 

This funding was awarded through HHS’s Health Resources & Services Administration Health Center Program. More than 27 million people in the U.S. rely on HRSA-funded health centers for affordable primary health care.

 

WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), along with Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), wrote to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld to express safety and security concerns regarding the possibility that Metro may award a contract to build its newest 8000-series rail cars to a Chinese manufacturing company.  

The Senators wrote, “In the transportation sector, there has been increased interest from particular foreign governments to participate in state and local procurements, including those to manufacture and assemble rail cars for transit agencies around the country. While other cities have welcomed this kind of investment, we have serious concerns about similar activity happening here in our nation’s capital, particularly when it could involve foreign governments that have explicitly sought to undermine our country’s economic competitiveness and national security. As Metro continues its procurement process for the 8000-series rail car, we strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to mitigate growing cyber risks to these cars.” 

The Washington Post recently reported that “the state-owned China Railway Rolling Stock Corp., or CRRC, has used bargain prices to win four of five large U.S. transit rail car contracts awarded since 2014. The company is expected to be a strong contender for a Metro contract likely to exceed $1 billion for between 256 and 800 of the agency's newest series of rail cars.”

In their letter, the Senators noted that Metro’s 8000-series rail car is expected to incorporate safety and communications technology such as automatic train control, network and trainline control, video surveillance, monitoring and diagnostics, and data interface with WMATA, among other potentially vulnerable mechanisms that could allow a foreign spy, terrorist, or other rogue actor to break in and take control of Metro’s systems to conduct foreign espionage or impact operations. 

 

“Many of these technologies could be entirely susceptible to hacking, or other forms of interference, if adequate protections are not in place to ensure they are sourced from safe and reliable suppliers. In a Q&A document posted as part of the RFP, WMATA noted that there are ‘no Buy America or DBE requirements for this contract,’ raising further questions about what protections will be in place to ensure the integrity of these components,” the Senators told Wiedefeld.

 

The Senators then posed a series of questions regarding Metro’s plans for the rail car procurement process, including:

  • While we are aware that nearly all passenger railcar manufacturers in the United States are foreign-owned, what steps is WMATA taking to ascertain and mitigate against the involvement of foreign governments in this procurement?
  • Has Metro received briefings from the Department of Homeland Security or related agencies on the attempts of foreign adversaries to infiltrate our critical infrastructure and the significant cyber vulnerabilities that can stem from them doing so?
  • Will Metro take a company’s ties to foreign governments with a record of industrial and cyber espionage into account when evaluating bids, particularly if such company is a state-owned enterprise?
  • If so, will Metro allow sensitive component parts of these railcars to be sourced from such countries?
  • Will Metro consult with the Department of Defense prior to awarding a contract to confirm whether the Department would permit railcars built by certain foreign governments to operate through the Pentagon?
  • We understand that Metro has announced that the RFP will be amended to include baseline cybersecurity protocols. Please provide information about these protocols and how they are being developed. How will Metro evaluate bidder responses to this forthcoming cybersecurity addendum? Will Metro review these responses with the Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Department of Homeland Security, and seek the concurrence of USDOT and DHS in its cybersecurity evaluations before making any final contract award in this procurement? What specific requirements will the addendum include to ensure that any communications technology included in the rail car procurement is protected from being exploited for surveillance purposes? 

The Senators concluded, “U.S. national security should be of the utmost importance as WMATA considers bids for its procurement of 8000-series rail cars, and we therefore request that you consider submitting an addendum to the earlier RFP [Request for Proposals] to ensure that the necessary steps are taken to protect against the aforementioned concerns.”

 

The full text of the letter is available here

###

 

 

WASHINGTON – Following inquiries by Virginia and Maryland’s Senators, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) disclosed today that it is losing, on average, $400,000 each weekday during the government shutdown. In response, the Senators issued the following statement:

“At a time when Metro already is undertaking substantial, disruptive projects to improve safety and reliability, President Trump’s shutdown is jeopardizing the health and stability of the entire Metro system. This wasteful, destructive shutdown must come to an end.” 

On Friday, Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), wrote to WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld, seeking information on the impact that the partial government shutdown has had on WMATA’s transit system, ridership, operational services, staffing, financial position, and infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.  

