Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke at a bipartisan event in the U.S. Capitol hosted by the Washington Kurdish Institute. In his remarks, Warner called on the Senate to take up and pass the Syrian Allies Protection Act, legislation Warner introduced that would make U.S. visas available to Kurdish Syrians who worked directly with the U.S. armed forces in Syria.

These individuals’ lives now may be in danger after President Trump abruptly withdrew American troops from northern Syria and allowed a Turkish military operation to move forward against Kurdish fighters, who have been integral partners in the fight against ISIS. Since the Turkish offensive began last month, there have been reports of executions and human rights abuses against Kurdish fighters and civilians, and at least 99,200 people in northeastern Syria remain displaced, with 14,000 refugees seeking shelter in Iraq, according to the United Nations.

 Responding to the President’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria, Warner said, “It's now a month and a half since the President of the United States – in one phone call – undermined our Kurdish allies, completely caught the American military and the American intelligence community totally off-guard, and threw the region into chaos. As a result of that telephone conversation, men and women of the SDF [Syrian Defense Forces] and other Kurdish allies – who literally up until that phone call, in many cases, were standing with the American military – are now subject to being killed.”

The Senator continued, “I also think the President's decision to abandon the Kurds will be a disaster for American foreign policy for decades. How do we go back to allies or potential allies in a very troubled region and say, ‘If you align with us and promote democratic values and promote human rights and stand with us, we will stand with you?’”

On the question of who benefits most from the withdrawal of American troops, Warner noted, “Who are the winners? Iran… [Syrian Dictator Bashar al] Assad… Vladimir Putin… ISIS. These are not allies of the United States or the Kurdish people.”

According to a report from the Defense Department released Tuesday, the Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria and the drawdown of U.S. troops allowed ISIS to “reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad... In the longer term, ISIS will probably seek to regain control of some Syrian population centers and expand its global footprint.” The report also noted that the Turkish offensive allowed Russian and Syrian government forces to move into northeast Syria, a development the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said “would likely impact” U.S. goals for a peaceful end to the Syrian civil war.

In his remarks, Warner called on Congress to pass his legislation to protect Kurdish Syrians who worked directly with the U.S. armed forces in Syria prior to the President’s withdrawal.

“One thing that is the bare minimum we should do is support legislation that I've put forward called the Syrian Allies Protection Act. What that says is very simply that the men and women, the Kurdish men and women allies who had been working with the United States military or our intelligence services for at least six months, ought to be protected on a going-forward basis,” Warner said.

Similar to congressionally-directed programs that made select Iraqi and Afghan nationals who worked as interpreters or in other vital military support positions eligible for special immigrant visas, the Syrian Allies Protection Act would protect those Kurds in Syria who worked most closely with the United States, usually as translators, and whose lives are now threatened not only by the ongoing Turkish incursion, but by potential retaliation by freed ISIS fighters, regime forces, and other foreign interests in Syria now that the protection of American forces has been removed. The legislation would provide permanent American residence to Syrian nationals who worked for the U.S. armed forces for at least six months, have obtained a favorable recommendation from a general or flag officer in the chain of command, and have passed a background check and screening. The legislation would also direct the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, to develop and implement a framework to evacuate these eligible individuals to safety – either in the United States or a third country – while vetting takes place, if their lives are at risk remaining in Syria.  

The Washington Kurdish Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, research and educational organization that was established in 1996, which represents Kurdish American interests and advocates for policies supporting the development of Kurdistan’s civil society.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded $299,456 in federal funding from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) for Virginia Tech to conduct research on community-based ways to combat the opioid epidemic and facilitate cooperation between law enforcement and public health agencies. The grant was awarded through the ONDCP’s Combating Opioid Overdose through Community-Level Intervention (COOCLI) grant program.

“Communities throughout the Commonwealth and across the country continue to feel the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic, which is why we’re so glad to see this federal funding go towards conducting potentially lifesaving research at Virginia Tech,” said the Senators. “We’re proud to know that with this grant, the Commonwealth will continue to play a vital role in making sure that our nation is better prepared to mitigate this crisis and fight opioid addiction.”

In 2018, the Virginia Department of Health estimated that 1,059 people died in Virginia as a result of a fentanyl, heroin, or prescription opioid overdose. Fatal drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, surpassing car accidents and gun violence.

Grants issued under the COOCLI program support efforts to: 1) undertake research activities that entail implementing and evaluating community-based efforts to fight the opioid overdose epidemic; and 2) support and promote the partnership of law enforcement and public health agencies, whose collaboration is critical to reducing overdose and other harms of opioid abuse.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long advocated for increased federal funding to combat the opioid epidemic in Virginia. Last year, the Senators successfully passed a bipartisan bill to help communities across Virginia by improving opioid treatment and recovery efforts and providing new tools for law enforcement. Additionally, in 2016, Sens. Warner and Kaine successfully advocated for the inclusion of several Virginia counties into the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

November 20, 2019

The Honorable Christopher Wray

Director

Federal Bureau of Investigations

Washington, D.C. 20535

Dear Director Wray:

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

Mark Warner

United States Senator

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WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Angus King (I-ME) announced the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved their bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act, legislation that would address the nearly $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog at the National Park Service (NPS). The bill, which has been praised by key stakeholders, would establish the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” from existing unobligated revenues the government receives from on and offshore energy development to fund deferred maintenance projects at NPS sites across the country.  Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) have led similar legislation in the House of Representatives. The legislation now awaits action on the Senate floor.

“If we want to protect our national treasures for our children and future generations, we must make important investments before it’s too late,” Warner said. “National parks are not only instrumental in telling America’s story, they also serve as important economic engines that support thousands of jobs in communities across the country. In fact, the 22.2 million visitors who explored Virginia’s national parks last year spent an estimated $1.1 billion, supporting more than 16,000 thousand jobs. Today’s committee passage of the Restore Our Parks Act is a big first step in investing in our communities and funding the critical renovations our parks require.”

“For more than a century, the National Park Service has been inspiring Americans to explore the natural beauty of our country,”Portman said. “But in order to keep that work going, we need to ensure that they have the necessary resources to maintain our national parks. This bill will create the Legacy Restoration Fund to provide the National Park Service with funds for deferred maintenance projects like the more than $100 million in maintenance backlog at Ohio’s eight national parks. I’d like to thank Senators Warner, Alexander, and King as well as the cosponsors of his legislation for their leadership on this issue and I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to get this legislation signed into law so that the National Park Service can continue preserving American treasures.” 

“This legislation could do more to restore our national parks than anything that has happened in the last half century, and the reason we need to restore them is so Americans can enjoy the 419 sites – from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Grand Canyon – for generations to come,” said Alexander. 

“Today’s committee vote represents an important, bipartisan step towards establishing lasting protections for our National Parks, and preserving these treasures for our children and grandchildren,” said King. “From Acadia to Zion, the National Park System captures America’s diverse natural beauty and is a proud reminder of our country’s dedication to preserving public land for all its citizens. As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.’ We have a collective responsibility to maintain this spirit of the wilderness in our National Parks – and this starts with the $12 billion maintenance backlog. Stewardship of our public lands is not a partisan issue, which is why I’m pleased that the Restore Our Parks Act passed our committee with strong bipartisan support.” 

“Today’s vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is yet another sign of the overwhelming public and congressional support to fix our parks. It’s now up to leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives to advance the bipartisan Restore Our Parks legislation,” said Marcia Argust, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ project to restore America’s parks. “Enacting this measure into law would be a historic end-of-the-year gift to our national parks, their millions of visitors, and local economies.” 

“From Acadia to Cuyahoga and the Great Smokies, America’s national parks protect some of America’s most iconic landscapes and most important history, and are beloved by millions. Yet as our parks face years of record-breaking visitation, they are falling into disrepair,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association. “Billions of dollars are needed to fix parks’ crumbling roads, overgrown trails, broken water and sewer systems and outdated visitor centers. This isn’t the legacy we should be leaving for our children and grandchildren. After years of urging by communities and park advocates, today lawmakers are banding together, across the aisle, to fix our parks. We are grateful for the leadership of Senators Portman, Warner, Alexander and King, as we move one important step closer to providing our parks, rangers and local communities with the support they so desperately need and deserve.”

“The importance of our national parks extends way beyond their conservation and recreation value—they are also vital hubs if of economic activity, driving $40.1 billion in annual economic activity and 329,000 American jobs,” said U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President, Tori Emerson Barnes.  “The Restore Our Parks Act is a critical step in securing our parks’ infrastructure so that they remain available both for the enjoyment of future generations and to sustain that economic legacy. We thank Senator Portman, for his key role in moving this legislation forward.” 

“America’s National Parks are often called our nation’s best idea, but after decades of inadequate funding and deferred maintenance,”said Thomas Cassidy, vice president for government relations and policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Our nation risks losing these incredible resources.  Our national parks are more than just places to experience natural beauty—they are places where our children and children’s children can experience the full American story. We applaud Senators Portman, Warner, Alexander and King for their leadership and commitment to our national parks and look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to secure passage of the Restore Our Parks Act.”

“The Restore Our Parks Act represents a significant investment in our national parks, which reflect all that we love and cherish as a nation,” said Will Shafroth, President and CEO, National Park Foundation. “As these places face increased visitation and aging infrastructure, this bill will help protect our parks' natural grandeur, expansive history, and rich cultural heritage. The National Park Foundation applauds bill champions Senator Lamar Alexander, Senator Angus King, Senator Rob Portman, and Senator Mark Warner for their unwavering support. We commend Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski and Ranking Member Joe Manchin for holding today's markup and their shared commitment to addressing our parks’ deferred maintenance needs. As the Foundation continues to enhance the national park visitor experience through philanthropic support, we look forward to the legislation’s timely consideration on the Senate floor." 

