Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined his colleagues in a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf urging the Administration to immediately increase the statutory cap of H-2B visas for fiscal year 2020. The government funding bills that were signed into law authorize the DHS Secretary, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, to release over 60,000 additional H-2B visas for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2020.

The H-2B temporary non-agricultural visa program is vital to helping small and seasonal employers across the Commonwealth sustain their businesses, and supporting Virginia jobs dependent upon seasonal business industries, such as seafood. H-2B visas are critical to ensuring Virginia’s seafood businesses, many of which have been family-owned for generations, have the labor force they need during peak harvest season.

“These American businesses depend on seasonal employment to meet the demand across many industries. Without immediate and meaningful H-2B cap relief, seasonal businesses will be forced to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close operations completely. By taking quick action to release additional H-2B visas, seasonal businesses and U.S. workers across the country will avoid these harmful consequences, and instead, help contribute to the American economy,” wrote the members of Congress.

In their letter, the members of Congress also emphasized that due to the continued low unemployment rate and the growing demand for H-2B workers, the Administration must promptly make these additional visas available.

Sen. Warner has a long record of fighting for Virginia’s seafood industry. Earlier this month, Sen. Warner met with Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia to discuss the impact of the H-2B program on Virginia and urged him to work with DHS to release the additional H-2B visas as quickly as possible. Sen. Warner has also introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the H-2B visa program, requested an audit to determine the number of unused visas that could be made available to eligible petitioners, and has repeatedly pushed DHS to provide necessary relief in the event that the visa cap gets close to being reached. 

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was also signed by 188 members of Congress, including several members of the Virginia congressional delegation: U.S. Reps. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA).

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

 

The Honorable Chad F. Wolf

Acting Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security        

3801 Nebraska Avenue, NW                          

Washington, DC 20528          

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:

We write on behalf of seasonal businesses in our states from industries such as tourism and hospitality, landscaping, fairs and carnivals, seafood processing, golf courses, reforestation, contractors and horse racing, who continue to struggle with seasonal labor shortages that are made worse by the inadequate H-2B visa cap. Under the “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020”, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with Secretary of the Department of Labor (DOL), is authorized to provide expeditious H-2B cap relief for our local businesses’ upcoming seasonal labor needs.

These American businesses depend on seasonal employment to meet the demand across many industries. Without immediate and meaningful H-2B cap relief, seasonal businesses will be forced to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close operations completely. By taking quick action to release additional H-2B visas, seasonal businesses and U.S. workers across the country will avoid these harmful consequences, and instead, help contribute to the American economy.

The recently passed Fiscal Year 2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations bill provides DHS with the authority to lift the existing 66,000 H-2B visa cap. The language is identical to the language that was enacted in each of the past three years. In each of those years, DHS has provided supplemental cap relief in the amounts of 15,000, 15,000 and 30,000 respectively. While these supplemental visas helped some employers who were shut out of the program, they were not sufficient to satisfy the total need for H-2B workers. Additionally, these visas were not released until well into many businesses’ peak seasons, which caused significant harm to the seasonal industry. We urge you to release a significant number of additional visas as soon as possible to prevent this from happening in FY 20. According to the Department’s May 2019 rule entitled “Exercise of Time-Limited Authority to Increase the Fiscal Year 2019 Numerical Limitation for the H-2B Temporary Nonagricultural Worker Program,” you are authorized to release 64,716 additional visas under this language.

As you know, the first half H-2B visa cap for FY 20 was reached on November 15, 2019, almost a month earlier than previous years. The DOL has certified the need for approximately 51,000 H-2B workers with a date of need between October 1 and March 31 with approximately 2,500 petitions still under review. Therefore, between 18,000 and 20,500 needed H-2B worker positions will remain vacant without the expeditious release of additional visas.

Additionally, the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) announced that within the first 24 hours of opening the Foreign Labor Application Gateway System for peak filing season that opened on January 2, 2020, employers filed 4,930 applications for more than 87,298 worker positions with an April 1, 2020, or later, work start date. By the end of the filing deadline on January 6, 2020, OFLC had received a total of 5,677 H-2B applications requesting 99,362 worker positions. This is more than triple the number of visa applications currently available for the second half of the fiscal year.

As a result, we urge DHS to release the maximum number of additional visas without delay. Congress was clear in the report accompanying the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020” that DHS rely on past rulemaking and act as quickly as possible in releasing additional visas. The report language states that, “USCIS is encouraged to leverage prior year materials relating to the issuance of additional H-2B visas, to include previous temporary final rules, to improve processing efficiencies.” As you know, the FY 19 temporary final rule was only released eight months ago, and there are no new legislative authorities or technical facts to review. Therefore, additional rulemaking should not be required.

Given the continued low unemployment and growing demand for H-2B workers, as evidenced by the recent number of applications for the second half of the fiscal year, we urge the Department to promptly make available all 64,716 additional visas authorized under the law as soon as possible. These vital American businesses depend on the expeditious release of a sufficient number of additional visas. We thank you in advance for your attention to this pressing matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and co-chair of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, issued the following statement after the United Kingdom announced its decision to allow Chinese equipment provider Huawei to help build its 5G wireless network:

"I am disappointed by the UK’s decision today, especially since the security risks are so well understood. But under current circumstances, I remain committed to working with the UK and other key allies to build more diverse and secure telecommunication options that provide competitive alternatives to Huawei.  I have introduced legislation that seeks to accomplish that, including a Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund, and hope the UK will commit to partnering on this effort in the coming months. It is critical that countries committed to building and maintaining secure networks come together. Current financial support by China for Huawei puts any Western alternative at a serious disadvantage.”

Sen. Warner, a former telecommunications entrepreneur, has been outspoken about the dangers of allowing the use of Huawei equipment in U.S. telecommunications infrastructure, and that of U.S. allies. Earlier this month, Sen. Warner 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. Last year, he and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) warned the Trump Administration against using Huawei as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations, and urged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reconsider Huawei’s inclusion in Canada’s 5G development, introduction and maintenance.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and 28 of their Democratic Senate colleagues in requesting updates on the Administration’s response to the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and information on the steps being taken to keep families safe.

This letter comes on the heels of an announcement by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), which earlier today ruled out Novel Coronavirus in two of three Patients Under Investigation, who met both clinical and epidemiologic criteria for the coronavirus. Test results for a third individual from Northern Virginia are expected to be received later this week.

“We write to express concern about the rapidly evolving 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), to urge your continued robust and scientifically driven response to the situation, and to assess whether any additional resources or action by Congress are needed at this time. A quick and effective response to the 2019-nCoV requires public health officials around the world work together to share reliable information about the disease and insight into steps taken to prevent, diagnose, and treat it appropriately,” wrote the Senators.

They continued, “Unfortunately, the 2019-nCoV outbreak follows troubling proposals from the Trump Administration to cut the budgets of core public health programs at home and abroad. Yet, outbreaks like this serve as a solemn reminder of the need for an unwavering commitment to global health security and the need for strong public health programs worldwide.”

Despite repeated calls by the Trump Administration for cuts to public health programs, the December budget deal backed by Sens. Warner and Kaine increased funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund, which provides the agency with an immediate source of funding to prevent, prepare for, or respond to an infectious disease emergency either at home or abroad.

Sen. Kaine has introduced the Saving Lives Through Better Data Act, bipartisan legislation to modernize public health data infrastructure so clinicians, state health departments, and the CDC can work together more quickly and seamlessly to identify and respond to health threats like the coronavirus.

In their letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Senators also requested that the Department provide information regarding the severity of the disease, the country’s capacity to diagnose cases, the steps being taken to prepare U.S. health care workers, the screening systems in place at U.S. airports, the status of a novel coronavirus vaccine, and more.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine and Murray, the letter was signed by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Angus King (I-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

 

Dear Secretary Azar,

We write to express concern about the rapidly evolving 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), to urge your continued robust and scientifically driven response to the situation, and to assess whether any additional resources or action by Congress are needed at this time. A quick and effective response to the 2019-nCoV requires public health officials around the world work together to share reliable information about the disease and insight into steps taken to prevent, diagnose, and treat it appropriately.

Chinese health officials confirmed the first case of 2019-nCoV in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. Since then, the case count has exploded in China, with nearly 3,000 confirmed cases as of the writing of this letter. At least 80 people have died. Cases have now been confirmed on four continents. On January 21, the first U.S. case was confirmed in Washington state, where state and local public health officials quickly responded with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A second U.S. case was confirmed in Chicago on January 24. Subsequently, CDC confirmed two cases in California and one in Arizona, bringing the total U.S. case count to five. Airport screening procedures have been put in place to screen all passengers arriving in the U.S. from Wuhan. In Wuhan, and across China, officials have enacted travel restrictions and canceled planned festivals to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Even with these steps, the case count in China is expected to continue to rise, along with additional cases in the U.S. and around the globe. The World Health Organization is monitoring the situation closely, but has determined it is too early to formally designate this as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. A quick, robust, and comprehensive approach to this outbreak is critical, while also remaining aware that, according to CDC, “the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time.”

Unfortunately, the 2019-nCoV outbreak follows troubling proposals from the Trump Administration to cut the budgets of core public health programs at home and abroad. Yet, outbreaks like this serve as a solemn reminder of the need for an unwavering commitment to global health security and the need for strong public health programs worldwide.

We recognize the situation is evolving quickly and appreciate the information you have already provided. We ask you keep us apprised of developments as they occur, including any information related to the following questions:

1)      What can Congress do to fully support the U.S. Government response to this outbreak?

2)      How many HHS officials are currently engaged in the 2019-nCoV response domestically and abroad and in what capacities?

3)      What is HHS's best current judgment about the clinical severity of this disease? 

4)      What is the current domestic diagnostic capacity? How many facilities across the country are able to diagnose 2019-nCoV?

5)      What is currently known about the risk 2019-nCoV poses to health care workers? How is CDC communicating with U.S. health care facilities to ensure providers remain healthy and safe? What additional guidance is being supplied to health care providers?