In response, the Senators received a letter tonight from Wiedefeld detailing the multiple ways in which President Trump’s government shutdown is harming WMATA’s safety and finances:

  • According to Wiedefeld, “Our preliminary analysis estimates that for an average weekday when the government is closed, Metro is losing approximately $400,000 in fare and revenue.”
  • Additionally, the shutdown is putting $638 million in federal transit funding in jeopardy. If a prolonged shutdown of the Department of Transportation leads to delays in certifying the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) by the April 15, 2019 statutory deadline, “the [Federal Transit Administration] indicates that it would be prohibited by law from issuing a total of $638 million in FY2019 federal transit funding to all transit providers across the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia,” according to the letter.
  • As of January 10, the federal government owes Metro $33 million in unreimbursed expenses as a result of the shutdown. That number is expected to grow to $50 million by the end of this month.
  • Other federal funding sources are also on hold, including a $20 million BUILD grant that Metro was awarded last year, and $15 million in grant revisions that are awaiting FTA review. According to Wiedefeld, “If the federal shutdown continues for an extended period, Metro will be forced to either turn to its Line of Credit (LOC) to support the Capital program, incurring additional costs, or defer important state-of-good-repair projects, which could undermine our recent reliability gains.”
  • The combined shutdowns of the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service means environmental review work for a number of planned projects has also been delayed.

A copy of Wiedefeld’s full response to the Senators is available here.

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a bicameral letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in support of the National Park Service’s (NPS) grant application to secure $126 million in funding to reconstruct an eight-mile stretch of the north end of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP).

The George Washington Parkway serves as a major commuting route for residents of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., facilitating the travel of more than 33 million vehicles per year. The north end of the roadway, which also serves as a memorial to the first president of the United States, was completed in 1962 and has since faced worsening conditions due to large increases in traffic.

The grant application, under the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects (NSFLTP) Program at the Department of Transportation (DOT), would help repair this 7.6-mile stretch of highway, while addressing a substantial portion of the George Washington Parkway’s $230 million deferred maintenance backlog.

“The proposed project will address serious deterioration of the GWMP and implement significant safety improvements. If funded, the Park Service plans to repave nearly eight miles of road along the parkway, repair storm water management systems to prevent erosion at drainage outfalls; and rehabilitate two historic, scenic overlook. The project will also include replacing guardrails, repairing walls, constructing new curbs, and building emergency turnarounds along the north end of the Parkway,” wrote the Members of Congress. 

“This project will improve a critical link in the National Capital Region’s transportation network while preserving the historical and cultural characteristic that make the Parkway one of the most scenic roadways in the country. These proposed improvements will increase the safety of visitors while significantly extending the life of the Parkway,” they concluded.

Sen. Warner was joined on the letter by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and U.S. Reps. Don Beyer (VA-8), Jennifer Wexton (VA-10) and U.S. Del. Eleanor Norton Holmes (D-DC).

 

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

 

The Honorable Elaine Chao

Secretary

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, DC 20590-0001

 

 

Dear Secretary Chao,

 

We write today in support of the National Park Service’s application to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Nationally Significant Federal Land and Tribal Projects (NSFLTP) Program seeking funding to rehabilitate the north section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP). If funded, the GWMP North Section Rehabilitation Project will reconstruct a heavily-used 7.6-mile section of the GWMP from Spout Run Parkway to Interstate 495.

 

The GWMP is a scenic and historic roadway that serves as a memorial to the first president of the United States and connects Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. The Park Service first completed the northern stretch of the Parkway in 1962, using the most up-to-date engineering methods of the time to maximize the lifespan of the roadway. However, in the decades since completion, traffic on the Parkway has increased dramatically as the population of the region has continued to expand. Today, the GWMP facilitates the travel of more than 33 million vehicles per year, with the northernmost section experiencing the heaviest traffic.

 

The proposed project will address serious deterioration of the GWMP and implement significant safety improvements. If funded, the Park Service plans to repave nearly eight miles of road along the parkway, repair storm water management systems to prevent erosion at drainage outfalls; and rehabilitate two historic, scenic overlooks. The project will also include replacing guardrails, repairing walls, constructing new curbs, and building emergency turnarounds along the north end of the Parkway. In addition, work on the north section of the Parkway will address a significant part of the National Capital Region’s $1.7 billion dollar maintenance backlog, which includes over $395 million for the Parkway alone.

 

This project will improve a critical link in the National Capital Region’s transportation network while preserving the historical and cultural characteristics that make the Parkway one of the most scenic roadways in the country. These proposed improvements will increase the safety of visitors while significantly extending the life of the Parkway.

 

We understand the NSFLTP grant program is highly competitive and we appreciate your consideration of this project. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about our request

 

Thank you again for your consideration.

 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), wrote a letter to Paul J. Wiedefeld, General Manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), seeking information on the impact that the partial government shutdown has had on WMATA’s transit system, ridership, operational services, staffing, financial position, and infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.  

WMATA “serves a unique national security role, providing transportation for federal employees traveling to and from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security and ensuring continuity of federal operations during an emergency,” wrote the Senators. “Thus, it is critical that WMATA systems and services continue to serve riders in the nation’s capital.” 