“Our national parks are engines of economic growth for gateway communities across the country – and the Restore Our Parks Act is the key to ensuring proper funding to fix our aging and deteriorating national treasures,” said Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president of government affairs at Outdoor Industry Association. “OIA applauds the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for working in a bipartisan manner to approve this critical legislation that will result in better infrastructure, healthier communities and a stronger economy. This day would not be possible without the dedication of Senators Portman, Warner, Alexander and King to propel the bill forward. We urge the full Senate to finish the job and pass this legislation as soon as possible.”

“National parks provide major economic opportunities for gateway counties. With National Park Service infrastructure in need of repair, surrounding communities often see declines in tourism,” said National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase. “The Restore Our Parks Act would help reduce the significant maintenance backlog and ensure positive experiences for visitors to our public lands. We thank the members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for supporting this legislation and urge the full Senate to act on it quickly.” 

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

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, the bipartisan leadership of several key Senate committees urged President Trump’s national security adviser to designate a senior coordinator dedicated to leading the nation’s effort to develop and deploy next-generation communications technologies. In a letter to Robert O’Brien, who was appointed as national security adviser in September, the top Republican and Democratic Senators on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee stressed the urgent need for the Trump administration to develop a national strategy for 5G, and to prioritize across government agencies the nation’s effort to develop and deploy the technology. 

“While we appreciate the progress being made within and across departments and agencies, we are concerned that their respective approaches are not informed by a coherent national strategy. In our view, the current national level approach to 5G comprises of a dispersed coalition of common concern, rather than a coordinated, interagency activity. Without a national strategy, facilitated by a common understanding of the geopolitical and technical impact of 5G and future telecommunications advancements, we expect each agency will continue to operate within its own mandate, rather than identifying national authority and policy deficiencies that do not neatly fall into a single department or agency. This fractured approach will not be sufficient to rise to the challenge the country faces. We hope that you, as the new National Security Adviser, will make this issue a top priority. We would further urge you to designate a dedicated, senior individual focused solely on coordinating and leading the nation’s effort to develop and deploy future telecommunications technologies. We believe that having a senior leader would position the United States to lead on telecommunications advancements, ensure the United States is appropriately postured against this strategic threat, and demonstrate to our allies the seriousness with which the nation considers the issue,” wrote Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), the Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Intelligence Committee; Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Gary Peters (D-MI), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee; and Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Jack Reed (D-RI), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee.

The Senators stressed the dangers of allowing China to continue to lead the development of 5G technology. Maintaining White House focus on 5G is especially important in light of last week’s decision to eliminate the emerging technologies directorate at the National Security Council. 

“While the United States has led in the development and deployment of previous telecommunications evolutions, 5G represents the first evolutionary step for which an authoritarian nation leads the marketplace for telecommunications solutions. China’s leadership, combined with the United States’ increased reliance on high-speed, reliable telecommunications services to facilitate both commerce and defense, poses a strategic risk for the country. We cannot rely exclusively on defensive measures to solve or mitigate the issue, but rather we must shape the future of advanced telecommunications technology by supporting domestic innovation through meaningful investments, leveraging existing areas of U.S. strength, and bringing together like-minded allies and private sector expertise through a sustained effort over the course of decades, not months. A challenge of this magnitude requires a more ambitious response than traditional agency processes can support,” wrote the Senators.

A copy of the letter is available here. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The text of this legislation is available here. 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-founder of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding a proposed rule by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that would require CMS-funded health plans (including ACA marketplace plans) to allow patients to access their personal health information electronically through third-party consumer applications. In his letter, Sen. Warner urged HHS to include clear standards and defined controls for accessing patient data in order to address the potential for misuse of these interoperability features.

“In just the last three years, technology providers and policymakers have been unable to anticipate – or preemptively address – the misuse of consumer technology which has had profound impacts across our society and economy. As I have stated repeatedly, third-party data stewardship is a critical component of information security, and a failure to ensure robust requirements and controls are in place is often the cause of the most devastating breaches of sensitive personal information,” wrote Sen. Warner. “It is critical that there are proper safeguards are in place to protect patient privacy and sensitive health information. Moreover, there should be more work done by HHS to facilitate greater access to, and transfer of, electronic health information that does not inadvertently enable dominant IT providers to leverage their control over user data outside of the health care context into nascent markets for personalized health products.”

“Across all sectors – including health care – innovative products and services, increasingly dependent upon machine learning, rely on user data as the single most important productive input to innovation and customization. Importantly, however, any approach must balance innovation and ease of access with privacy, security, and a commitment to robust competition. Further, any effort must ensure that such access redounds to the benefit of patients – and that data, once shared with new providers, is not commercialized in ways that benefit those providers without direct benefits or compensation to users,” he continued. “As CMS and HHS move forward with this needed rule – I urge you to include clear standards and defined controls for all stakeholders that ensure third party software applications accessing patient data through APIs are effectively protecting patient information and that patients are appropriately (and routinely) informed, in clear and particularized ways, how their data is used.”

Under the proposed Interoperability and Patient Access rule, CMS would require Medicare Advantage (MA) organizations, state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Fee-for-Service (FFS) programs, Medicaid managed care plans, CHIP managed care entities, and qualified health plans (QHPs) on the federally-facilitated exchanges (FFEs) to allow patients to access their personal health information electronically through open application programing interfaces (APIs). APIs would allow third-party software applications to connect to, process, and make the data available to patients.

In the letter, Sen. Warner emphasized the importance of allowing patients to easily access their health information. He also noted the similarities between the proposed rule and the ACCESS Act – bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Warner that would promote market-based competition among social media platforms by requiring the largest social media companies to make user data portable, and their services interoperable, with other platforms. The ACCESS Act would also allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings, if they so choose. Additionally, Sen. Warner urged that, at a minimum, the final rule include the following standards:

  • Patient Access to Data – A guarantee that patients will have ready access to their personal health data and an ability to regularly monitor and ensure the accuracy of such information. Patients should be informed of all commercial uses of their data, including any third parties their data has been shared with (even if it has alleged to have been anonymized). Patients should also have the right to withhold consent for their data to be shared with third parties, or used in new ways without their consent. Patients should also reserve the right to have third party users dispose of their data upon request.
  • Adequate Privacy and Security Safeguards – Ensure participating stakeholders can adequately safeguard patient information by using existing best practices for secure storage and complying with applicable breach notification requirements. Moreover, HHS must work with the FTC and state attorneys general to develop mechanisms to report, supervise, and prosecute privacy and security lapses.
  • Documentation of the open API specifications and required security controls – Provide clear attestation of the open API specifications as defined for patient data, the security requirements and controls imposed on healthcare providers, and the third-party platform obligations in managing patient data. 
  • Patient Consent and Terms of Use – CMS and HHS should work proactively with the patient, provider and payer community to ensure users have informed proactive consent when user data is shared with a third party. In addition – there should be clear protections in place to ensure third party vendors use patient data solely for purposes in which the patient has expressly given informed proactive consent, including cases where patient information may be sold, and that patients retain the right to direct any party that has acquired their data to delete it upon request. Further, those accessing patient data should be prohibited from conditioning continued access on agreement by the patient to share their data with third parties. 

Sen. Warner has been a longtime critic of poor cybersecurity practices that compromise Americans’ personal information. Last week, Sen. Warner raised concern with HSS’ failure to act, following a mass exposure of sensitive medical images and information by health organizations. In September, he wrote to TridentUSA Health Services to inquire about the company’s data security practices, following reports that a company affiliate exposed medical data belonging to millions of Americans. Earlier that month, Sen. Warner demanded answers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and South Korean company Suprema HQ, following separate incidents that affected both entities and exposed the personal, permanently identifiable data of many Americans. Sen. Warner has introduced legislation to empower state and local government to counter cyberattacks, and to increase cybersecurity among public companies.

The letter text can be found below and a PDF is available here.

 

The Honorable Alex M. Azar II

Department of Health and Human Services

Office of the Secretary

200 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20201

 

Dear Secretary Azar:

I am writing regarding the proposed rule from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Interoperability and Patient Access that would enable third party consumer applications to access sensitive patient and health plan data through application programming interfaces (APIs) [1]. I share the goals of advancing interoperability in patient health information and believe that – implemented appropriately – this proposal could represent a significant step in that direction. However, I urge CMS to take additional steps to address the potential for misuse of these features in developing the rules around APIs. In just the last three years, technology providers and policymakers have been unable to anticipate – or preemptively address – the misuse of consumer technology which has had profound impacts across our society and economy. As I have stated repeatedly, third-party data stewardship is a critical component of information security, and a failure to ensure robust requirements and controls are in place is often the cause of the most devastating breaches of sensitive personal information.

Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act (P.L. 114-255) with a key objective of improving the protected exchange of electronic health records across the care continuum. Notably, Section 4003 and 4004 included specific provisions to establish a trusted health information exchange framework and reduce information blocking; it stated that there should be regulation over unreasonable practices to interfere with, prevent, or materially discourage access, exchange, or use of a patient’s electronic health records. While your agency has taken substantial steps to implement fundamental aspects of this legislation, it is critical that there are proper safeguards are in place to protect patient privacy and sensitive health information. Moreover, there should be more work done by HHS to facilitate greater access to, and transfer of, electronic health information that does not inadvertently enable dominant IT providers to leverage their control over user data outside of the health care context into nascent markets for personalized health products.