6)      How many passengers have been screened by the airport screening procedures that are in place at American airports? How many potential cases have been identified as a result of this screening? Are there any planned changes to airport screening procedures?

7)      What progress has been made on the development of a 2019-nCoV vaccine?

Thank you for your attention to this urgent issue.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and the entire Virginia congressional delegation urged the U.S. Army National Guard to prioritize funding for a new aviation facility in Richmond, Va. as part of the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP). With the current facility already impacting mission execution, the funding will help complete a much-needed facility to house the Virginia Army National Guard’s 28-aircraft fleet by the time its current lease with the Richmond Airport expires in 2032. The FYDP is typically included as part of the President’s budget, which outlines the programs and budget requests for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

“This project is the number one priority for the Virginia Army National Guard and is desperately needed to replace aging and undersized facilities at Richmond International Airport, which are no longer suitable for mission execution,” wrote the members of Congress. “Additionally, the existing facility must be vacated by the National Guard as they have been formally notified by the airfield that their lease will not be renewed in order to make way for a planned runway expansion. Due to the criticality of this capability for the National Guard, the Commonwealth of Virginia has appropriated $4.5 million in state funding to support this project, even though state contribution is not required.”

To date, the project has been dependent on incremental phases and funding. In their letter to the U.S. Army National Guard, the members of Congress reiterated full federal funding is required to complete the aviation facility that is better suited for their operational needs and ensures that it will be ready in time for the pending relocation.

“The Virginia Army National Guard continues to compete the Army Aviation Support Facility project in phases, with Phase I being successfully placed on the FY24 FYDP. Unfortunately, the algorithms used for such competition make it highly unlikely that the entire requirement will be funded before the Virginia Army National Guard’s aviation fleet is ejected from its current facility. This concern, in conjunction with the cost savings and operational efficiencies of designing and constructing the facility as a single project, lead us to believe that the best solution for the mission and the taxpayers is to fund the entire requirement of $89 million in one fiscal year,” concluded the members of Congress.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Kaine, the letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rob Wittman (R-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).

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

 

LTG Daniel R. Hokanson

Director, Army National Guard

111 S. George Mason Drive

Arlington, VA 22204

Dear LTG Hokanson,

We write in strong support of the proposed Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF) for the Virginia National Guard. We urge you to consider identifying this project in the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP), and ideally request funding in the upcoming release of the President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2021.

As you are aware, this project would construct a 228,000 square foot facility to support the Virginia National Guard's Army aviation mission. This project is the number one priority for the Virginia Army National Guard and is desperately needed to replace aging and undersized facilities at Richmond International Airport, which are no longer suitable for mission execution. Additionally, the existing facility must be vacated by the National Guard as they have been formally notified by the airfield that their lease will not be renewed in order to make way for a planned runway expansion. Due to the criticality of this capability for the National Guard, the Commonwealth of Virginia has appropriated $4.5 million in state funding to support this project, even though state contribution is not required.

This military construction project will move the AASF to land already licensed to the Virginia Army National Guard that has an existing armory and airport access, two factors that yield significant construction and operational savings. The new facility is optimally located to support the National Capital Region and Hampton Roads military economic complex during natural or man-made disasters, while far enough removed to be less impacted by such events in these critical national security regions. The project will support the Virginia Army National Guard’s entire aviation fleet consisting of 28 aircraft. These aircraft support the combined arms training and readiness of forces for national defense, as well as the Commonwealth of Virginia's disaster response and recovery capabilities for Title 32 and Title 10 National Guard Civil Support missions.

The Virginia Army National Guard continues to compete the Army Aviation Support Facility project in phases, with Phase I being successfully placed on the FY24 FYDP. Unfortunately, the algorithms used for such competition make it highly unlikely that the entire requirement will be funded before the Virginia Army National Guard’s aviation fleet is ejected from its current facility. This concern, in conjunction with the cost savings and operational efficiencies of designing and constructing the facility as a single project, lead us to believe that the best solution for the mission and the taxpayers is to fund the entire requirement of $89 million in one fiscal year.

The Virginia Army National Guard completed an extensive site selection study and master plan to 10% design, as well as environmental, historical, and soils studies for the proposed location. This project is critical to the viability of the Army aviation mission for the Virginia Army National Guard and would help the National Guard save lease costs necessitated by the loss of the current facility, absent this MILCON. Given the critical nature of the operational needs for the Army aviation mission and the upcoming deadline for the relocation of these operations, we hope you will give all due consideration to funding this project in the near future. As you know, the Virginia National Guard always answers the call to service for the defense of the nation, and plays a pivotal role in the safekeeping of the National Capital Region and the Hampton Roads military economic complex.

We appreciate your attention to and consideration of this request, and we look forward to your favorable response on this matter. Our Congressional Delegation stands ready to support you in this important military construction project.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – With the General Assembly session scheduled to adjourn in March 2020, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expedite its review of Virginia’s Plan to Regulate Hemp Production, in order to provide sufficient time for the General Assembly to update the Commonwealth’s hemp laws and address any potential deficiencies that may arise following USDA review.

“Industrial hemp presents an unprecedented opportunity for Virginia producers, and it is critically important that state and federal guidelines provide certainty and security to our farmers,” wrote the Senators. “Expeditious review of Virginia’s Plan to Regulate Hemp Production is needed to provide VDACS and other state agencies with the information they need to run an effective hemp program for the 2020 growing season.”

"Virginia is poised to be a top producer of industrial hemp in the country. In 2019, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) registered over 1,200 growers to produce approximately 2,200 acres of industrial hemp. We expect these figures to grow substantially in 2020 and beyond,” they continued. “If Virginia’s Hemp Production Plan is not processed in a timely manner, we are concerned this could cause complications for the Commonwealth’s hemp program and our producers, who are eager to take advantage of this exciting opportunity.”

Hemp is distinct from marijuana in that it has a miniscule concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and thus no narcotic capability. The plant is estimated to be used in more than 25,000 products, including agriculture, textile, recycling, automotive, furniture, food, nutrition, beverage, paper, personal care, and construction products.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of hemp as an agricultural commodity. In 2018, the Senators sponsored a provision in the Farm Bill that removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, allowing Virginia farmers to grow and sell the plant as a commodity. More recently in September 2019, Sens. Warner and Kaine successfully secured Virginia’s inclusion in a pilot to develop a crop insurance program for industrial hemp. In December 2019, the Senators backed two bipartisan, bicameral spending bills that provided $16.5 million in new funding to implement the Hemp Production Program. Additionally, in December, they urged USDA to make changes to its proposed hemp regulations to better help Virginia farmers seeking to grow industrial hemp.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

 

Mr. Bruce Summers

Administrator

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) - Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)

1400 Independence Ave SW

Washington, DC 20228

Dear Mr. Summers:

We write today concerning the Commonwealth of Virginia’s recent submission of its Plan to Regulate Hemp Production. In the interest of ensuring the success of Virginia’s burgeoning hemp industry, we encourage USDA to review the Commonwealth’s plan expeditiously to provide growers across Virginia the certainty they require entering the 2020 growing season.

Virginia is poised to be a top producer of industrial hemp in the country. In 2019, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) registered over 1,200 growers to produce approximately 2,200 acres of industrial hemp. We expect these figures to grow substantially in 2020 and beyond. Industrial hemp presents an unprecedented opportunity for Virginia producers, and it is critically important that state and federal guidelines provide certainty and security to our farmers.

Expeditious review of Virginia’s Plan to Regulate Hemp Production is needed to provide VDACS and other state agencies with the information they need to run an effective hemp program for the 2020 growing season. In addition, the Virginia General Assembly is currently in session, and if any deficiencies that require legislative updates are found in the Commonwealth’s plan, a quick review and response would be helpful to guide the legislature. Virginia’s General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn in early March 2020, which provides a relatively narrow window of opportunity for the legislature to address any potential deficiencies. If Virginia’s Hemp Production Plan is not processed in a timely manner, we are concerned this could cause complications for the Commonwealth’s hemp program and our producers, who are eager to take advantage of this exciting opportunity.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure the development of a viable U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program. Please let us know if we can be of assistance moving forward.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, following a closed-door hearing held by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the federal government’s security clearance reform efforts, Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released the following statements:

Statement from Chairman Burr:

“I am pleased to say that we are seeing significant improvements in the security clearance process. The investigation backlog has come down from 725,000 cases in early 2018 to a steady-state level of just over 200,000 today. With the backlog under better control, the next phase of Trusted Workforce 2.0 is about to begin. The proposed reforms would aim to revamp the security clearance process and ensure our nation’s secrets are protected.

“These reforms cannot come a moment too soon. Our Intelligence Community is only as good as its people, but too often our most promising recruits get stuck in a discouraging, years-long clearance process before they can begin work. The delays disproportionately affect first or second generation Americans – folks who possess deep cultural understanding and diverse perspectives that are invaluable in the IC. Our system should be equipped to welcome a patriotic, first-generation Chinese-American who has spoken Mandarin since she was a child, while at the same time excluding the Edward Snowdens of the world who would put our nation’s safety at risk.”

Statement from Vice Chairman Warner:

“We need a revolution in how the executive branch thinks about security clearance reform and personnel vetting for those charged with safeguarding our nation’s most sensitive secrets.  The Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, as the government’s Security Executive Agent and the Suitability/Fitness and Credentialing Executive Agent, respectively, should implement Trusted Workforce 2.0 without delay.  For this effort to be effective, the executive branch must provide a specific plan of action that demonstrates the new system will be more effective and efficient than the old one; identify obstacles and mitigation strategies; and service all stakeholders equitably. I look forward to continued partnership with the executive branch to affect the transformation required in the personnel vetting model to meet today’s threat environment, capitalize on modern technologies, and reflect the mobility of today’s workforce.”

Background:

The current security clearance personnel vetting model has remained largely unchanged for more than 70 years.  Over the last three years, with significant, bipartisan, pressure from the Committee – including a March 2018 open hearing – there has been substantial progress in reforming this antiquated model.