In recent years, Metro’s investments to reverse declining ridership numbers have highlighted the extent to which transit systems depend on robust ridership to succeed. Federal employees currently make up about 40 percent of WMATA’s peak hour ridership. However, a government shutdown can adversely affect the transit system’s ridership and overall financial stance.

“During the October 2013 shutdown, the Metro system experienced a 22 percent decrease in ridership, or a decline of 1.7 million trips.  According to a 2015 report, ridership during that shutdown dropped nearly 50% at stations near federal facilities.  The shutdown not only affected ridership, but also put the WMATA long-term operations at risk,” continued the Senators.“The 16-day shutdown, according to the agency, resulted in a loss of $5.5 million in revenue and funding was delayed as the federal appropriation process was halted.”  

To gauge the impact of the shutdown’s effects, the lawmakers requested data on changes in ridership and asked how a decline could affect the WMATA’s financial situation in the long-term and short-term. They also solicited information on any lapses in federal funding and possible contingency plans. Additionally, the lawmakers asked for the details of any halted infrastructure or capital improvement projects, as well as specifics on how the WMATA’s credit rating could be weakened if the shutdown continues. According to recent reports, large and mid-sized transit agencies across the country have already tapped into their lines of credit to make payment obligations to their vendors and Moody’s has warned that a prolonged shutdown could negatively impact the credit ratings of mass transit systems.

The four lawmakers reassured Wiedefeld that they are actively working to reopen the government. Earlier today, Sens. Warner and Kaine met in Alexandria with federal workers and families who have been hurt by the ongoing government shutdown.  

 

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

 

January 11, 2019

 

Mr. Paul J. Wiedefeld

General Manager & CEO

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

600 5th Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20001

 

Dear Mr. Wiedefeld, 

We write seeking information about the effects the current partial government shutdown has had – and the effects a prolonged shutdown could have – on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) transit system, ridership, operational services, staffing, and infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.

In recent years, WMATA has undertaken actions to prioritize safety, often through substantial rehabilitative projects that have caused significant disruption to the system. Metro’s recent investments to reverse declining ridership underscore the extent to which a functional and sustainable transit system depends upon robust ridership to succeed.

We have also seen that events outside the control of WMATA, such as a federal government shutdown, can adversely impact ridership and a transit system’s overall financial outlook. During the October 2013 shutdown, the Metro system experienced a 22 percent decrease in ridership, or a decline of 1.7 million trips.  According to a 2015 report, ridership during that shutdown dropped nearly 50% at stations near federal facilities.  The shutdown not only affected ridership, but also put the WMATA long-term operations at risk. The 16-day shutdown, according to the agency, resulted in a loss of $5.5 million in revenue and funding was delayed as the federal appropriation process was halted. 

Federal employees comprise approximately 40 percent of WMATA’s peak hour ridership, and during the current shutdown, many government employees continue to carry out their duties and rely on WMATA to do so. WMATA also serves a unique national security role, providing transportation for federal employees traveling to and from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security and ensuring continuity of federal operations during an emergency. Thus, it is critical that WMATA systems and services continue to serve riders in the nation’s capital.

To understand how WMATA and its transit systems have been affected by the government shutdown and to prevent the negative impacts displayed during the 2013 shutdown, please provide us with the following information by January 15, 2019:

 

1.      Data on changes in ridership, both rail and bus operations, during the government shutdown. Has there been a decline in ridership from the same period in prior years, or from the period immediately preceding the shutdown? 

2.      Assuming there has been a decline in ridership during the shutdown, can you provide information on how that decline will affect WMATA’s financial situation, both in the short-term and the long-term? For example, what is the current (or estimated) loss in revenue? What would be the estimated revenue losses if the shutdown lasts a full month, or if it lasts two months? What other financial, safety or operational impacts would result from a prolonged and substantial decline in ridership brought on by the government shutdown? 

3.      Given that WMATA receives federal funding to help run its transportation network, can you detail any lapses in funding that have occurred due to the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration being shut down? Can you provide information on what funding may be at risk if the shutdown continues for a full month or even two? What contingency plans does WMATA have in place to address a lapse in expected funding?

4.      Please confirm if any planned infrastructure and capital improvement projects have been stalled or halted during the shutdown. What are the expected effects of the delay in starting and finishing these projects? 

5.      It has recently been reported that Moody’s believes a prolonged shutdown could negatively impact the credit ratings of the nation’s public transit systems, noting that the shutdown has already “interrupted an important source of operating, capital and debt-service funding.”  These interruptions, in turn, could lead to higher debt service costs and delays in numerous capital improvement projects. Can you provide information on how WMATA’s credit rating could be impacted if the government shutdown continues for a prolonged period of time? What effects would a credit downgrade have on WMATA’s overall financial position, capital construction plans and operational capacity? 