In your proposed rule CMS would specifically require Medicare Advantage (MA) organizations, state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Fee-for-Service (FFS) programs, Medicaid managed care plans, CHIP managed care entities, and qualified health plans (QHPs) on the federally-facilitated exchanges (FFEs) to allow patients to access their personal health information electronically through an open application programming interface (API). Data should be made available through an API so that third party software applications can connect to, process, and make the data available to patients.

I agree that patients should have an ability to easily acquire their health information. The rule is in many ways consistent with bipartisan legislation I have introduced in Congress – the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act, which requires our nation’s largest social media companies to make user data portable, and make their services interoperable with other platforms.

Common to both my bill and the proposed rule is a recognition that consumers should have a right to possess their data – and share it with authorized third parties that will protect it. Both proposals also seek to address the control over consumer data that incumbents wield, often to the detriment of new, innovative providers. Across all sectors – including health care – innovative products and services, increasingly dependent upon machine learning, rely on user data as the single most important productive input to innovation and customization. Importantly, however, any approach must balance innovation and ease of access with privacy, security, and a commitment to robust competition. Further, any effort must ensure that such access redounds to the benefit of patients – and that data, once shared with new providers, is not commercialized in ways that benefit those providers without direct benefits or compensation to users.

 As CMS and HHS move forward with this needed rule – I urge you to include clear standards and defined controls for all stakeholders that ensure third party software applications accessing patient data through APIs are effectively protecting patient information and that patients are appropriately (and routinely) informed, in clear and particularized ways, how their data is used. Such standards in a final rule should include at a minimum:

  • Patient Access to Data – A guarantee that patients will have ready access to their personal health data and an ability to regularly monitor and ensure the accuracy of such information. Patients should be informed of all commercial uses of their data, including any third parties their data has been shared with (even if it has alleged to have been anonymized). Patients should also have the right to withhold consent for their data to be shared with third parties, or used in new ways without their consent. Patients should also reserve the right to have third party users dispose of their data upon request.
  • Adequate Privacy and Security Safeguards – Ensure participating stakeholders can adequately safeguard patient information by using existing best practices for secure storage and complying with applicable breach notification requirements. Moreover, HHS must work with the FTC and state attorneys general to develop mechanisms to report, supervise, and prosecute privacy and security lapses.
  • Documentation of the open API specifications and required security controls – Provide clear attestation of the open API specifications as defined for patient data, the security requirements and controls imposed on healthcare providers, and the third-party platform obligations in managing patient data. 
  • Patient Consent and Terms of Use – CMS and HHS should work proactively with the patient, provider and payer community to ensure users have informed proactive consent when user data is shared with a third party. In addition – there should be clear protections in place to ensure third party vendors use patient data solely for purposes in which the patient has expressly given informed proactive consent, including cases where patient information may be sold, and that patients retain the right to direct any party that has acquired their data to delete it upon request. Further, those accessing patient data should be prohibited from conditioning continued access on agreement by the patient to share their data with third parties. 

Thank you for your consideration your commitment to advancing interoperability to improve patient care. I believe the outline I have shared would strengthen and ensure the rule achieves its intended purpose.  It is my hope and belief that we can achieve both a higher level of interoperability and patient access to their data, as well as, strong protections for that information. I look forward to continued work with you on this important issue and our shared goals.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) today issued the following statement after an announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that it will not pursue action against the U.S. Park Police officers who shot and killed Fairfax County resident Bijan Ghaisar in 2017:

“The Ghaisar family has experienced so much pain over the last two years, not just in coping with the loss of their beloved son and brother Bijan, but also in trying to understand what led to his death. Today’s announcement by the Department of Justice that it will not be pursuing federal civil rights criminal charges against the police officers who shot and killed an unarmed man will only add to this family’s heartbreak. The Department’s statement also adds to the long list of questions that remain unanswered years later, despite a two-year investigation.

“The Ghaisars deserve to understand what happened to Bijan. To that end, we will be formally requesting a briefing within the next 30 days from the Department of Justice to understand what went into the decision not to pursue charges in this case.  We will continue to closely follow this case, including whether state or local charges are filed, or an internal affairs investigation is opened.”

Earlier this month, Sens. Warner and Grassley wrote to the acting director of the National Park Service with a series of questions regarding the U.S. Park Police’s policies and guidelines around officer-involved shooting incidents and vehicle pursuit, and the Ghaisar investigation. Additionally, in June, the Senators called on the FBI and the National Park Service to improve transparency surrounding their review of the Ghaisar shooting. In January 2018, Sen. Warner, along with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of the FBI’s investigation into the Ghaisar shooting. That April, the FBI responded that it would not discuss an active investigation. Sen. Warner has also pressed the National Park Service regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar, and has talked with leaders from both the National Park Service and the FBI to encourage full transparency regarding this incident.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded the news that the Chinese government will lift the import ban on U.S. poultry products that has been in place since 2015, effective immediately.

“For years, we have raised concerns about China’s unfair ban on U.S. poultry products and today’s announcement that the ban will be lifted, effective immediately, is great news for Virginia poultry producers,” said the Senators. “While we’re pleased by today’s news that this unreasonable and arbitrary policy will be reversed, we remain deeply concerned that the Trump Administration still appears to lack a comprehensive strategy to deal with China’s unfair trade practices and the long-term threats to U.S. jobs and national security posed by China’s rampant intellectual property theft and economic espionage. We strongly urge the President not to lose sight of those important goals, or the pain the Administration’s tariffs continue to cause for many of Virginia’s businesses, workers and consumers.”

In July 2017, Sen. Warner and Sen. Kaine sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, urging the Trump Administration to push the Chinese government to end its ban on the sale of American poultry products. In February of this year, Sen. Warner and eight other bipartisan Senators sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, calling on the Trump Administration to reach a trade agreement with China lifting the ban on U.S. poultry and other barriers to U.S. agriculture products while also addressing issues such as Chinese intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, and unfair subsidies for state-owned enterprises.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today applauded the inclusion of the Aeronautics Innovation Act – legislation he introduced to help boost aeronautics industry innovation, research and development – in the NASA Authorization Act that was approved today by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. The NASA funding bill, led by Commerce Committee leaders Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), would provide the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) the clear direction needed to advance the nation’s space initiatives and investments and assert the United States’ global leadership in the final frontier.

“If we want to lead the way in aeronautics innovation, we have to make decisive investments in long-term research and development,” said Sen. Warner. “I applaud my colleagues on the Commerce Committee for including key provisions of my Aeronautics Innovation Act into this year’s NASA funding bill and for their work in getting this through the committee. These provisions will help secure our nation’s standing as the leader in cutting-edge aeronautics innovation and technology.”

Earlier this year, Sens. Warner and Jerry Moran (R-KS), co-chairs of the Senate Aerospace Caucus, reintroduced the Aeronautics Innovation Act to provide a five-year funding commitment to advance innovation and supplement research in the aeronautics industry.

In 2017, the U.S. aerospace and defense industry produced approximately 2.4 million jobs and generated $865 billion in economic output. However, without the proper strategy and investment, the U.S. risks falling behind other industrialized nations in developing and advancing the next generation of aircraft. Forecasts estimate that the world’s demand for passenger aircraft fleet above 100 seats will double over the next 20 years, generating between 35,000 and 40,000 new plane orders, which will be worth more than $5 trillion by 2035.

In addition to advancing aeronautics industry innovation, research and development, the NASA Authorization Act of 2019 would:

  • Authorize NASA to reimburse the Town of Chincoteague for the purchase and installation of new production wells to replace contaminated wells located on NASA Wallops Flight Facility property.
  • Support NASA’s human spaceflight and exploration efforts to return American astronauts to the Moon and prepare for future journeys to Mars.
  • Extend authorization for the International Space Station through 2030 and direct NASA to take steps to grow the “space economy.”
  • Require the United States to maintain a continuous human presence in low-Earth orbit through and beyond the useful life of the International Space Station (ISS).
  • Support NASA’s leadership in coordinating the development of next generation spacesuits.
  • Leverage private sector investment to bolster human space exploration.
  • Authorize NASA's Enhanced Use Leasing (EUL) authority. EUL allows companies to lease vacant or underutilized buildings owned by NASA with lease proceeds helping to fund capital improvements at the NASA centers.
  • Provide rapid acquisition authorities similar to those that have proven successful at the Department of Defense and other agencies.
  • Direct NASA to maintain and upgrade irreplaceable rocket launch and test infrastructure. 
  • Support vital life and physical science research to ensure that humans can live in deep space safely.
  • Direct NASA to improve upon its planetary defense measures in order to protect Earth from asteroids and other near-Earth objects.
  • Affirm NASA’s commitment to aeronautics research by supporting a robust X-plane program as well as work on efficient propulsion concepts and advanced composites.
  • Support NASA’s STEM education and workforce efforts.

Last week, the President signed into law a bill introduced by Sens. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) to award the Congressional Gold Medical to four African-American women scientists for their work at NASA Langley.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, joined his Senate colleagues in requesting information from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) on the agencies' efforts to educate veterans and servicemembers about online disinformation campaigns and other malign influence operations by Russian, Chinese, and other foreign entities. Today’s letters follow a two-year investigation by Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) that documented persistent, pervasive, and coordinated online targeting of American servicemembers, veterans, and their families by foreign entities seeking to disrupt American democracy.