In December 2019, the President signed into law the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2018, 2019, and 2020, which contained an entire title on clearance reform included by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Its provisions will modernize, simplify, and make more transparent the security clearance process; further reduce backlogs; improve information sharing with industry; and reflect the demands of today’s mobile workforce. The legislation affirms and accelerates many aspects of Trusted Workforce 2.0, the interagency initiative to transform the national security workforce.

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WASHINGTON – After repeated delays and unresponsiveness by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr urging the agency to comply with the law and fully implement the Ashanti Alert system by the March 19th deadline. This date was imposed by Sen. Warner, who successfully included language in the government funding bills directing the DOJ to take swift measures to get the critical life-saving alert system fully implemented. 

“I am profoundly disappointed that the Department has failed to implement the Ashanti Alert system in a well-organized and competent way.  I look forward to the Department’s report and expeditious implementation,” wrote Sen. Warner.

Sen. Warner is a champion of the Ashanti Alert system. On December 6, 2018, Sen. Warner secured unanimous passage of the Ashanti Alert Act through the Senate. In August 2019, he reiterated the need for the alert’s swift implementation, following a meeting with Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sullivan. He has also previously demanded in-person meetings with the DOJ, repeatedly pressed the DOJ for implementation updates, and urged congressional appropriators to provide full funding for the timely implementation of the Ashanti Alert.

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

 

Dear Attorney General Barr:

Over a year ago, President Trump signed the bipartisan Ashanti Alert Act (P.L.115-401) into law.  I write today to draw your attention to language I included in the FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act directing the Department of Justice to take swift measures to fully implement the Ashanti Alert system.  

Specifically, Congress directs the Department “to provide a report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees no later than 30 days after enactment” of the FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116 –93) detailing progress on the implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act. Further, the language directs the report to set out a final deadline for implementation no later than 90 days after enactment.  As the FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act was enacted on December 20, 2019, I will look for the Department’s initial report next week, which should include a plan for full implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act by March 19, 2020.

As I have noted in three previous letters, the Ashanti Alert system will save lives by closing the existing gap in our nation’s missing person alert systems.  This crucial public safety system is named in honor of Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old who was abducted in Norfolk, Virginia on September 18, 2017.  Ashanti was found murdered – 11 days after she was initially reported missing.  Because of Ashanti’s age, she did not qualify for AMBER or Silver Alerts and thus critical resources were not used to locate her whereabouts.

I am profoundly disappointed that the Department has failed to implement the Ashanti Alert system in a well-organized and competent way.  I look forward to the Department’s report and expeditious implementation.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) expressed concern with repeated delays by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that are preventing providers from being able to properly treat their patients via telehealth. In a letter, Sen. Warner urged the DEA Acting Administrator to finalize a long-delayed rule that will ensure providers can successfully use telehealth to treat individuals with substance use disorders.

“Providers across the country have been frustrated in their inability to provide adequate care as they wait for Congressionally-mandated guidance from your agency to clarify the process whereby health care professionals can legally use telehealth to better treat patients suffering from substance use disorder,” wrote Sen. Warner. “The DEA’s failure to promulgate the rule has meant that – despite Congress’ best efforts – many patients suffering from substance use disorders remain unable to access treatment via telehealth. These patients cannot afford to wait and we are concerned the DEA is standing in the way of treatment for individuals that cannot access a provider in person – particularly those in rural and underserved areas.”

“The opioid and addiction epidemic has devastated communities nationwide, with a particularly devastating impact on rural and medically underserved areas,” he continued. “Expanding telehealth services to individuals suffering from substance use disorder can bridge the distance between patients and care and ensure increased access to services they need.”

In order to crack down on the online proliferation of dangerous controlled substances online, the Ryan Haight Act of 2008 prohibited the delivery, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance by means of the internet without a prior in-person exam. However, this prevented providers from properly using telehealth to treat individuals – particularly those in rural communities who rely on this service to obtain timely access to health care.

Sen. Warner helped draft and pass the Senate’s comprehensive substance abuse treatment bill, which included a provision directing the Department of Justice, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services, to create a process for exempting certain health care providers for the purpose of providing telehealth services for substance use disorder. In addition – that legislation included four other provisions led by Sen. Warner that use telehealth to expand access to treatment for individuals suffering from substance use disorder. The bipartisan legislation was signed into law in 2018; however, the Attorney General failed to finalize a rule by the October 2019 deadline. For provisions of this legislation to be most effective, the DEA must complete its rulemaking process.

In the letter to Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon, Sen. Warner emphasized the wide disparity in opioid deaths between urban communities and rural communities, which have a 45 percent higher rate of deaths by opioids. Sen. Warner also requested that the DEA provide an explanation if it does not intend to promulgate rulemaking on this issue in a timely manner.

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

 

Mr. Uttam Dhillon

Acting Administrator

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

U.S. Department of Justice

800 K Street NW Suite 500

Washington, D.C. 20001

Acting Administrator Dhillon,

I am writing regarding the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) implementation of critical provisions in the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (Ryan Haight Act) (Public Law 91-513) and the recently passed SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT Act) (Public Law 115-271) that ensure individuals with substance use disorders can successfully access medical treatment via telehealth.

As you likely know – the Ryan Haight Act prohibits the delivery, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance online without first conducting an in-person exam. The intent of this law is to prevent illegitimate entities from selling dangerous controlled substances online while maintaining the ability for legitimate healthcare providers to treat patients in need.

The Ryan Haight Act also directed the DEA to promulgate rules exempting certain health care professionals from this requirement with the goal of ensuring patients have access to care via telehealth. However, in the 10 years since passage, the DEA has not promulgated rules to this effect. Congress further expressed its intent in passing the SUPPORT Act in 2018, which allows Medicare-eligible individuals suffering from substance use disorder to be diagnosed and treated via telehealth. The SUPPORT Act – similar to the Ryan Haight Act – mandated rulemaking by October 2019. Another deadline that has been missed.

Providers across the country have been frustrated in their inability to provide adequate care as they wait for Congressionally-mandated guidance from your agency to clarify the process whereby health care professionals can legally use telehealth to better treat patients suffering from substance use disorder. The DEA’s failure to promulgate the rule has meant that – despite Congress’ best efforts – many patients suffering from substance use disorders remain unable to access treatment via telehealth. These patients cannot afford to wait and we are concerned the DEA is standing in the way of treatment for individuals that cannot access a provider in person – particularly those in rural and underserved areas.

The opioid and addiction epidemic has devastated communities nationwide, with a particularly devastating impact on rural and medically underserved areas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were more than 70,000 overdose deaths in 2017 – a 9.6 percent increase from 2016.   Furthermore, the CDC cites opioid deaths as 45% higher in rural areas, compared to urban communities. 

Expanding telehealth services to individuals suffering from substance use disorder can bridge the distance between patients and care and ensure increased access to services they need.

As detailed above, Congress passed the SUPPORT Act in 2018 and instructed the Attorney General – in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – to promulgate rules on health care professional exemptions for prescribing controlled substances via telemedicine. This rule will ensure providers can successfully use telehealth to treat patients with substance use disorders. HHS has previously published suggestions on the potential uses of telehealth to diagnose and treat substance use disorder, but until the DEA takes action, providers will continue to face significant barriers in using telehealth to treat patients with substance use disorders. 

I strongly urge the DEA to promulgate rulemaking on this issue as soon as possible so that patients suffering from substance use disorders can receive the care they need. Furthermore, I ask that if you do not intend to promulgate this rule in a timely manner you respond in writing with an explanation of your decision. Thank you for your consideration of this request and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requesting that the Virginia Beach Regional Coastal Storm Risk Management Study be included in the Army Corps FY 2020 Work Plan. The study was authorized in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which was supported by Sens. Warner and Kaine to analyze the flood risk threats from sea level rise, coastal storm surge and rainfall events, and to develop watershed-based mitigation solutions to reduce flood risk in the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake.

“This study is crucial to the long-term vitality and resilience of the City of Virginia Beach and the entire Coastal Virginia region. This region is home to four critical military bases, which employ 33,000 military and civilian personnel and their families. If the Army Corps approves this study, the City of Virginia Beach will be able to continue its efforts in mitigating sea level rise and recurrent flooding, serving as a model to coastal cities in need of more resilient infrastructure, economies, and communities,” wrote the members.

In their letter, the members of Congress also emphasized that the study will help reduce the risk of flooding for vulnerable populations and critical infrastructure in Hampton Roads, which includes critical military installations for the U.S. Navy. The Hampton Roads region is considered one of the country’s most flood-prone areas, facing anywhere from 1.5 to 7 feet of sea level rise by the year 2100.

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

 

Dear Director Vought and Assistant Secretary James:

We write today to express our support for the City of Virginia Beach’s Comprehensive Regional Coastal Storm Risk Management Study, and ask that it be included in the FY 2020 Army Corps Work Plan.

The authority for this study is the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 Section 1201 (9) for Coastal Virginia. This study will analyze the flood risk threats from sea level rise, coastal storm surge and rainfall events, and will develop watershed-based mitigation solutions to reduce flood risk in the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake, Currituck County, North Carolina, and the Joint Expeditionary Base at Little Creek- Fort Story. The City of Virginia Beach has support from the USACE North Atlantic Division and Norfolk Division, and has garnered additional support from the business and environmental communities.

This study is crucial to the long-term vitality and resilience of the City of Virginia Beach and the entire Coastal Virginia region. This region is home to four critical military bases, which employ 33,000 military and civilian personnel and their families. If the Army Corps approves this study, the City of Virginia Beach will be able to continue its efforts in mitigating sea level rise and recurrent flooding, serving as a model to coastal cities in need of more resilient infrastructure, economies, and communities. Specifically, the Regional Coastal Storm Risk Management Study advances the Corps’ mission of building long-term coastal resilience as outlined in USACE’s North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study: Resilient Adaptation to Increasing Risk.

In addition, the study will lead to a reduced risk to vulnerable populations, property, ecosystems, and infrastructure – including significant military installations – in one of the country’s most flood-prone population centers and augments existing federal resiliency investments in Virginia Beach and the greater Hampton Roads region.