Please trust that all four of us are doing everything we can to support the federal workforce, re-open the government, and get back to working towards improving the lives of all Americans. We ask for answers to the above questions as soon as possible so that we better understand the impacts of the shutdown on the vital transportation networks that serve our constituents, and so we can continue to highlight all of the numerous reasons that the federal government should be re-opened. 

 

Sincerely,

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded an announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) will receive $20 million in federal funds to support platform rehabilitation work at seven outdoor Metrorail stations in Virginia. The funding provided through the DOT’s Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) Grant program, formerly known as the TIGER program, will be used to restore platforms, increase safety and improve the rider experience at the Braddock Road, King Street, Eisenhower Avenue, Van Dorn Street, Franconia-Springfield, National Airport, and Huntington stations on the Blue and Yellow lines.  

“This is a welcome federal investment in stations that serve thousands of Virginia residents and commuters every day,” said the Senators. “After years of exposure to snow, rain, wind, and other elements, many of Metro’s outdoor platforms are in need a significant rehabilitation. This money is part of a significant multi-year effort to improve safety at Metro’s outdoor stations, the majority of which are located in Northern Virginia.”  

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued the following statement after Amazon selected Crystal City in Virginia as one of two sites for their second headquarters:

“As a former Governor, now Senator, but also as a former technology executive, I'm really excited about the potential Amazon offers not only to Northern Virginia but the whole capital region and the entire Commonwealth. We've seen that major investments like these can bring not only thousands of direct jobs but also lead to job growth in other industries. As we welcome Amazon's new investment in Virginia, we must commit to implementing this announcement in a way that will benefit the whole region and all of the Commonwealth.”

 

###

 

 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), joined by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sent a letter to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board of Directors Chairman Jack Evans, opposing their proposal to terminate the Riders’ Advisory Council. Tomorrow, after previous assurances by the WMATA Board Chairman that the Council would continue to operate, the Board plans to vote on whether to eliminate the Council and instead rely on its web survey system for rider input. Since 2005, the WMATA Riders’ Advisory Council has provided direct rider feedback to the WMATA Board on issues impacting all WMATA customers. The Council meetings are a way for riders and the general public to provide comments and express concerns about WMATA’s services.

The Senators write, “At a time when WMATA is rebounding from years of deep safety and operational problems and rebuilding trust with riders, it is disappointing to see an effort that is interpreted as a lack of interest in public input. We hope you will reconsider your position on this and not vote to terminate the Council. It is important to show riders that WMATA is interested in hearing from the people it serves.”

They continued, “We appreciate the need to evaluate the most productive means of facilitating public input. If there is a need to restructure the channels through which WMATA receives feedback, that can be done without dissolving the primary entity through which the views of Metro riders can reach Metro leadership.” 

The Senators concluded the letter stating, “Metro has a long way to go to restore rider trust but has made significant strides, including in being forthright with the public about necessary inconveniences associated with long-deferred safety maintenance work. Dialogue with the public is a critical element of bringing Metro ‘Back2Good,’ and we hope you will not let this priority fade. We hope to learn from you why you support the termination of the Rider’s Advisory Council and how you intend to proceed to ensure that the people who use the system will continue to be able to provide feedback.”

 

 

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

 

Dear Chairman Evans:

 

We write in opposition to the proposal to terminate the Riders’ Advisory Council. At a time when WMATA is rebounding from years of deep safety and operational problems and rebuilding trust with riders, it is disappointing to see an effort that is interpreted as a lack of interest in public input. We hope you will reconsider your position on this and not vote to terminate the Council. It is important to show riders that WMATA is interested in hearing from the people it serves.

 

We appreciate the need to evaluate the most productive means of facilitating public input. If there is a need to restructure the channels through which WMATA receives feedback, that can be done without dissolving the primary entity through which the views of Metro riders can reach Metro leadership.

 

If WMATA’s intent is to receive more public comment in written form, we suggest it adopt rules for public responsiveness similar to the provisions in federal laws like the Administrative Procedure Act and National Environmental Policy Act. Under these laws, federal agencies may agree or disagree with public comments, but they must, upon pain of litigation, substantively address all issues raised in comments. An equivalent requirement would give the public some certainty that their communications will be read and will not disappear into a digital void.

 

Metro has a long way to go to restore rider trust but has made significant strides, including in being forthright with the public about necessary inconveniences associated with long-deferred safety maintenance work. Dialogue with the public is a critical element of bringing Metro “Back2Good,” and we hope you will not let this priority fade. We hope to learn from you why you support the termination of the Rider’s Advisory Council and how you intend to proceed to ensure that the people who use the system will continue to be able to provide feedback.