In particular, the VVA report found that the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) specifically targeted American veterans and the social media followers of several congressionally-chartered veterans service organizations during and after the 2016 election. The report also revealed that foreign entities are targeting servicemembers and veterans for the purpose of interference in the upcoming federal election.

Virginia is home to roughly 714,000 veterans, approximately 130,000 active duty servicemembers, and their families.

In their letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, the Senators noted that while the VA has prioritized the security of its information systems and infrastructure – including veterans' personal information – the VA does not appear to have an established strategy for educating veterans about online disinformation efforts targeting them. The Senators urged Secretary Wilkie to consider implementing the VVA report's recommendations.

“While countering disinformation targeting veterans is not a core VA function, identifying these tactics helps improve veterans' cyber security and their ability to detect and avoid falling prey to scams and other forms of manipulation,” the Senators wrote in their letter to VA.

In their letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the senators acknowledged DoD has worked to deter online disinformation and other malign influence campaigns by foreign adversaries, but they also called on the Department to implement VVA's recommendations, consistent with existing efforts to counter foreign malign influence operations.

“Malicious foreign actors are targeting servicemembers using disinformation through social media platforms and other online tools and ... countering foreign interference in American elections is critical to protecting the integrity of our democracy,” the Senators wrote in their letter to DoD.

The VVA report's recommendations for addressing online disinformation targeting servicemembers include directing DoD to “create a working group to study the security risks inherent in the use of common personal electronic devices and apps at home and abroad by servicemembers,” and to “direct commanders to include personal cybersecurity training and regular cyber-hygiene checks for all servicemembers.”

 

The report also recommended that the VA immediately develop plans to make the cyber-hygiene of veterans an urgent priority within the VA, and educate and train veterans on personal cyber security, “including how to identify instances of online manipulation.”

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and cosigned by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Democratic Whip, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee, and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Following Russia’s unprecedented use of social media to sow discord and influence the 2016 presidential elections, Sen. Warner wrote a social media white paper highlighting ways to protect users on social media against misinformation and disinformation campaigns. Sen. Warner has also written and introduced a series of bipartisan bills designed to protect consumers and reduce the power of giant social media platforms like Facebook. His work as Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence helped uncover Russia’s extensive efforts to exploit social media in the 2016 elections.

A copy of the letter to the VA can be found here. A copy of the letter to the DoD can be found here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein and all of their Democratic colleagues in introducing the Senate companion to the House-passed Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. The bill, which would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) through 2024, provides essential protections and resources to survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The legislation preserves advancements made in previous reauthorizations and includes a number of additional improvements to the current law. 

“Unfortunately, in today’s society, there’s so much more we must do to combat violence against women. This legislation passed the House with bipartisan support and we need to do the same in the Senate. We’re calling on our colleagues to help us swiftly pass this bill to protect survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse,” the Senators said. 

Key provisions in the bill:

  • Protects Native American women by improving tribal access to federal crime information databases and reaffirming tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking for all federally recognized Indian tribes and Alaskan Natives.
  • Explicitly states that grant recipients are allowed to train staff and others on identifying and stopping discrimination against LGBT individuals. Service providers currently remain uncertain about whether they can use grants to train for this. 
  • Reauthorizes and updates the SMART Prevention Program to reduce dating violence, help children who have been exposed to violence, and engage men in preventing violence.
  • Expands grants under the Public Health Service Act to support implementation of training programs to improve the capacity of early childhood programs to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking among the families they serve.
  • Provides services, protection, and justice for young victims of violence, including extending the Rape Prevention and Education grant program, addressing bullying of young people, improving grants focused on prevention education for students and expanding relevant training for school-based and campus health centers.
  • Preserves and expands housing protections for survivors.
  • Provides economic security assistance for survivors by reauthorizing the National Resource Center on Workplace Responses. Protects employees from being fired because they are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence and protects survivors’ eligibility to receive unemployment insurance.
  • Enhances judicial and law enforcement tools through reauthorization of the Justice Department’s STOP Violence Against Women Formula Program, known as the STOP Program. Authorizes the use of STOP Program grants to expand the use of grant funding for programs focused on increasing survivor, law enforcement, and community safety; increase legal assistance for dependent children in appropriate circumstances; and develop and enforce firearm surrender policies.
  • Protects the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women from being merged or consolidated into any other Department office.
  • Helps prevent “intimate partner” homicides by including provisions expanding firearms laws to prohibit persons convicted of dating violence from possessing firearms, prohibiting persons convicted of stalking from possessing firearms, and prohibiting individuals subject to ex parte protective orders from possessing firearms.

Warner and Kaine have long supported victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. As Governor of Virginia, Kaine made curbing violence a top priority by convening the Governor’s Commission on Sexual Violence and implementing numerous recommendations. Some of the reforms included updating domestic violence laws, improving treatment of victims, and providing additional resources to first responders. In 2011, a census of domestic violence shelters and services found that 1,304 domestic violence victims were served in just one day in Virginia.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-founder of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, today raised concern with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s failure to act, following a mass exposure of sensitive medical images and information by health organizations. In a letter to the HHS Director of the Office for Civil Rights, Sen. Warner identified this exposure as damaging to individual and national security, as this kind of information can be used to target individuals and to spread malware across organizations.

“I am alarmed that this is happening and that your organization, with its responsibility to protect the sensitive personal medical information of the American people, has done nothing about it,” wrote Sen. Warner. “As your agency aggressively pushes to permit a wider range of parties (including those not covered by HIPAA) to have access to the sensitive health information of American patients without traditional privacy protections attaching to that information, HHS’s inattention to this particular incident becomes even more troubling.”

“These reports indicate egregious privacy violations and represent a serious national security issue -- the files may be altered, extracted, or used to spread malware across an organization,” he continued. “In their current unencrypted state, CT, MRI and other diagnostic scans on the internet could be downloaded, injected with malicious code, and re-uploaded into the medical organization’s system and, if capable of propagating, potentially spread laterally across the organization. Earlier this year, researchers demonstrated that a design flaw in the DICOM protocol could easily allow an adversary to insert malicious code into an image file like a CT scan, without being detected.”

On September 17th, a report revealed that millions of Americans had their private medical images exposed online, due to unsecured picture archiving and communication servers (PACS) that utilize the Digital Imaging and Communications in medicine (DICOM) protocol. Along with the medical images, these PACS also exposed the names and social security numbers of those affected, leaving this information open to anyone with basic computer expertise, as these required no authentication to access or download.

This exposure was uncovered by German researchers, who contacted the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). BSI then alerted the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), who confirmed the exposure and reached out to HHS. However, if they received this information, HHS has failed to act on it, even failing to list TridentUSA Health Services – one of the main companies responsible for the exposure – on its breach portal website.

In his letter to Director Roger Severino, Sen. Warner also raised alarm with the fact that TridentUSA Health Services successfully completed an HHS Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule compliance audit in March 2019, while patient images were actively accessible online.

Sen. Warner also posed the follow questions for HHS regarding the incident, and its current cybersecurity requirements and procedures:

  1. Did HHS receive a notice from US-CERT regarding the open PACS ports available with diagnostic imaging available on the internet without any restrictions?
    1. If so, what actions were taken to address the issue?
  2. What evidence do you require organizations to produce during a HIPAA Security Rule audit? Are organizations asked to turn over their audit logs? How does OCR review the logs?
    1. Does OCR have information security experts on staff or does it rely on external consultants as part of these audits? 
  3. What are the follow-up procedures if an organization’s log files reveal access to sensitive data from outside the United States, such as in this case?
  4. Please describe your information security audit process.
  5. Please describe your oversight of the DICOM protocol and PACS security. Do you require organizations to implement access controls? If so, what kind? Do you require full-disk encryption and authentication for PACS? Are the DICOM protocol implementations included in the audits?

Sen. Warner has been a champion for cybersecurity throughout his career, and has been an outspoken critic of poor cybersecurity practices that compromise Americans’ personal information. In September, Sen. Warner wrote to TridentUSA Health Services to inquire about the company’s data security practices, following reports that a company affiliate exposed medical data belonging to millions of Americans. Earlier that month, Sen. Warner demanded answers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and South Korean company Suprema HQ, following separate incidents that affected both entities and exposed the personal, permanently identifiable data of many Americans. Sen. Warner has introduced legislation to empower state and local government to counter cyberattacks, and to increase cybersecurity among public companies.

The letter text can be found below and a PDF is available here.

 

Mr. Roger Severino                                                                

Director, Office for Civil Rights

Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Ave SW

Washington, DC 20201

Dear Director Severino,

As the health care industry increasingly harnesses internet connectivity and software, including machine learning systems, to improve patient care, a long overdue focus on data privacy and information security has come into sharper focus. This is particularly evident in light of reports that sensitive medical records of potentially millions of Americans were recently exposed online – and that your agency has done little to address this issue. Prompting even greater concern, one of the companies that left the data exposed online also successfully completed one of your Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule compliance audits in March. I am alarmed that this is happening and that your organization, with its responsibility to protect the sensitive personal medical information of the American people, has done nothing about it. As your agency aggressively pushes to permit a wider range of parties (including those not covered by HIPAA) to have access to the sensitive health information of American patients, without traditional privacy protections attaching to that information, HHS’s inattention to this particular incident becomes even more troubling.