As the Army Corps works with the Office of Management and Budget to develop its FY20 Work Plan, we encourage you to include the Virginia Comprehensive Regional Coastal Storm Risk Management Study. The City of Virginia Beach is a long-standing civil works partner with the Corps of Engineers and is prepared to provide the matching non-federal cost share to move this vital project forward.

Thank you again for your attention to this issue. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement applauding Senate passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA):

“USMCA is an important, bipartisan win for Virginia. Expanding access to Canadian agricultural markets will open up new opportunities for Virginia farmers. Holding Mexican companies to higher labor and environmental standards will help level the playing field for American workers and companies. And efforts to streamline and modernize cross-border shipments will help the thousands of Virginia companies that already export to Mexico and Canada. This bill will help local economies in all corners of Virginia, and we were proud to vote for its passage today.”

Organizations that have announced their support for USMCA include: Virginia Chamber of Commerce, United Steelworkers Local 8888, Virginia Poultry Federation, Farm Credit of the Virginias, Virginia Port Authority, Virginia Maritime Association, Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia State Dairymen’s Association, Virginia Pork Council, Volvo Trucks New River Valley plant, UPS, STIHL Inc. in Virginia Beach, Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Eastman.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $306,492 in federal funding through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to support two new AmeriCorps VISTA projects in Lynchburg and Abingdon. AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a national service program dedicated to reducing poverty in America.

“We’re pleased to announce these grants to strengthen valuable volunteer work in these regions,” the Senators said. “This funding will help local organizations support vulnerable communities and extend crucial opportunities to those in need.”

  • In Lynchburg, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg will receive $95,392 to increase access to services for low-income youth. The funding will also help VISTA members develop a volunteer management system at three non-profit organizations to better recruit volunteers. Sen. Warner visited the Boys & Girls club in March 2018.
  • In Abingdon, the Friends of Southwest Virginia will receive $211,100 to boost job readiness by supporting job training and community development programs. The funding will help VISTA volunteers build stronger community partnerships, helping foster economic growth in the community.

AmeriCorps VISTA works with non-profit organizations, schools, or local government agencies to support anti-poverty efforts. Volunteers focus on reducing homelessness, increasing access to job opportunities, and improving students’ academic performance for communities in need.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $1,549,891 in federal funding for the University of Virginia (UVA) and Virginia Tech to improve resources for the U.S. agricultural industry and rural communities. This funding was awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics and Tools (FACT) Initiative, which focuses on data-driven solutions to address problems facing the agricultural industry.

“We’re pleased to announce this funding to focus on strengthening our country’s agricultural industry and lifting up rural communities,” said the Senators. “Agriculture is a significant part of Virginia’s economy, and we’re excited to see UVA and Virginia Tech receive significant investments to boost this critical industry.”

The funding will be awarded as below:

  • $999,975 for the University of Virginia to support a 10-week program for undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and professionals to learn how to use data science to better address agricultural, economic, and social issues facing rural America. The funding will help the program create a workforce trained in analytics so they can better utilize data to strengthen their communities.
  •  $499,952 for the University of Virginia to better understand America’s agricultural commodity flows and their role in the spread of invasive species, which is important for food security and economic stability. This project will help provide policy makers with guidance to better address vulnerabilities in food systems.
  • $49,964 for Virginia Tech to safeguard the agriculture and food bioeconomy from cyber threats. The bioeconomy – innovation in biological sciences to boost economic activity – is estimated at approximately 25% of U.S. GDP.

According to the USDA, “FACT focuses on data science to enable systems and communities to effectively utilize data, improve resource management, and integrate new technologies and approaches to further U.S. food and agriculture enterprises. Projects funded through FACT will work to examine the value of data for small and large farmers, agricultural and food industries, and gain an understanding of how data can impact the agricultural supply chain, reduce food waste and loss, improve consumer health, environmental and natural resource management, affect the structure of U.S. food and agriculture sectors, and increase U.S. competitiveness.”

###

 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, urged the Defense Health Agency to remove sensitive medical data belonging to servicemembers exposed online, where it remains vulnerable due to insecure data practices at Ft. Belvoir Medical Center, Ireland Army Health Clinic, and the Womack Army Medical Center.

“As a matter of national security, the sensitive medical information of our men and women of the armed services is particularly vulnerable and should be, at a minimum, protected by robust security controls and routine scans,” wrote Sen. Warner. “The exposure of this information is an outrageous violation of privacy and represents a grave national security vulnerability that could be exploited by state actors or others.”

He continued, “We owe an enormous debt to our armed forces, and at the very least, we ought to ensure that their private medical information is protected from being viewed by anyone without their express consent. Whenever data moves from one entity to another it should be protected by encryption, proper hashing, segmentation, identity and access controls, and vulnerability management capabilities that include diligent monitoring, auditing, and logging practices.”

In September 2019, Sen. Warner sought answers from TridentUSA Health Services regarding reports that many unsecured picture archiving and communication servers (PACS) left the names, dates of birth, medical images, and medical procedures of more than one million Americans accessible to anyone with basic computer expertise. Following that letter, the images were removed but millions of records were left online. Nearly two months later, Sen. Warner called out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for its failure to act following the exposure.

Since the letter to HHS, 16 systems, 31 million images and 1.5 million exam records have been removed from the internet. However, a significant number of personally identifiable and sensitive medical information belonging to servicemembers remains online, due to unsecured Army PACS.

In his letter to the Assistant Secretary, Sen. Warner asked the agency to remediate the situation immediately and posed the following questions for Assistant Secretary Thomas McCaffery:

  1. Please describe the information security management practices at military medical hospitals. Do you require organizations to operate on a segmented network? To implement micro-segmentation? To implement access controls? If so, what kind? Do you require the hospitals to implement multifactor authentication, logging, and monitoring?
  2. Do you audit and monitor logs? 
  3. Do you require full-disk encryption and authentication for PACS?
  4. Do you require the hospitals to have a Chief Information Security Officer?
  5. Please describe what steps you took to address this issue, and when you were able to remove these systems from the internet.  

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

 

Mr. Thomas McCaffery

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Defense Health Agency

7700 Arlington Boulevard

Falls Church, VA 22042

Dear Mr. McCaffery,

As the healthcare sector becomes increasingly reliant on technology to deliver essential services to patients, it also faces rising threats from malicious actors that seek to compromise the personally identifiable and other sensitive information of Americans. As a matter of national security, the sensitive medical information of our men and women of the armed services is particularly vulnerable and should be, at a minimum, protected by robust security controls and routine scans. It is with great alarm that I recently learned that unsecured Picture and Archiving Servers (PACS) at Ft. Belvoir Medical Center, Ireland Army Health Clinic, and the Womack Army Medical Center have left personally identifiable and sensitive medical information available online for anyone with a DICOM viewer to find.

Following a report  in September of 2019 highlighting the exposure of sensitive medical images belonging to millions of American through unsecured PACS, I wrote letters  to two healthcare entities that controlled the PACS, and those images were removed. However, millions of records remained online. The following month, I wrote  to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) regarding the remaining exposure of the personally identifiable information belonging to 6 million American patients. Since that letter, 16 systems, 31 million images and 1.5 million exam records were removed from the internet. However, I recently learned that a significant number of medical records belonging to servicemembers remain online. This information was discovered by the German researchers at Greenbone Networks, who accessed the information using German IP addresses; this itself should have triggered alarms by the hospital information security systems.

The exposure of this information is an outrageous violation of privacy and represents a grave national security vulnerability that could be exploited by state actors or others. We owe an enormous debt to our armed forces, and at the very least, we ought to ensure that their private medical information is protected from being viewed by anyone without their express consent. Whenever data moves from one entity to another it should be protected by encryption, proper hashing, segmentation, identity and access controls, and vulnerability management capabilities that include diligent monitoring, auditing, and logging practices. To better understand how this happened, I would like information about your organization’s oversight of the information security practices at military hospitals, particularly at Ft. Belvoir Medical Center and Womack Army Medical Center.

I ask that you immediately remediate this situation, and remove the vulnerable PACS from open access to the internet. To understand how these records have been exposed and accessed repeatedly by a German IP address, please also answer the following questions:

  1. Please describe the information security management practices at military medical hospitals. Do you require organizations to operate on a segmented network? To implement micro-segmentation? To implement access controls? If so, what kind? Do you require the hospitals to implement multifactor authentication, logging, and monitoring?
  2. Do you audit and monitor logs? 
  3. Do you require full-disk encryption and authentication for PACS?
  4. Do you require the hospitals to have a Chief Information Security Officer?
  5. Please describe what steps you took to address this issue, and when you were able to remove these systems from the internet.

Given the gravity of this issue, I would appreciate a response within two weeks.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today released the following statement after the General Assembly passed a historic resolution to make Virginia the final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA):

“It’s about time for women’s equal rights to be explicitly declared in our Constitution and we’re thrilled that Virginia will be the last state necessary to move this effort towards the finish line,” said the Senators. “Ratifying the ERA not only honors the work of all those who dedicated their lives to fighting for women’s equality, but also enhances our legal ability to fight future instances of gender-based discrimination throughout the country. We applaud Senator McClellan, Senator Locke, and Delegate Carroll Foy for their work on this resolution, and commend every advocate and activist across Virginia who has been a part of this important movement.” 

A proposed constitutional amendment must be ratified by 38 states in order to be eligible to become part of the Constitution. This resolution makes Virginia the 38th state needed to guarantee women equal rights in the Constitution.

The ERA reads as follows:

Section 1.  Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2.  The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3.  This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

In November, Sens. Warner and Kaine joined Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in sponsoring a bipartisan Senate resolution to immediately remove the ratification deadline for the ERA and eliminate any ambiguity that may exist at the federal level.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $286.9 million in federal funds from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete long-standing projects in Buchanan and Dickenson counties. The funding is made available through the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, a bipartisan bill supported by Sens. Warner and Kaine that was signed into law on June 6, 2019 to help communities construct flood and storm damage reduction projects.