On September 17th ProPublica published a shocking report that the sensitive medical images of millions of American patients were exposed online through unsecured picture and archiving and communications servers (PACS) that utilize the Digital Imaging and Communications in medicine (DICOM), protocol. The publicly-accessible information that had been accessed from Germany included MRI’s, X-rays, and CT scans, as well as names and social security numbers of the patients. The 13.7 million images found on the internet required absolutely no authentication to access or download. As of writing this letter, there are 779 million image records attached to 21.6 million patient records, impacting an estimated 5 million patients in 22 states. The largest system accessed holds 61 million diagnostic images attached to 1.23 million exam records of American patients and remains available on the internet.

In late August, German researchers initiated an investigation to determine the global accessibility and remote access capabilities of PACS. On September 9th, the researchers concluded their two week inquiry and submitted their findings to the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). By September 17th, BSI had addressed the affected systems which were removed from the internet prior to the publishing of the ProPublica report.

After US-CERT was notified of the problem by BSI, US-CERT contacted the German researchers at Greenbone Networks, confirming they received the data on September 20th. US-CERT stated the agency would convey the information to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to the researchers, however, there has been no further communication from US-CERT or HHS, even though data privacy authorities from other countries like France and the UK contacted Greenbone Networks following the publication of ProPublica’s report.

On September 23rd, I wrote to TridentUSA Health Services expressing my concern regarding the issues raised in the ProPublica report, and pointed out that MobilexUSA, a TridentUSA Health Services affiliate, was identified as controlling one of the unsecured PACS. On October 15th, the German researchers demonstrated to my office a number of US-based PACS have open ports, supporting unencrypted communications protocols, exposing images to the internet like chest X-rays and mammograms, and identifying details like names and social security numbers. Those images and medical records continue to be accessible.

These reports indicate egregious privacy violations and represent a serious national security issue -- the files may be altered, extracted, or used to spread malware across an organization. Earlier this year, researchers demonstrated that a design flaw in the DICOM protocol could easily allow an adversary to insert malicious code into an image file like a CT scan, without being detected. The researchers who discovered the flaw in the DICOM protocol were able to use a polyglot file, which can contain more than one stream of data with different file formats, and hide the malicious code in the scan. In their current unencrypted state, CT, MRI and other diagnostic scans on the internet could be downloaded, injected with malicious code, and re-uploaded into the medical organization’s system and, if capable of propagating, potentially spread laterally across the organization.

In their response to my letter, TridentUSA Health Services noted that they successfully completed the Department of Health and Human Services audits, confirming compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule, the last of which concluded in March 2019, while patient images were accessible online.

While the information security lapses by the medical companies using the PACS are clear, it is unclear how your agency has addressed this issue. As of the writing of this letter, TridentUSA Health Services is not included on your breach portal website, and I have seen no evidence that, once contacted by US-CERT, you acted on that information in any meaningful way.

To understand how such an enormous oversight in your organization has allowed medical companies to leave insecure ports open to the internet and accessed repeatedly by a German IP address, I ask that you answer the following questions:

1.      Did HHS receive a notice from US-CERT regarding the open PACS ports available with diagnostic imaging available on the internet without any restrictions?
a.      If so, what actions were taken to address the issue?
2.      What evidence do you require organizations to produce during a HIPAA Security Rule audit? Are organizations asked to turn over their audit logs? How does OCR review the logs?
a.      Does OCR have information security experts on staff or does it rely on external consultants as part of these audits? 
3.      What are the follow-up procedures if an organization’s log files reveal access to sensitive data from outside the United States, such as in this case?
4.      Please describe your information security audit process.
5.      Please describe your oversight of the DICOM protocol and PACS security. Do you require organizations to implement access controls? If so, what kind? Do you require full-disk encryption and authentication for PACS? Are the DICOM protocol implementations included in the audits?

The American people deserve to have their sensitive private information protected and their government held accountable for enforcing the rules in place to keep that information private. I hope that you will share what immediate actions you are taking, along with answering the questions above. I look forward to hearing your response no later than November 18, 2019.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $391,400 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for rural business development and public safety.

“We’re pleased to announce these grants to strengthen local businesses and public safety in the Commonwealth,” the Senators said. “This federal assistance will go directly towards supporting local entrepreneurs and law enforcement in Virginia.”

$277,200 in funding comes from USDA’s Rural Business Development Grants program, which seeks to support targeted technical assistance, training, and other activities leading to the development or expansion of small and emerging businesses in rural areas:

  • In Bedford, $76,000 will go towards a revolving loan fund to support small and emerging businesses in the area. The fund aims to expand local businesses to create new jobs and stimulate the local economy.
  • In Charlotte County, $126,200 will go towards the purchase of a refrigerated truck and a walk-in cooler for Southside Virginia Fruit and Vegetable Producers. The purchase would help distribute locally grown fresh produce to the community, while supporting the local farmers and assisting 12 businesses.
  • In Roanoke, $75,000 will go towards a revolving loan fund at The Advancement Foundation to assist small and emerging businesses located in Alleghany, Botetourt, and Buchanan Counties. The fund aims to expand local businesses to create new jobs and stimulate the local economy.

$114,200 in assistance comes from USDA’s Economic Impact Initiative Grant, which seeks to help further the development of essential community facilities in rural areas with extreme unemployment or severe economic depression:

  • In Craig County, $25,000 will go towards the purchase of a sheriff's vehicle and equipment. Craig County currently has a patrol car that is no longer deemed be safe or reliable. This purchase will benefit 1,016 people.
  • In Clintwood, $21,000 will go towards the purchase of 10 sets of new turnout gear and related equipment to meet the safety requirements for the fire department. The department’s current equipment no longer meets safety requirement and needs to be replaced to ensure the safety of volunteers. This purchase will benefit 1,414 people.
  • In Grayson County, $19,200 will go towards the purchase of a new properly equipped sheriff's vehicle. Several of the county’s current vehicles are no longer deemed to be safe or reliable. This purchase will benefit 15,533 people.
  • In Lebanon, $25,000 will go towards the purchase of a new properly equipped police vehicle. A number of the county’s current vehicles are no longer deemed to be safe or reliable. This purchase will benefit 3,424 people.
  • In Tazewell, $24,000 will go towards the purchase of a police vehicle. The current vehicles are no longer deemed to be safe or reliable. This purchase will benefit 4,627 people.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, bipartisan legislation cosponsored by U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine to award four African-American women scientists the Congressional Gold Medal for their work at NASA Langley was signed into law by President Trump. The award distinguishes Katherine Johnson, Dr. Christine Darden, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, posthumously awarding the medal to the latter two. It serves to commend these women for their contributions to NASA’s success during the Space Race and highlight their broader impact on society — paving the way for women, especially women of color, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“We are thrilled that these four trailblazers are being recognized with this honor,” the Senators said. “Their engineering and calculations were essential to our nation’s success in the Space Race, but for too long, they didn’t receive the acknowledgment they deserve.”

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the U.S. It is awarded to those who have performed an achievement that has had an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized in the recipient’s field for years to come.

The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act will honor:

  • Katherine Johnson, who calculated trajectories for multiple NASA space missions including the first human spaceflight by an American, Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission. She also calculated trajectories for John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission to orbit the earth. During her time at NASA, she became the first woman recognized as an author of a report from the Flight Research Division.
  • Dorothy Vaughan, who led the West Area Computing unit for nine years as the first African American supervisor at National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA. She later became an expert programmer in FORTRAN as a part of NASA’s Analysis and Computation Division.
  • Mary Jackson, who petitioned the City of Hampton to allow her to take graduate-level courses in math and physics at night at the all-white Hampton High School in order to become an engineer at NASA. She was the first female African-American engineer at the agency. Later in her career, she worked to improve the prospects of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists as Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager.
  • Dr. Christine Darden, who became an engineer at NASA 16 years after Mary Jackson. She worked to revolutionize aeronautic design, wrote over 50 articles on aeronautics design, and became the first African-American person of any gender to be promoted into the Senior Executive Service at Langley.

The lives and careers of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden were featured in the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly. That book was adapted into the 2016 film Hidden Figures, which the Senators showed at a Capitol Hill screening for hundreds of Virginia students in 2017. In addition, Sens. Warner & Kaine honored Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson by acknowledging their achievements in an official statement that was enshrined in the Congressional Record.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-founder of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, today raised concern with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s failure to act, following a mass exposure of sensitive medical images and information by health organizations. In a letter to the HHS Director of the Office for Civil Rights, Sen. Warner identified this exposure as damaging to individual and national security, as this kind of information can be used to target individuals and to spread malware across organizations.

“I am alarmed that this is happening and that your organization, with its responsibility to protect the sensitive personal medical information of the American people, has done nothing about it,” wrote Sen. Warner. “As your agency aggressively pushes to permit a wider range of parties (including those not covered by HIPAA) to have access to the sensitive health information of American patients without traditional privacy protections attaching to that information, HHS’s inattention to this particular incident becomes even more troubling.”

“These reports indicate egregious privacy violations and represent a serious national security issue -- the files may be altered, extracted, or used to spread malware across an organization,” he continued. “In their current unencrypted state, CT, MRI and other diagnostic scans on the internet could be downloaded, injected with malicious code, and re-uploaded into the medical organization’s system and, if capable of propagating, potentially spread laterally across the organization. Earlier this year, researchers demonstrated that a design flaw in the DICOM protocol could easily allow an adversary to insert malicious code into an image file like a CT scan, without being detected.”

On September 17th, a report revealed that millions of Americans had their private medical images exposed online, due to unsecured picture archiving and communication servers (PACS) that utilize the Digital Imaging and Communications in medicine (DICOM) protocol. Along with the medical images, these PACS also exposed the names and social security numbers of those affected, leaving this information open to anyone with basic computer expertise, as these required no authentication to access or download.

This exposure was uncovered by German researchers, who contacted the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). BSI then alerted the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), who confirmed the exposure and reached out to HHS. However, if they received this information, HHS has failed to act on it, even failing to list TridentUSA Health Services – one of the main companies responsible for the exposure – on its breach portal website.

In his letter to Director Roger Severino, Sen. Warner also raised alarm with the fact that TridentUSA Health Services successfully completed an HHS Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule compliance audit in March 2019, while patient images were actively accessible online.

Sen. Warner also posed the follow questions for HHS regarding the incident, and its current cybersecurity requirements and procedures:

1. Did HHS receive a notice from US-CERT regarding the open PACS ports available with diagnostic imaging available on the internet without any restrictions?

     a. If so, what actions were taken to address the issue?

2. What evidence do you require organizations to produce during a HIPAA Security Rule audit? Are organizations asked to turn over their audit logs? How does OCR review the logs?

      a. Does OCR have information security experts on staff or does it rely on external consultants as part of these audits?

3. What are the follow-up procedures if an organization’s log files reveal access to sensitive data from outside the United States, such as in this case?

4. Please describe your information security audit process.

5. Please describe your oversight of the DICOM protocol and PACS security. Do you require organizations to implement access controls? If so, what kind? Do you require full-disk encryption and authentication for PACS? Are the DICOM protocol implementations included in the audits?

Sen. Warner has been a champion for cybersecurity throughout his career, and has been an outspoken critic of poor cybersecurity practices that compromise Americans’ personal information. In September, Sen. Warner wrote to TridentUSA Health Services to inquire about the company’s data security practices, following reports that a company affiliate exposed medical data belonging to millions of Americans. Earlier that month, Sen. Warner demanded answers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and South Korean company Suprema HQ, following separate incidents that affected both entities and exposed the personal, permanently identifiable data of many Americans. Sen. Warner has introduced legislation to empower state and local government to counter cyberattacks, and to increase cybersecurity among public companies.

The letter text can be found below and a PDF is available here.

Mr. Roger Severino
Director, Office for Civil Rights
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Director Severino,

As the health care industry increasingly harnesses internet connectivity and software, including machine learning systems, to improve patient care, a long overdue focus on data privacy and information security has come into sharper focus. This is particularly evident in light of reports that sensitive medical records of potentially millions of Americans were recently exposed online – and that your agency has done little to address this issue. Prompting even greater concern, one of the companies that left the data exposed online also successfully completed one of your Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule compliance audits in March. I am alarmed that this is happening and that your organization, with its responsibility to protect the sensitive personal medical information of the American people, has done nothing about it. As your agency aggressively pushes to permit a wider range of parties (including those not covered by HIPAA) to have access to the sensitive health information of American patients, without traditional privacy protections attaching to that information, HHS’s inattention to this particular incident becomes even more troubling.

On September 17th ProPublica published a shocking report that the sensitive medical images of millions of American patients were exposed online through unsecured picture and archiving and communications servers (PACS) that utilize the Digital Imaging and Communications in medicine (DICOM), protocol. The publicly-accessible information that had been accessed from Germany included MRI’s, X-rays, and CT scans, as well as names and social security numbers of the patients. The 13.7 million images found on the internet required absolutely no authentication to access or download. As of writing this letter, there are 779 million image records attached to 21.6 million patient records, impacting an estimated 5 million patients in 22 states. The largest system accessed holds 61 million diagnostic images attached to 1.23 million exam records of American patients and remains available on the internet.

In late August, German researchers initiated an investigation to determine the global accessibility and remote access capabilities of PACS. On September 9th, the researchers concluded their two week inquiry and submitted their findings to the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). By September 17th, BSI had addressed the affected systems which were removed from the internet prior to the publishing of the ProPublica report.

After US-CERT was notified of the problem by BSI, US-CERT contacted the German researchers at Greenbone Networks, confirming they received the data on September 20th. US-CERT stated the agency would convey the information to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to the researchers, however, there has been no further communication from US-CERT or HHS, even though data privacy authorities from other countries like France and the UK contacted Greenbone Networks following the publication of ProPublica’s report.

On September 23rd, I wrote to TridentUSA Health Services expressing my concern regarding the issues raised in the ProPublica report, and pointed out that MobilexUSA, a TridentUSA Health Services affiliate, was identified as controlling one of the unsecured PACS. On October 15th, the German researchers demonstrated to my office a number of US-based PACS have open ports, supporting unencrypted communications protocols, exposing images to the internet like chest X-rays and mammograms, and identifying details like names and social security numbers. Those images and medical records continue to be accessible.

These reports indicate egregious privacy violations and represent a serious national security issue -- the files may be altered, extracted, or used to spread malware across an organization. Earlier this year, researchers demonstrated that a design flaw in the DICOM protocol could easily allow an adversary to insert malicious code into an image file like a CT scan, without being detected. The researchers who discovered the flaw in the DICOM protocol were able to use a polyglot file, which can contain more than one stream of data with different file formats, and hide the malicious code in the scan. In their current unencrypted state, CT, MRI and other diagnostic scans on the internet could be downloaded, injected with malicious code, and re-uploaded into the medical organization’s system and, if capable of propagating, potentially spread laterally across the organization.

In their response to my letter, TridentUSA Health Services noted that they successfully completed the Department of Health and Human Services audits, confirming compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule, the last of which concluded in March 2019, while patient images were accessible online.

While the information security lapses by the medical companies using the PACS are clear, it is unclear how your agency has addressed this issue. As of the writing of this letter, TridentUSA Health Services is not included on your breach portal website, and I have seen no evidence that, once contacted by US-CERT, you acted on that information in any meaningful way.

To understand how such an enormous oversight in your organization has allowed medical companies to leave insecure ports open to the internet and accessed repeatedly by a German IP address, I ask that you answer the following questions:

1. Did HHS receive a notice from US-CERT regarding the open PACS ports available with diagnostic imaging available on the internet without any restrictions?

     a. If so, what actions were taken to address the issue?

2. What evidence do you require organizations to produce during a HIPAA Security Rule audit? Are organizations asked to turn over their audit logs? How does OCR review the logs?

      a. Does OCR have information security experts on staff or does it rely on external consultants as part of these audits?

3. What are the follow-up procedures if an organization’s log files reveal access to sensitive data from outside the United States, such as in this case?

4. Please describe your information security audit process.

5. Please describe your oversight of the DICOM protocol and PACS security. Do you require organizations to implement access controls? If so, what kind? Do you require full-disk encryption and authentication for PACS? Are the DICOM protocol implementations included in the audits?

The American people deserve to have their sensitive private information protected and their government held accountable for enforcing the rules in place to keep that information private. I hope that you will share what immediate actions you are taking, along with answering the questions above. I look forward to hearing your response no later than November 18, 2019.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Congressional Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) Caucus, joined Senate colleagues and leaders from HBCUs – including a student from Virginia Union University in Richmond – in calling on the Senate to pass the bipartisan FUTURE Act, which would restore $255 million in federal funding for HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) that expired on September 30. While the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the FUTURE Act in September, Senate Republicans have blocked this critical legislation from coming to the Senate floor for a vote.

Virginia is home to Virginia Union University, Norfolk State University, Virginia State University, Hampton University, and Virginia University of Lynchburg – all of which stand to lose funding if the Senate fails to act.

“In Virginia, we’re talking about nearly $4 million in funding last year that is at risk unless we pass the FUTURE Act,” said Sen. Warner during today’s press conference. “This is an investment in our students. It’s an investment in the middle class. And it’s time for the federal government to live up its commitment.”

Sen. Warner was also joined today by Jalynn Hodges, a biology major currently serving as the first-ever elected student representative for the Board of Trustees at Virginia Union University (VUU), who underscored how renewing this funding would enable the Virginia Union community to continue to support students who pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“When I arrived at my prestigious HBCU in fall of 2017, I entered the gateway into my future. During my first year, I conducted research in our neuroscience and chemistry laboratory where I learned technical and analytical skills that are essential to my long-term academic and professional goals,” said Jalynn Hodges, biology major at VUU.  “With continued mandatory funding, students and faculty will be afforded access to ever changing equipment and laboratories that are consistent with industry standards. It is because of VUU that I am a better version of myself - one who is confident and assured that resources that have been afforded to me have prepared me for my graduate studies in medicine.”

Earlier this week, Sen. Warner joined more than three dozen Senators in a letter to Senate leaders calling for passage of the bipartisan FUTURE Act legislation to renew this vital funding for Virginia’s HBCUs.

“As Virginia’s most affordable 4-year public university, Norfolk State provides access to a quality higher education in a culturally diverse and supportive learning environment. Failure to restore Title III Part F mandatory funding for HBCUs will represent more than a $5.8 million loss for NSU. Without this funding, Norfolk State’s educational programs in both teacher preparation and the STEM fields will be put at risk at a time when we are working to increase diversity in the front of our classrooms, and grow the pipeline of diverse STEM graduates to fill the jobs of the new economy. Norfolk State University expresses appreciation to Senators Warner and Kaine for their leadership on this critical issue, and urges all Senators to join them in securing the future of America’s HBCUs and the students they serve by passing the FUTURE Act,” said Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, President of Norfolk State University.