“We’re pleased to announce these federal funds to support the completion of critical flooding mitigation projects in Dickenson and Buchanan counties,” said the Senators. “Once completed, these projects will better protect schools, local businesses, and homes from potential flood damage.”

Buchanan County will receive $235.6 million in supplemental funding to complete the Hurley High School Floodproofing Agreement as well as the Buchanan County Career and Technical Center Relocation Agreement. Funds will also be used to implement voluntary floodproofing and acquisition actions for up to 730 residential and commercial structures.

Dickenson County will receive $51.3 million in supplemental funding that will be used to relocate the Haysi Municipal Building and implement voluntary floodproofing and acquisition actions for up to 218 residential and commercial structures.

As a result of the 1977 flood that caused roughly $257 million in damages across Dickenson and Buchanan counties and several states, Congress authorized flood-protection measures in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations (WRDA) Act of 1981. Section 202 of the bill directed the Secretary of the Army to begin the design and construction of flood damage reduction measures of the Tug and Levisa Forks of the Big Sandy River Basin that stretches into Southwest Virginia. Today’s announcement will help Buchanan and Dickenson counties fully fund their long-awaited projects.

In the Senate, Sens. Warner and Kaine have long supported legislation that makes water infrastructure rehabilitation projects like these possible. In 2018, the Senators voted to reauthorize WRDA to support critical water-related projects across the Commonwealth.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, voiced deep concerns with the ability of the U.S. Department of State to address the surge of offensive cyber activity by Iran. In a letter, which comes on the heels of a U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, Sen. Warner notes Iran’s growing cybersecurity capabilities and presses Secretary Mike Pompeo for answers on how the Department plans to defend its information security systems in light of its long history of information breaches.

The Iranian government’s state-sponsored cybersecurity capabilities have grown in sophistication and intensity in recent years, and they have developed a number of advanced persistent threat (APT) groups that conduct various offensive operations. Examples include prolonged espionage, destructive malware and ransomware attacks, and social media manipulation through influence campaigns,” wrote Sen. Warner. “These attacks serve both political and economic purposes, and use methods like password spray attacks, scanning for VPN vulnerabilities, DNS hijacking, spear-phishing emails, and social engineering.”

As recently as 2018, the Department of Justice indicted two Iranian individuals who conducted a 34-month-long international scheme, in which they used ransomware to extort hospitals, municipalities and public institutions, causing $30 million in losses.

In his letter, Sen. Warner cites two separate reports by the Department of State’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that detail a number of cybersecurity risks presented by the structure of the Department of State and by hiring freezes affecting the department. These risks include a diminished ability to respond to malicious cyber activity targeting personnel and information assets due to the hiring freeze, as well as a lack of cybersecurity oversight resulting in unauthorized and misconfigured network devices comprising the Department’s sensitive network.

“The State Department has a long history of information security breaches, beginning with a series of blunders in the late 1990’s, and including a massive and prolonged attack in 2014, when the National Security Agency (NSA) and Russian hackers fought for control of State Department servers,” wrote Sen. Warner. “In September 2018, after an email breach of unclassified systems, a bipartisan group of Senators asked you how the State Department was addressing the issue.  Two months later, hackers with suspected ties to the Russian government were found to be impersonating State Department officials in an attempt to infiltrate computers belonging to the U.S. government, the military, and defense contractors.”

Noting the Department of State’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities and the risks of Iran carrying out cyberattacks with disruptive effects, Sen. Warner posed the following questions for Secretary Pompeo, requesting an answer by January 31st:

  1. Currently, cybersecurity personnel are dispersed organizationally across different bureaus within the Department of State, and across embassies around the world. Since the OIG report was issued in August 2019, what personnel changes have you made to more efficiently and effectively address both the hiring freeze impacts and the earlier security and audit concerns presented by the OIG?
  2. The OIG report noted that the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) of the Department of State lacked necessary seniority for effectiveness or accountability. My understanding is that the current CIO reports to the Undersecretary for Management to the Secretary of State, and that the CISO reports to the CIO. In 2018 a study by the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC) recommended that CISO’s have clear and direct communication with the CEO, rather than just to the CIO.  Most organizations provide at least a dotted-line reporting structure from the CISO to the CEO. What kind of direct communication do you have with the CISO, given that the position sits below a CIO and an Undersecretary?
  3. What kind of employee training changes have you made to protect employees from phishing and other social engineering attacks?
  4. What technical changes have you made within the information security organization of the State Department to protect against ransomware and wiper malware attacks?
  5. Have you addressed the August 2019 OIG report’s hiring concerns for information and IT security personnel at our embassies? Are you up-to-date on your information security audits? Does the State Department, at the very least, conduct routine scanning, patching, and utilize multifactor authentication?

Earlier this month, Sen. Warner cautioned the Trump Administration on the dangers of escalating tensions with Iran and urged the Administration to prepare for the long-term potential consequences of targeting Soleimani.

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:

As tensions between the United States and Iran rise, and the risks of Iran carrying out cyberattacks with “disruptive effects” grow, I write to express my deep concern about the State Department’s ability to defend its information security systems and that of our embassies around the world, and request a plan for how you will bolster these systems. 

The Iranian government’s state-sponsored cybersecurity capabilities have grown in sophistication and intensity in recent years, and they have developed a number of advanced persistent threat (APT) groups that conduct various offensive operations. Examples include prolonged espionage, destructive malware and ransomware attacks, and social media manipulation through influence campaigns. These attacks serve both political and economic purposes, and use methods like password spray attacks, scanning for VPN vulnerabilities, DNS hijacking, spear-phishing emails, and social engineering. Iran’s threat group APT33 has been linked to notorious disk-wiping malware including SHAMOON and SHAPESHIFT (which attacked industrial systems across the Middle East and in Europe). As recently as 2018, the Department of Justice indicted two Iranian men for deploying ransomware to extort hospitals, municipalities, and public institutions, causing over $30 million in losses. 

In August 2019, the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on the effects of the hiring freeze on the State Department, finding in particular, serious impacts on the cybersecurity functions of the Department. The IG found the following:

The bureau was unable to fill two Senior Executive Service positions responsible for cybersecurity, which it said delayed implementing an enterprise risk management program for IT systems. The DS [Bureau of Diplomatic Security] Computer and Technical Security Directorate reported that staffing shortfalls hampered its ability to develop tools and procedures to react and respond to malicious cyber activity targeting Department personnel and information assets. DS also reported delays in conducting penetration testing of Department networks and providing IT security support for integrating cybersecurity for new and existing systems, which they attributed, in part, to the hiring freeze.

That IG report followed a 2017 report by the State Department OIG that noted a number of cybersecurity risks presented by the structure of the State Department. The report noted that the Chief Information Security Officer was not well placed to be held fully accountable for State Department cybersecurity issues, and highlighted an incident in Guatemala City where unauthorized and misconfigured network devices comprised the Department’s sensitive network.

The State Department has a long history of information security breaches, beginning with a series of blunders in the late 1990’s, and including a massive and prolonged attack in 2014, when the National Security Agency (NSA) and Russian hackers fought for control of State Department servers.  In September 2018, after an email breach of unclassified systems, a bipartisan group of Senators asked you how the State Department was addressing the issue.  Two months later, hackers with suspected ties to the Russian government were found to be impersonating State Department officials in an attempt to infiltrate computers belonging to the U.S. government, the military, and defense contractors.  In March 2019, a State Department contractor was convicted of theft and embezzlement of 16 computers from your organization. 

Given Iran’s technical capabilities and threats to retaliate, as well as the State Department’s systemic organizational and functional problems addressing cybersecurity vulnerabilities, I ask you to answer the following questions on how the State Department will address a surge of offensive cyber activity by Iran:

  1. Currently, cybersecurity personnel are dispersed organizationally across different bureaus within the Department of State, and across embassies around the world. Since the OIG report was issued in August 2019, what personnel changes have you made to more efficiently and effectively address both the hiring freeze impacts and the earlier security and audit concerns presented by the OIG?
  2. The OIG report noted that the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) of the Department of State lacked necessary seniority for effectiveness or accountability. My understanding is that the current CIO reports to the Undersecretary for Management to the Secretary of State, and that the CISO reports to the CIO. In 2018 a study by the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC) recommended that CISO’s have clear and direct communication with the CEO, rather than just to the CIO.  Most organizations provide at least a dotted-line reporting structure from the CISO to the CEO. What kind of direct communication do you have with the CISO, given that the position sits below a CIO and an Undersecretary?
  3. What kind of employee training changes have you made to protect employees from phishing and other social engineering attacks?
  4. What technical changes have you made within the information security organization of the State Department to protect against ransomware and wiper malware attacks?
  5. Have you addressed the August 2019 OIG report’s hiring concerns for information and IT security personnel at our embassies? Are you up-to-date on your information security audits? Does the State Department, at the very least, conduct routine scanning, patching, and utilize multifactor authentication?

I would appreciate your answers by January 31, 2020.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, 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.  

Heavily subsidized by the Chinese government, Huawei is poised to become the leading commercial provider of 5G, with far-reaching effects for U.S. economic and national security. With close ties to the Communist Party of China, Chinese state-directed technology companies present unacceptable risks to our national security and to the integrity of information networks globally. However, U.S. efforts to convince foreign partners to ban Huawei from their networks have stalled amid concerns about a lack of viable, affordable alternatives.

Today’s bipartisan legislation, the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act, would reassert U.S. and Western leadership by encouraging competition with Huawei that capitalizes on U.S. software advantages, accelerating development of an open-architecture model (known as O-RAN) that would allow for alternative vendors to enter the market for specific network components, rather than having to compete with Huawei end-to-end.

“Every month that the U.S. does nothing, Huawei stands poised to become the cheapest, fastest, most ubiquitous global provider of 5G, while U.S. and Western companies and workers lose out on market share and jobs. Widespread adoption of 5G technology has the potential to unleash sweeping effects for the future of internet-connected devices, individual data security, and national security. It is imperative that Congress address the complex security and competitiveness challenges that Chinese-directed telecommunication companies pose,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), who co-founded the wireless company Nextel before entering public service and currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “We need to move beyond observing the problem to providing alternatives for U.S. and foreign network operators.”

“When it comes to 5G technology, the decisions we make today will be felt for decades to come. The widespread adoption of 5G has the potential to transform the way we do business, but also carries significant national security risks. Those risks could prove disastrous if Huawei, a company that operates at the behest of the Chinese government, military, and intelligence services, is allowed to take over the 5G market unchecked. This legislation will help maintain America’s competitive advantage and protect our national security by encouraging Western competitors to develop innovative, affordable, and secure 5G alternatives,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“The Trump Administration’s lecturing of our allies about the dangers of relying on the Chinese for 5G is no replacement for the development of 5G alternatives,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This bill, which will supply the U.S. government with resources to help the private sector create viable 5G alternatives from all ends of the supply chain, is a long overdue step in the right direction. As I’ve said over and over again, confronting China is not the same as being competitive with China. It is time we do just that.”

“We are at a critical point in history for defining the future of the U.S.-China relationship in the 21st century, and we cannot allow Chinese state-directed telecommunications companies to surpass American competitors,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees, said. “It is not only in our national security interests to support American competition in the 5G market, but it is also in our economic interests to continue to build and support an economy that leverages American strengths and creates American jobs in the industries of the future without relying on malign Chinese state-directed actors like Huawei and ZTE.”

“We should not accept a world that is forced to rely on Chinese telecommunication companies to unlock the benefits of 5G and next generation wireless technologies,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “It is imperative for America’s competitiveness and security that we develop alternatives for U.S. and foreign network operators. This $1 billion investment will send a strong, bipartisan signal that the United States is committed to developing viable, secure, and cutting-edge alternatives to China’s 5G technology while eliminating dependence on technology that poses real security threats.”

“5G technology presents a host of opportunities to transform American telecommunications,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said. “By helping to spur innovations in 5G, we can inoculate ourselves against the threat posed by China and encourage the development of technology that is secure, affordable, and economically beneficial to our allies.”

The Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act would:

  • Require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to direct at least $750 million, or up to 5 percent of annual auction proceeds, from new auctioned spectrum licenses to create an O-RAN R&D Fund to spur movement towards open-architecture, software-based wireless technologies, funding innovative, ‘leap-ahead’ technologies in the U.S. mobile broadband market. The fund would be managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), with input from the FCC, Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), among others;
  • Create a $500 million Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund, working with our foreign partners, available for 10 years to accelerate the adoption of trusted and secure equipment globally and to encourage multilateral participation, and require reports for Congress on use of proceeds and progress against goals to ensure ample oversight;
  • Create a transition plan for the purchase of new equipment by carriers that will be forward-compatible with forthcoming O-RAN equipment so small and rural carriers are not left behind;
  • Increase U.S. leadership in International Standards Setting Bodies (ISSBs) by encouraging greater U.S. participation in global and regional telecommunications standards forums and requiring the FCC write a report to Congress with specific recommendations;
  • Expand market opportunities for suppliers and promote economies of scale for equipment and devices by encouraging the FCC to harmonize new commercial spectrum allocations with partners where possible, thus promoting greater alignment with allies and driving down the cost of Huawei alternatives.

“VMware is very supportive of the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act. Moving towards an open, virtualized RAN infrastructure will speed up 5G network integration and rollout, while decreasing deployment costs. We thank Senator Warner for his approach, which will foster U.S.-led innovation in the mobile technology space and give carriers more secure options to buildout our next-generation wireless infrastructure,” said Allwyn Sequeira, SVP & GM of Telco Edge Cloud Products for VMware.

“The security of America's communications networks is an essential component in ensuring our nation's economic leadership, now and in the future.  It  requires all of us -- the industry, the government and those who live and work here – collaborating on efforts to build and maintain smart and secure communications.  Verizon appreciates the forward-thinking, bipartisan Members of Congress that introduced this bill today.  We look forward to working with Congress as we move forward with this important measure,” said Robert Fisher, SVP Federal Government Relations, Verizon.

“AT&T applauds Senator Warner, Senator Burr and the bipartisan group of cosponsors for introducing legislation that will promote the development and deployment of open standards-based advanced telecommunications networks.  We look forward to working with Congress through the legislative process to see this measure enacted,” said Tim McKone, Executive Vice President, Federal Relations, AT&T.

“Juniper Networks supports the ‘USA Telecommunications Act’ introduced by Senator Mark Warner, Senator Richard Burr and the bipartisan group of original cosponsors. The development of open standards and deployment of open standards-based interoperable equipment are crucial to the building of secure 5G networks. The Trust Funds that the Warner-Burr bill proposes would boost R&D spending as well as U.S. leadership in 5G. We look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to get this bill enacted into law and implemented," said Manoj Leelanivas, Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer, Juniper Networks.

Bill text is available here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Rob Wittman (R-VA) led the entire Virginia congressional delegation in sending a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requesting a New Start designation for the Norfolk Harbor widening and deepening project in the Army Corps Work Plan. A New Start designation would allow the Norfolk Harbor project to advance to its next stage of construction and receive Army Corps funding. Currently, the project is progressing using a combination of state and local funds.

“Thanks to the cooperation between the Port of Virginia, the Norfolk District, and the rest of the Army staff, construction on the first constructible element, deepening Thimble Shoal Channel – West, began in December 2019, 18 months ahead of schedule,” wrote the members of Congress. “The next steps are to complete the Design during Construction (DDC) on the remaining elements and prepare the next segment for award and construction. In order to maintain this schedule, the project requires a New Start designation and $2.5 million for construction in the 2020 Work Plan as well as $49.4 million in the President's 2021 budget request.”

The Port of Virginia is an important commercial and economic engine for the Commonwealth, generating more than $78 million annually. In their letter to OMB, the members of Congress reiterated that the funding is critical to ensure timely completion of a two-way traffic channel to better accommodate commercial ships and vessels deploying from Naval Station Norfolk.

“As you know, one lane traffic is not sustainable at the Port of Virginia as the size of commercial vessels continues to grow. One lane traffic creates uncertainty and inefficiency for businesses and their supply chains. Additionally, as home to the world’s largest naval base – Naval Station Norfolk – the deepening and widening of Norfolk Harbor will support the critical functions of the U.S. Navy. The completion of this project will ensure the continued safe and timely passage of larger commercial and military vessels through Norfolk Harbor,” they continued. “The rapid growth of larger vessels entering maritime trade makes it essential that this project proceed as quickly as possible. The public and private non-federal interests have invested billions of dollars on land-side infrastructure and are prepared to provide their cost share to complete this crucial navigation project in a timely manner.”

In December, Sens. Warner and Kaine voted in favor of the government funding bill that included $2.5 million for the Norfolk Harbor Widening and Deepening project and critical language authorizing six Army Corps New Starts. The Army Corps will announce which projects will receive New Start designations in their Work Plan, which must be released no later than 60 days after the Energy and Water appropriations bill was signed into law.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Kaine and Reps. Scott and Wittman, the letter was signed by Reps. 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).

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

 

Dear Director Vought:

We write today concerning the development of the Fiscal Year 2020 Work Plan and the Norfolk Harbor and Channels Project. As the Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) and your office complete work on the Fiscal Year 2020 Work Plan and the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request, we write to reiterate the importance of the Norfolk Harbor and Channels Project.

Thanks to the cooperation between the Port of Virginia, the Norfolk District, and the rest of the Army staff, construction on the first constructible element, deepening Thimble Shoal Channel – West, began in December 2019, 18 months ahead of schedule. The next steps are to complete the Design during Construction (DDC) on the remaining elements and prepare the next segment for award and construction. In order to maintain this schedule, the project requires a New Start designation and $2.5 million for construction in the 2020 Work Plan as well as $49.4 million in the President's 2021 budget request.

As you know, one lane traffic is not sustainable at the Port of Virginia as the size of commercial vessels continues to grow. One lane traffic creates uncertainty and inefficiency for businesses and their supply chains. Additionally, as home to the world’s largest naval base – Naval Station Norfolk – the deepening and widening of Norfolk Harbor will support the critical functions of the U.S. Navy. The completion of this project will ensure the continued safe and timely passage of larger commercial and military vessels through Norfolk Harbor. The rapid growth of larger vessels entering maritime trade makes it essential that this project proceed as quickly as possible. The public and private non-federal interests have invested billions of dollars on land-side infrastructure and are prepared to provide their cost share to complete this crucial navigation project in a timely manner.

The Port of Virginia is a commercial and economic engine for the United States and continues to play an integral role in American foreign and domestic commerce and trade. Continued federal investment into this project will allow the Port to remain a prominent economic hub for the nation and a key player in domestic and international trade by generating more than $78 million in annual national economic development benefits.

Thank you for your consideration. If we can be of any assistance to you going forward, please contact us.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $437,900 in federal funding from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) maintain, protect, and improve the water quality of its rivers, lakes, streams, groundwater, and other waterbodies.

“We are glad to see these federal dollars go towards maintaining healthy bodies of water across Virginia and making water quality assessment data more transparent and accessible,” said the Senators.

This funding will assist the Virginia DEQ in preventing the degradation and reducing the number of impaired waterbodies in the Commonwealth. It will help create a user-friendly interface to complete water quality assessments and provide stakeholders and the general public easy access to water monitoring assessment data. It will also help establish flood probability zones based on tide records and sea level rise projections, as well as map well locations and assess potential flood risks at intervals through 2100. Additionally, it will allow the Commonwealth to develop database guidance and analytical protocols for extending analysis to other localities.

The funding was awarded through a Water Pollution Control (Section 106) grant, which provides assistance to states and interstate agencies in establishing and maintaining adequate measures for prevention and control of surface and ground water pollution from both point and nonpoint sources.  

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Doug Jones (D-AL), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced S. 3172, the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act of 2020 which would extend the black lung excise tax through December 31, 2030 to ensure that coal miners suffering from the disease have access to the medical care that they desperately need. Without the revenue from this tax, the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is at risk of future insolvency at a time when the nationwide prevalence of black lung is increasing.