“Failure to pass the FUTURE Act will have serious consequences for America’s HBCUs, their students, and my peers. Norfolk State University’s supportive and culturally aware learning environment has helped me to grow as a leader and put me on the path to success. I would likely not have had these opportunities at other schools. All students regardless of their socio-economic background deserve access to a quality higher education and the opportunity to realize their full potential. It is time for Congress to stand with the students of America’s HBCUs by voting to pass the FUTURE Act,” said Linei Woodson, President of Norfolk State University’s Student Government Association.  

In the mid-1990s, as a successful tech entrepreneur, Warner – who is also a former member of the Board of Trustees at Virginia Union – helped to create the Virginia High-Tech Partnership (VHTP) to connect students attending Virginia’s five HBCUs with internship opportunities in tech firms across the Commonwealth.

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WASHINGTON – Following years of efforts to try to safeguard benefits for mine workers, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), today introduced bipartisan legislation along with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to secure pensions for our nation’s retired miners. The legislation would shore up the 1974 United Mine Workers of America Pension Plan – which is currently headed for insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis – ensuring that at-risk miners do not lose their healthcare due to the 2018 and 2019 coal company bankruptcies.

“After working for so long to get miners the benefits they deserve, this bipartisan legislation is an encouraging step in the right direction,” said the Senators. “Our mine workers have worked extremely hard to power our nation, often at great risk to themselves. The least we can do is make sure they are able to get their hard-earned benefits and pensions, and that once they retire, they can do so with peace of mind. We are proud to introduce this legislation along with our colleagues to help us keep our nation’s promise to miners in the Commonwealth and all across the country.”

The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 will amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer excess funds from the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Fund to the 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency. It will also amend the Coal Act to include 2018 and 2019 bankruptcies in the miners’ healthcare fix that passed in 2017. These actions will secure the pensions of 92,000 coal miners and protect healthcare benefits for 13,000 miners.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates for coal miners and their families. In August 2018, they introduced and passed into law legislation to improve early detection and treatment of black lung disease among coal miners.

The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 is also co-sponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

A copy of the bill is available here.

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) met with David Collins, the new Director of the Hampton VA Medical Center, at Sen. Warner’s office in Washington, D.C.

In the meeting, Sen. Warner and Director Collins discussed staffing challenges and shortages at the Hampton VA Medical Center and how these factors may have contributed to the problems raised last month by an Inspector General report related to managing and tracking supplies. Additionally, they spoke about suicide prevention efforts and strategies for reducing wait times for medical services, including primary care and mental health care. During the meeting, Sen. Warner also reiterated his commitment to increasing access for one of the fastest growing veterans populations in the nation and pushing for the completion of a new VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic in South Hampton Roads.

“Our veterans have sacrificed so much for the nation – the least we can do is to make sure they get top-notch medical care once they are back home,” said Sen. Warner. “I am committed to working with Director Collins to help mitigate the challenges at Hampton VA Medical Center. But the VA also needs more capacity in the Hampton region to meet the growing demands of our veteran population. While we may have cleared the last Congressional hurdle for approving the new clinic lease prospectus in South Hampton Roads, our work is not done until this clinic is fully-functional and serving our veterans.”

Sen. Warner has been a longtime advocate of improving care for veterans in the Commonwealth. In 2017, he successfully pushed for Congress to approve overdue medical leases on 28 major Veteran’s Affairs (VA) facilities, including one in Hampton Roads, which is projected to ease the workload at the Hampton VA Medical Center, and another in Fredericksburg. Since then, Sen. Warner has pushed to get these facilities up and running by pressuring the GSA and the VA to move these projects forward, pushing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to sign off on these clinics’ lease prospectuses, and successfully urging the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to bring up the prospectuses for approval.

Sen. Warner has also long fought to reduce wait times for veterans in Hampton Roads. In 2015, confronted with wait times that were three times the national average, Sen. Warner successfully urged the VA to send down a team of experts to try to address the problem. He also succeeded in getting the Northern Virginia Technology Council to issue a free report, detailing how to reduce wait times.

Director Collins, who was appointed director of the Hampton VA Medical Center in August of 2019, is a 28-year Veteran of the Navy Medical Service Corps, whose recent appointments include service as the Executive Assistant to the Navy Surgeon General, Commanding Officer of the Jacksonville Naval Hospital, and Chief Operating Officer of the Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Washington. He also spent time as the Executive Officer for NATO’s Multinational Medical Unit in Afghanistan, demonstrating an ability to relate to other military Veterans with a similar background. He is a current resident of the Hampton and Chesapeake Community.

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WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution introduced by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) officially congratulating the Washington Nationals on winning the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

“The Washington Nationals worked hard, played with heart and had fun while they were at it. What a great example for us all,” said the four Senators. “Congratulations to all the players, coaches, staff and fans on an incredible season and a victory that will be remembered for a long time.”

Text of the resolution is available here. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) is introducing an identical resolution in the House of Representatives.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), members of the Congressional Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) Caucus, today joined 36 of their colleagues in a new push to pass funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs). In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Senators called for the immediate passage of the bipartisan FUTURE Act, which would reauthorize $255 million in mandatory federal funding for these institutions, which expired on September 30, 2019. The House of Representatives approved the legislation unanimously in September.

“HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs are an essential component of America’s higher education and workforce development system,” the Senators wrote. “Given the importance of this funding to hundreds of institutions and millions of students, we request that the Senate delay no longer and take up the bipartisan FUTURE Act immediately to avoid permanent damage to our nation’s historic colleges.”

Virginia is home to five HBCUs whose funding would be preserved by the FUTURE Act. Virginia State University, Norfolk State University, Hampton University, Virginia Union University, and Virginia University of Lynchburg received nearly $4 million in funding last year, which is now at risk unless Congress passes the FUTURE Act.

Sens. Warner and Kaine continue to be longtime advocates of HBCUs. Earlier this year, both Senators supported the permanent reauthorization of the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which also includes a provision to support the preservation of HBCU campuses that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Last year, Virginia Union, Hampton University, Virginia State, and Virginia University of Lynchburg received grants totaling $2.27 million under the HBCU grant program.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Kaine, the letter was led by Sens. Doug Jones (D-AL) and Jon Tester (D-MT) and signed by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-DE), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

A copy of the letter can be found below.

 

November 4, 2019

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

We write today to respectfully request immediate Senate consideration of the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act. This important bipartisan legislation would reauthorize funding for Title III, Part F of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which provides mandatory funds for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), and other minority serving-institutions (MSIs). Mandatory funding benefiting these institutions lapsed on September 30, 2019.

HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs are an essential component of America’s higher education and workforce development system. MSIs serve nearly 6 million students, accounting for more than one-quarter of all undergraduates across the nation. These institutions enroll a significant share of all students of color. For example, HSIs account for nearly 15 percent of all non-profit colleges and universities, but enroll two-thirds of all Hispanic students. Also, while HBCUs only comprise 8.5 percent of all four-year institutions, they enroll, on average, 24 percent of all black undergraduates pursuing a bachelor’s degree, graduate 26 percent of all black bachelor’s degrees, and graduate 32 percent of STEM degrees earned by black students. The student population across all TCUs is 78 percent American Indian and Alaska Native. Similarly, these schools disproportionately enroll low-income students – more than 75 percent of students at HBCUs and 90 percent of students at TCUs receive Pell Grants, compared to only 32 percent of all students.

Title III, Part F funding is critical to ensuring these institutions are able to best serve their students. This funding is used for an array of purposes across campuses. Many schools use these funds to improve student services and academic programs like counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and STEM and career training programs. Numerous institutions use the funding to perform technology maintenance and expansion in order to provide students with up-to-date technology and vital learning opportunities such as computer labs, research institutes, and educational experiences. Others put the investment toward capital improvements like constructing affordable housing, renovating facilities, and creating learning spaces for students. All told, the Title III, Part F funding is a lifeline for these institutions to strengthen their academic, administrative, and fiscal capacities.

The bipartisan FUTURE Act will allow HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs across the country to keep their doors open and continue to generate more opportunities for their students, disproportionate percentages of whom are for the low-income students and students of color. This funding stream plays a vital role in increasing institutional capacity at MSIs and in generating more opportunities for students of color to attain degrees in STEM fields and secure good-paying jobs, generating a strong economic impact. HBCUs, for example, have created over 134,000 jobs and have produced over $10 billion in gross regional product and a total annual economic impact of nearly $15 billion. 

Unfortunately, funding for this program lapsed due to Senate inaction last month. The House of Representatives passed the FUTURE Act by a voice vote last month. Given the importance of this funding to hundreds of institutions and millions of students, we request that the Senate delay no longer and take up the bipartisan FUTURE Act immediately to avoid permanent damage to our nation’s historic colleges.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – After ISIS terrorists in Syria escaped from detention facilities that had been run by America’s Kurdish partners in the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) following the withdrawal of U.S. troops and subsequent incursion by Turkey, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a senior member of the Committee, today requested that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence produce an unclassified assessment regarding the escape’s impact on the security of United States and our allies.

In a letter to the acting Director of National Intelligence Admiral Joseph Maguire, the Senators wrote, “The SDF has been holding more than 10,000 captured ISIS fighters, including 2,000 so-called ‘foreign fighters,’ committed jihadists who traveled from Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere, to join ISIS. Many of these individuals are hard-core terrorists, with the kinds of expertise – bomb-making, leadership and propaganda – that had made ISIS such a threat to the United States and our allies. As the Kurds understandably shift their focus to defending themselves, their ability to securely detain these ISIS fighters will become increasingly uncertain. Already, press reports have indicated that senior U.S. officials say they have ‘no real idea’ how many fighters may have already escaped, and how many more are likely to do so.”