“Every day our coal miners risk their lives to provide America with the energy we need to be the most powerful nation in the world and as a result, many of these brave miners have Black Lung Disease. Now, it’s our turn to support them and ensure that they receive the treatment and medical care they need. That is why I am proud to introduce the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act of 2020 with my fellow colleagues to extend the black lung excise tax and secure the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund for our coal miners across America who have given so much. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this legislation and send it to the President’s desk,” said Senator Manchin.

“Alabama has nearly 3,000 coal miners, and we need to make sure that they are able to receive the care they need if they develop Black Lung disease. This bill is an important step towards making sure they have the resources they need in order to receive treatment for this disease,” said Senator Jones.

“Last year, we were proud to help secure miners’ health care and pension benefits in the annual government spending bill. This bill also extended funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund through December 2020, providing some temporary relief for coal miners. However, as these miners and their families know, a one-year extension is not enough,” said Senator Warner. “Our coal miners have sacrificed so much in order to fuel our nation and they deserve to know that this critical funding won’t run out at the end of the year. Our legislation would further extend this funding through 2030 and provide peace of mind for miners who rely on the fund to get the care they need.”

“Miners put everything on the line to help power this nation each and every day. This disability trust fund is an effort to support their tireless work and help ensure those suffering from black lung can get much needed treatment,” Senator Kaine said.

“Ohio miners have put their health at risk for years to power our country,” said Senator Brown. “Congress must now do its part and extend the black lung tax, so we can ensure these minors have access to the care and resources needed to prevent and treat black lung disease.”

Coal miners have done some of most difficult work there is to power our country. The Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act of 2020 would ensure the continuity of the trust fund, especially given the resurgence of Black Lung Disease, so the fund can continue to provide miners with Black Lung Disease the health and disability benefits they need,” said Senator Bob Casey.  “I will keep fighting to make sure that Congress keeps its promise to take care of our miners.”

 

Background on the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund:

  • The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is financed primarily by an excise tax on coal produced and sold domestically. This tax was first established in 1978 at $0.50 per ton on underground-mined coal, and $0.25 per ton on surface-mined coal. The funding was later raised to $1.10 per ton for underground-mined coal and $0.55 per ton for surface-mined coal.
  • Due to congressional inaction, on December 31, 2018, the tax rate reverted back to $0.50 per ton on underground-mined coal and $0.25 per ton on surface-mined coal, representing a 55% reduction.
  • In December of 2019, Congress passed, and President Donald Trump signed into law, an end-of-year spending package that included a one-year extension of the 2018 tax rates. These rates are set to expire on December 31, 2020.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen and 18 other Senators in urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clarify its position on the enforcement of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution reduction targets.

The Members write, “We were deeply disturbed by reports that, at the January 3, 2020 meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Director Dana Aunkst reportedly said that the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) was ‘aspirational’ and that the 2025 targets were ‘not enforceable.’ This is totally contrary to the intent of this decade-long effort and, if it is the position of the EPA, risks critical progress to restore the Chesapeake Bay.”

They go on to underline the legal justification of the EPA’s authority, noting, “The Courts have upheld the legality of the Bay TMDL. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has noted, the ‘Clean Water Act does not simply direct the publication of the TMDL; it is one step in a process with several layers, each placing primary responsibility for pollution controls in state hands with ‘backstop authority’ vested in the EPA.’”

The Members request the EPA to answer a number of questions clarifying its position, and close the letter, stating, “The Bay TMDL has made strong progress towards cleanup of this national treasure and economic engine in our region. We are at a critical moment, when all partners must step up their commitment to reach the 2025 goals. The EPA has a statutory obligation to be an enforcement backstop in this vital project, and we fully expect it to fulfill that role. We look forward to receiving your response by January 24, 2020.”

In addition to Senator Van Hollen, the letter was signed by Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), and Representatives John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.), Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), Donald S. Beyer, Jr. (D-Va.), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.), Elaine G. Luria (D-Va.), Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), David Trone (D-Md.), A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.).

 

The text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Administrator Wheeler:

We were deeply disturbed by reports that, at the January 3, 2020 meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Director Dana Aunkst reportedly said that the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) was “aspirational” and that the 2025 targets were “not enforceable.” This is totally contrary to the intent of this decade-long effort and, if it is the position of the EPA, risks critical progress to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

On December 29, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, a historic and comprehensive agreement that includes accountability features to restore clean water in the seven jurisdictions within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The agreement is a national and indeed international model for watershed restoration. It sets limits for pollution that equate to a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorous, and 20 percent reduction in sediment.  As the Bay TMDL states, “The TMDL is designed to ensure that all pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025[.]”

The goal of the Clean Water Act is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” To that end, states are first required to set water quality standards for all waters within their boundaries regardless of the sources of pollution.  When those water quality standards cannot be met and maintained through effluent limitations and technology-based controls on point sources, water quality-based controls are required under Section 303(d) of the Act. States are required to identify waters within its boundaries that cannot achieve water quality standards based on effluent limitations, and then “shall establish for [impaired] waters […] the total maximum daily load, for those pollutants which the Administrator identifies […] as suitable for such calculation.”  A TMDL is a specification of the maximum amount of a particular pollutant that can pass through a waterbody each day without violating water quality standards.  Such “load shall be established at a level necessary to implement the applicable water quality standards with seasonal variations and a margin of safety which takes into account any lack of knowledge[.]”  Once the 303(d) list and any TMDLs are approved by the EPA, states must incorporate the list and TMDLs into its continuing planning process.

The Courts have upheld the legality of the Bay TMDL. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has noted, the “Clean Water Act does not simply direct the publication of the TMDL; it is one step in a process with several layers, each placing primary responsibility for pollution controls in state hands with ‘backstop authority’ vested in the EPA.”

In addition to these requirements, Section 117(g) of the Act requires EPA to take certain actions regarding the implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement and the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.  It states that the EPA Administrator, “in coordination with other members of the Chesapeake Executive Council, shall ensure that management plans are developed and implementation is begun by signatories to the Chesapeake Bay Agreement to achieve and maintain (A) the nutrient goals of the Chesapeake Bay Agreements for the quantity of nitrogen and phosphorous entering the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed; (B) the water quality requirements necessary to restore living resources in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem; […] (D) habitat restoration, protection, creation, and enhancement goals established by Chesapeake Bay Agreement signatories for living wetlands, riparian forests, and other types of habitat associated with the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem; and (E) the restoration, protection, creation, and enhancement goals established by the Chesapeake Bay Agreement signatories for living resources associated with the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.” (emphasis added).

The implementation of the Bay TMDL and the Bay jurisdiction’s Watershed Implementation Plans are, therefore, part of EPA’s legal obligation to achieve and maintain the nutrient goals of the Chesapeake Bay under the Clean Water Act. 

Since the inception of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL – and through its Reasonable Assurance and Accountability Framework – EPA has communicated its expectations for the Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia to develop Watershed Implementation Plans and two-year milestones and “demonstrate satisfactory progress toward achieving nutrient and sediment allocations established by EPA in the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.”  In addition, the Agency laid out potential consequences the Bay jurisdictions would face if they failed to demonstrate progress on their obligations under the Bay TMDL, noting that the “identification of possible federal actions is intended to strengthen our individual and collective resolve to make the difficult choices and decisions along the road to a restored Chesapeake Bay and watershed and fill in the gaps to aid States and the District to meet their commitments in order to ensure that the allocations in the TMDL are achieved.”

Time and again, EPA has demonstrated through its approach in establishing and implementing the Bay TMDL, including its Reasonable Assurance and Accountability Framework, its view that the Bay jurisdictions are responsible for meeting the allocations in the Bay TMDL.  Indeed, as recently as April of 2017, in laying out its expectations for Pennsylvania’s Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan, EPA noted several examples of potential actions it could take specific to Pennsylvania if it determined that the state did not meet these expectations.  Those consequences included: (1) Targeting federal enforcement and compliance assurance in the watershed; (2) Directing Chesapeake Bay funding to identified priorities; (3) Establishing finer scale wasteload and load allocations through a Pennsylvania state-specific proposed amendment to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL; (4) Requiring additional reductions of loading from point sources through a Pennsylvania state-specific proposed amendment to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL; and (5) Initiating a process to propose promulgating nitrogen and phosphorous numeric water quality standards for Pennsylvania applicable to streams and rivers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

EPA’s defense of the Bay TMDL and its historic approach to the Bay jurisdiction’s development of the Watershed Implementation Plans clearly indicates that it took its responsibilities under Sections 303d and 117(g) seriously and that it viewed achieving the allocations in the Bay TMDL as necessary to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act. In your confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, you stated that, “I am very much committed to the Chesapeake Bay and to the Chesapeake Bay Program.” 

Because the legislative, administrative, and judicial record on the Bay TMDL clearly conveys EPA’s responsibility, we are extremely concerned by signals that EPA appears to be backing away from its statutory obligations and the Reasonable Assurance and Accountability Framework that it established to ensure the timely restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition to Mr. Aunkst’s alarming comments last week, EPA has undertaken numerous regulatory rollbacks that will negatively impact the Bay. The Administration’s proposed budgets have zeroed out or significantly reduced funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which Congress has had to restore. Moreover, EPA’s recent response to Pennsylvania’s Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan did not hold that state accountable despite the fact that EPA’s prior evaluation noted that Pennsylvania is on track to meet only 75 percent of its nitrogen reduction targets and the Commonwealth itself identified a $324 million annual shortfall in their plan. EPA’s evaluation fell short of providing meaningful requirements and steps for Pennsylvania to get back on track to meet their 2025 goals, and did not state whether backstop actions will be required and enforced.

These actions leave us very concerned that EPA is not fully committed to the restoration of the Bay. EPA is the key federal partner in this effort, and the Chesapeake Bay Program is the glue that keeps the partnership together. It’s important that you take immediate steps to demonstrate EPA’s commitment and accountability to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

We request responses to the following questions within the next fourteen days:

1.            Do Mr. Aunkst’s comments that the TMDL is “aspirational” and “not enforceable” represent the Agency’s position?

2.            Do you agree that EPA has the authority to enforce the 2025 nutrient reductions assumed in the Bay TMDL?

3.            Does EPA plan to fulfill its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act and use all tools available to hold jurisdictions accountable to meet the allocations agreed upon in the Bay TMDL by 2025?

4.            Will EPA remain an active member of the partnership with the six states and Washington, DC by ensuring implementation of the Watershed Implementation Plans to achieve the nutrient reduction goals of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement?

5.            What is your plan and timeline for enforcement, particularly for taking the backstop actions described in Section 7.2.4 of the Bay TMDL and other documents sent by EPA to the Chesapeake Bay states?

The Bay TMDL has made strong progress towards cleanup of this national treasure and economic engine in our region. We are at a critical moment, when all partners must step up their commitment to reach the 2025 goals. The EPA has a statutory obligation to be an enforcement backstop in this vital project, and we fully expect it to fulfill that role. We look forward to receiving your response by January 24, 2020.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in support of Virginia’s joint application with Amtrak for matching funds to improve passenger rail service.

Following a recommendation by the National Surface Transportation Board to retire many existing railcars, some of which are over 40 years old, Virginia is pushing for funding under DOT’s Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Program to help modernize Amtrak’s fleet and improve ride quality for Virginians. 

“Maintaining and repairing current equipment is costly in terms of both safety and efficiency. New railcars will provide safer, better, and more reliable mobility,” the Senators wrote in their letter to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao. “This funding, in conjunction with Virginia's numerous high priority passenger rail projects, will help make state-sponsored service a more reliable and pleasant transportation alternative.”

Virginia is one of 17 states and regional authorities to fund the state-sponsored Amtrak business lines of service, which account for nearly 50 percent of total Amtrak ridership nationwide. In FY2019, nearly one million individuals used the Amtrak Northeast Regional service, the highest number of riders recorded in the Commonwealth’s history. Stops along the Northeast corridor include Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond, and Roanoke.

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

 

Dear Secretary Chao:

We write to express our support for the Commonwealth of Virginia's application, submitted jointly with Amtrak, for funding under the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2019 Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Program.

The Commonwealth is leading efforts, not only with Amtrak but also with 16 other states, to procure new railway vehicles to replace its aging stock.  The National Surface Transportation Board has recommended that many existing railcars be retired, some of which are over 40 years old.  Maintaining and repairing current equipment is costly in terms of both safety and efficiency.  New railcars will provide safer, better, and more reliable mobility.  This funding, in conjunction with Virginia's numerous high priority passenger rail projects, will help make state-sponsored service a more reliable and pleasant transportation alternative.

Virginia is one of 17 states and regional authorities to fund the state-sponsored Amtrak business lines of service, which account for nearly 50% of total Amtrak ridership nationwide.  Currently, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation administers state funding for six daily Amtrak Northeast Regional round trips, originating in Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond, and Roanoke, connecting Virginians to stops along the Northeast Corridor.  In federal Fiscal Year 2019, over 924,000 individuals used the service - the highest number in the Commonwealth's history.  Pending award of this grant and action by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, Virginia is prepared to commit an additional $15 million in state funding and $32.5 million in Amtrak revenues to the project.

Please give full and fair evaluation to this project, which will benefit the safety and comfort of the travelling public.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA) and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) released the following statement after the Department of Energy (DoE) announced that Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) was not selected as the national laboratory site to host the first Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) in the United States, a machine that’s key for the U.S. to maintain its leadership in nuclear physics:

“We are disappointed by the Department of Energy’s announcement today that Jefferson Lab was not selected to house the proposed Electron Ion Collider. We expect the Department of Energy to provide a full and transparent explanation into its site selection process for this project. Regardless, Jefferson Lab will continue to be heavily involved in the EIC project, and we will work with the Department to secure additional opportunities for Jefferson Lab moving forward – including in the advanced computing space."

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) announced two new bipartisan co-sponsors for their legislation to protect consumers from being tricked into giving away their personal data online. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD), two senior members of the Senate Commerce Committee, have co-sponsored the Warner-Fischer legislation to prohibit large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces, known as “dark patterns” to trick consumers into handing over their personal data.

“Whether you bought Christmas gifts online, downloaded a new messaging app, or tried to navigate a major browser’s byzantine privacy settings, chances are you were a victim of a dark pattern. In fact, if you wanted to score that extra discount at checkout, these design tactics most likely manipulated you into handing over more than just your email address to get that deal,” Sen. Warner. “I’m grateful to have the support of Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Thune on this important bill to make sure Americans have more transparency about, and control over, their interactions online.”

“Nearly every time Americans use a new app on our smart phones or browse social media from our laptops, we run into dark patterns. These unethical tricks online platforms use as they battle to capture attention and manipulate users must be stopped. I am pleased to have expanded bipartisan support for this legislation that combats risks to consumer choice and privacy online,” said Sen. Fischer.

“Dark patterns are manipulative tactics used to trick consumers into sharing their personal data. These tactics undermine consumers’ autonomy and privacy, yet they are becoming pervasive on many online platforms,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “This legislation would help prevent the major online platforms from using such manipulative tactics to mislead consumers, and it would prohibit behavioral experiments on users without their informed consent.”

“We live in an environment where large online operators often deploy manipulative practices or ‘dark patterns’ to obtain consent to collect user data, so I’m glad this bills takes meaningful steps to advance consumer transparency,” said Sen. Thune. “I particularly applaud the provisions of this bill that require large online operators to be more transparent about when users are subject to behavioral or psychological research for the purpose of promoting engagement on their platforms. I want to thank Sens. Warner and Fischer for leading this effort, and I’m glad to join them and Sen. Klobuchar in cosponsoring this important legislation.”

The bipartisan Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act aims to curb manipulative dark pattern behavior by prohibiting the largest online platforms (those with over 100 million monthly active users) from relying on user interfaces that intentionally impair user autonomy, decision-making, or choice. Specifically, the legislation:

  • Enables the creation of a professional standards body, which can register with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to focus on best practices surrounding user design for large online operators. This association would act as a self-regulatory body, providing updated guidance to platforms on design practices that impair user autonomy, decision-making, or choice, positioning the FTC to act as a regulatory backstop.
  • Prohibits segmenting consumers for the purposes of behavioral experiments, unless with a consumer’s informed consent. This includes routine disclosures for large online operators, not less than once every 90 days, on any behavioral or psychological experiments to users and the public. Additionally, the bill would require large online operators to create an internal Independent Review Board to provide oversight on these practices to safeguard consumer welfare. 
  • Prohibits user design intended to create compulsive usage among children under the age of 13 years old.
  • Directs the FTC to create rules within one year of enactment to carry out the requirements related to informed consent, Independent Review Boards, and Professional Standards Bodies.

Sen. Warner has been raising concerns about the implications of social media companies’ reliance on dark patterns for several years. In 2014, Sen. Warner asked the FTC to investigate Facebook’s use of dark patterns in an experiment involving nearly 700,000 users designed to study the emotional impact of manipulating information on News Feeds.

Sen. Warner is also recognized as one of Congress’ leading voices in an ongoing public debate around social media and user privacy. He has written and introduced a series of bipartisan bills designed to protect consumers and promote competition in social media. The Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act will require data harvesting companies such as social media platforms to tell consumers and financial regulators exactly what data they are collecting from consumers, and how it is being leveraged by the platform for profit.? The Honest Ads Act will help prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements. The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act is a bipartisan bill to encourage market-based competition to dominant social media platforms by requiring the largest companies to make user data portable – and their services interoperable – with other platforms, and to allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings, if they so choose.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded $96,425 in federal funding from the Department of Transportation (DOT) to support the loading and unloading of barges and research vessels at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Wallops Island. The grant was awarded through the Maritime Administration’s Marine Highway grant program.

“We are glad to see these federal dollars go towards helping equip MARS with the resources it needs to continue to carry out important operations and research,” said the Senators. “We have no doubt that with this funding, this facility will continue to help boost our nation’s competitiveness in aeronautics.”

“Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority is pleased to learn through Senator Warner’s office that grant funding was awarded from the America’s Marine Highway Program to fund the design and engineering of a new dock/ramp located at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Unmanned Systems Airfield on Wallops Island. MARAD should be applauded for leaning forward, uniquely leveraging funds to enhance the M-95 highway by embracing Virginia’s Spaceport and its vision to become a truly intermodal hub with access via Land, Space, Air, and now Sea,” said Virginia Space CEO and Executive Director Dale Nash.

The funding will be used to design a new 520’ long x 30’ wide access trestle and combination dock/ramp to support the loading and unloading of barges and research vessels at MARS. In addition, funds will be used for engineering and consulting services for the integration of the MARS Port with the UAS runway on the north end of Wallops Island.

The Marine Highway Program seeks to expand the use of America's navigable waters by working closely with public and private organizations to develop and expand marine highway service options and facilitate their further integration into the current U.S. surface transportation system, especially where water-based transport is the most efficient, effective and sustainable option. It also works to highlight the benefits, increase public awareness and promote waterways as a viable (in some cases a superior) alternative to "landside" shipping and transportation options.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates of Virginia’s space launch facilities. In 2014, the Senators secured $20 million in funding for Wallops Flight Facility to support repairs following a launch failure in October 2014 that caused significant damage to a MARS launch pad. Additionally, last April, Sen. Warner was joined by Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in touring MARS Pad 0A and a newly-constructed MARS payload processing facility on Wallops Flight Facility. Senator Kaine also toured the facility last May, where he met with Wallops staff to discuss infrastructure improvements in preparation for upcoming missions, construction on the Rocket Lab’s launch pad, and new capabilities at the airfield. Sen. Warner, co-chair of the Senate Aerospace Caucus, has also introduced bipartisan legislation to support innovation, research and development in the aeronautics industry occurring at Wallops. 

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