“If the past is any indication, it was escaped al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) prisoners that formed the core of what became known as ISIS, contributing to the group’s eventual takeover of Mosul and much of northern Iraq.  The subsequent influx of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria increased the terrorist threat to the United States and Europe.  If left unchecked, the escape of ISIS detainees in Syria could lead to similar counterterrorism setbacks,” continued the Senators. “Therefore, please provide to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence an assessment of the impact the escape of ISIS detainees in SDF custody could have on the security of United States and our allies, including the detainees who have escaped and those still residing in SDF custody.  In order to better inform the American public, the Congress, policymakers and America’s allies, this assessment should be unclassified to the extent possible, with a classified annex if needed.”

The Senators asked that ODNI provide a response to the request within two weeks, by November 19, 2019. The full text of today’s letter is below. A signed copy is available here.

 

November 5, 2019

The Honorable Joseph Maguire

Acting Director of National Intelligence

Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Washington, DC 20511

Dear Director Maguire:

We write to express our grave concern about the instability in Syria, and particularly about the escape of numerous Islamic State (ISIS) detainees from detention facilities that had been run by America’s Kurdish partners in the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF).

The SDF has been holding more than 10,000 captured ISIS fighters, including 2,000 so-called “foreign fighters,” committed jihadists who traveled from Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere, to join ISIS. Many of these individuals are hard-core terrorists, with the kinds of expertise – bomb-making, leadership and propaganda – that had made ISIS such a threat to the United States and our allies.

As the Kurds understandably shift their focus to defending themselves, their ability to securely detain these ISIS fighters will become increasingly uncertain. Already, press reports have indicated that senior U.S. officials say they have “no real idea” how many fighters may have already escaped, and how many more are likely to do so.

If the past is any indication, it was escaped al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) prisoners that formed the core of what became known as ISIS, contributing to the group’s eventual takeover of Mosul and much of northern Iraq. The subsequent influx of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria increased the terrorist threat to the United States and Europe. If left unchecked, the escape of ISIS detainees in Syria could lead to similar counterterrorism setbacks.

Therefore, please provide to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence an assessment of the impact the escape of ISIS detainees in SDF custody could have on the security of United States and our allies, including the detainees who have escaped and those still residing in SDF custody. In order to better inform the American public, the Congress, policymakers and America’s allies, this assessment should be unclassified to the extent possible, with a classified annex if needed. Please provide a response to this request by November 19, 2019.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner

Vice Chairman

Susan M. Collins

United States Senator

CC: The Honorable Mark T. Esper, Secretary of Defense

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) announced they will introduce a resolution honoring the Washington Nationals’ first World Series title in franchise history.  Beating the Houston Astros in Game 7 last night, the Nationals won all four away games to clinch the series.

“In one word – history!” Norton said.  “Congratulations to the Washington Nationals on this achievement and thank you to all the coaches, players, trainers, and especially fans who believed in our underdog team.  Whether it’s the Capitals, the Mystics, or the Nationals – or the historic momentum for D.C. statehood – the District has been on a roll lately and has established itself as a true big-time sports city.”

"The 2019 Washington Nationals fought with incredible heart and passion all season long to become World Champions,” Warner said.  “Coming back from their 19-31 start to win elimination game after elimination game, these Nationals refused to give in or give up. I want to congratulate every single member of the team, from Mad Max to Childish Bambino to Virginia's own original National, Ryan Zimmerman. Enjoy this well-deserved honor -- you made history. And if you figure out how to get Baby Shark to stop playing on repeat in your heads, please let me know."

"The Washington Nationals have shown the world what it means to never give up on yourself or your team,” Cardin said.  “Fans watched as the Nats put the fun back in baseball. Their shark-filled energy fueled a remarkable, record-breaking rise all the way to their first franchise world championship. Congratulations to Manager Dave Martinez and every team member who contributed to this win of all wins on the field and in the clubhouse. Thank you for setting such an incredible example for sport and for life.”

"At a time of so much division, the Washington Nationals gave everyone something to cheer for together,” Kaine said.  “Who could've predicted they would revive their season after such a dreary start? Who could have called Howie Kendrick hitting not one but multiple series-winning home runs? And who on earth could've imagined that Baby Shark would be their theme of the year? These Nats had fun, and we had fun watching them all year. This victory will be remembered and treasured for a long, long time."

"A huge congratulations to the Nationals, our 2019 World Champs! The Nats beat all the odds for this hard-fought win,” Van Hollen said.  “From the players, to the coaches, to the staff, we're proud of this victory and the effort you put in along the way. I also want to give a shout-out to the great fans across the entire DMV who poured their hearts and souls into this team. Today is a great day for our Nation's Capital, and I look forward to celebrating the win!"

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) along Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Thune (R-SD), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) have introduced bipartisan legislation to expand telehealth services through Medicare, improve health outcomes, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Bill Johnson (R-OH).

“I’ve seen firsthand how hard it can be for Virginians to access health care in rural or underserved communities,” said Sen. Warner. “From my time as Governor through my years in the Senate, I’ve constantly pushed to use innovation to increase health care accessibility for Virginians. This legislation will allow more individuals across Virginia and our country to take advantage of telehealth services that require less travel time and provide affordable, quality care.”

 In studies, telehealth has been shown to improve care and patient satisfaction while reducing hospitalizations. The Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019 builds on the progress made in recent years to increase the use of telehealth through Medicare. Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to waive telehealth restrictions when necessary;
  • Remove geographic and originating site restrictions for services like mental health and emergency medical care;
  • Allow rural health clinics and other community-based health care centers to provide telehealth services; and
  • Require a study to explore more ways to expand telehealth services so that more people can access health care services in their own homes.

Sen. Warner, an original cosponsor of the 2016 CONNECT for Health Act, has been a longtime advocate for increased access to health care through telehealth. Last year, he successfully included a provision to expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. In 2003, then-Gov. Warner expanded Medicaid coverage for telemedicine statewide, including evaluation and management visits, a range of individual psychotherapies, the full range of consultations, and some clinical services, including in cardiology and obstetrics. Coverage was also expanded to include non-physician providers. Among other benefits, the telehealth expansion allowed individuals in medically underserved and remote areas of Virginia to access quality specialty care that isn’t always available at home.

The CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 has the support of more than 100 organizations including AARP, ACT | The App Association, Alliance for Connected Care, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, American Medical Group Association, American Nurses Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Telemedicine Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Connected Health Initiative, Federation of American Hospitals, Health Innovation Alliance, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Association of Rural Health Clinics, and the Personal Connected Health Alliance.

“By reducing geographic and originating site restrictions in Medicare, the CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 will bridge the miles between patients and care, mitigate workforce shortages, and most importantly improve outcomes at lower costs for our nation’s vulnerable populations. Coupled with our national priority of expanding broadband access, these efforts will enable all Americans to enjoy better health and health related prosperity,” said Dr. Karen Rheuban, Director of the UVA Center for Telehealth.

“This legislation would benefit patients by removing antiquated restrictions in the Medicare program that prevent physicians from using widely available medical technology that has become commonplace in the past decade. Increased access to telehealth is urgently needed to help meet the health needs of the swiftly changing demographics of our senior population. The CONNECT for Health Act’s expansion of telehealth coverage in the Medicare program also will spur increased investment and innovation in delivery redesign to benefit all patients,” said Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., President of the American Medical Association. “The AMA strongly supports the CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 and applauds Senators Schatz, Wicker, Cardin, Thune, Warner, and Hyde-Smith for their continued leadership on telehealth issues, and we look forward to seeing this vital bill advance in Congress.”

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded the acquisition of a significant property by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service. The addition of this land to the Forest Service will help preserve a local historic asset, enhance Virginians’ access to recreation, and protect the water quality of Craig Creek, a tributary to the James River and the Chesapeake Bay. This move follows strong support by Sens. Warner and Kaine, who previously urged the Forest Service to consider the acquisition of this property.

“We are glad to have played a part in helping safeguard this valuable piece of land and make sure it’s protected for years to come,” said the Senators. “We look forward to seeing Virginians take advantage of the increased recreation opportunities presented by this acquisition, and we trust that the Forest Service will work towards the long-term success of the land and its many natural resources.”

The 4,664.5-acre land, located in Botetourt County within the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, boasts the historic Grace Furnace, a 19th century iron-ore furnace, as well as 14 freshwater springs, 10 miles of trout streams, and borders 1,000 feet of Craig Creek. The tract contains potential aquatic habitat for the federally listed endangered ‘James spiny-mussel’ and two State-listed threatened species – the ‘Atlantic pigtoe mussel’ and ‘Orange madtom fish.’

This land addition comes as a result of efforts by the Open Space Institute (OSI), which purchased Grace Furnace in December 2016 and conveyed it to the Forest Service earlier this month, and the Chesapeake Conservancy, which coordinated the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) proposal that helped fund the acquisition.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime supporters of preserving Virginia’s natural treasures. Earlier this year, both Senators supported the permanent reauthorization of the LWCF to help preserve and protect Virginia’s public lands. Additionally, Sen. Warner sponsored bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by Sen. Kaine, to address the $12 billion National Park Service (NPS) maintenance  backlog, which has delayed the upkeep of visitor centers, rest stops, trails, campgrounds and transportation infrastructure operated by NPS in the Commonwealth and across the country.

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