WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the Senate approved the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Earlier this week, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the bill, and with the Senate passage, the legislation now heads to the President’s desk for approval.
“Today’s bill passage demonstrates compromise on both sides of the aisle and a willingness to protect our servicemembers, strengthen our national security defenses, and support critical defense industries right here in Virginia. This includes authorizing more than $250 million for nine military construction projects throughout the Commonwealth, in addition to providing funding for the procurement of a second Virginia-class submarine,” said Sen. Warner who personally pushed for the Virginia-class submarine program funding after it was excluded from the President’s FY21 defense budget.
“In addition to providing a 3 percent pay raise for our servicemembers, we also secured provisions in the bill to help them stay safe amid the ongoing health crisis. This includes making sure that we maintain a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment for active duty and reserve members of our armed forces, many of whom continue to play a critical role in COVID-19 response efforts in our communities. Additionally, following the tough lessons learned from this health crisis, this year’s defense bill now requires that the Department of Defense (DoD) have protocols in place to prepare and protect our nation and our military personnel from future global pandemics that impact military readiness,” continued Sen. Warner.
In March, after the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) reported alarming cases of COVID-19 among its personnel, Sen. Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) wrote to the Secretary of the Navy inquiring about efforts to protect the health and safety of servicemembers. Many military personnel, whether here at home or abroad, often work in an environment that requires the sharing of resources and facilities, which puts them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in the absence of proper protocols and resources.
“I’m also proud of the work we did to keep the pressure on privatized military housing companies by implementing additional accountability measures to ensure our military families have the safe housing they deserve as they serve our nation. I will continue to fight on behalf of our military families so that they no longer feel powerless when rightfully demanding a healthy housing environment for their children,” he continued. “And with so many individuals rightly focused on combating the racial injustices in our country, we also have to make sure that we’re fighting these injustices within our military. That includes providing our military leadership the tools and information they need to combat racism and discrimination in our military ranks. That’s why I’m proud that my provision to mandate reporting on instances of racism and discrimination was included in this year’s defense bill.”
“This annual legislation also honors the sacrifices of our veterans, particularly those who served during the Vietnam War and have had to suffer long-term effects from Agent Orange-related conditions. After repeatedly urging the Trump Administration to stop stonewalling critical benefits for Vietnam veterans, I am pleased to report that we are finally able to add Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of service-connected presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure,” continued Sen. Warner. “My hope is that this legislation will finally provide peace of mind to the patriots who have long fought to get coverage for these serious conditions that stem from their service to our nation.”
Sen. Warner has been a fierce advocate on bringing much-needed reforms to privatized military housing following reports of health hazards in military homes across the country. He successfully secured large portions of his military housing legislation in the FY20 NDAA, but his work did not stop there. In March, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found deficiencies in the DoD’s oversight of privatized military housing, concluding that the DoD lacked reliable information to provide a full picture of the conditions of privatized housing. Currently, the military departments use a range of project-specific performance metrics to monitor private housing companies’ performance. However, the metrics used, while designed to focus on resident satisfaction and on the quality of the maintenance conducted on housing units, do not always provide meaningful information or reflect actual housing conditions. For example, the GAO found that a common indicator is how quickly the private partner responded to a work order, rather than whether the issue was actually addressed. Ultimately, these metrics matter because they feed into decisions around whether privatized housing companies earn performance incentive fees.
To improve this gap in housing condition metrics, Sen. Warner’s provision in the defense bill requires that the military services review the indicators underlying the privatized housing project performance metrics to ensure they adequately measure the condition and quality of the home. Additionally, the provision requires the Secretary of Defense to make the information regarding the underlying performance metrics for each project available to the tenants to ensure greater transparency and oversight.
In the wake of nationwide protests on racial injustice and reports of growing white nationalist extremism, Sen. Warner pushed to expand reporting on whether servicemembers have faced “racist, anti-Semitic, or supremacist activity” while on duty. Sen. Warner’s bipartisan provision builds upon an existing DoD requirement to include in appropriate surveys more detailed information on whether military personnel “have ever experienced or witnessed [or reported] extremist activity in the workplace.” Additionally, in an effort to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce within the Pentagon, Sen. Warner successfully included a provision that would require the GAO to do a diversity and inclusion study to analyze the makeup of the workforce, as well as differences in rates of promotion by race, ethnicity and gender, to help develop a stronger and more diverse pipeline of career professionals.
Sen. Warner, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also applauded the inclusion of his provision to enable greater flexibility around the use of Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs). The provision directs the Director of National Intelligence, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, to issue new policy guidance to enable government agencies and contractors to more efficiently use SCIFs operated to support the DoD and the Intelligence Community. Currently, each agency or contractor's SCIF space can only be used by its own personnel, leaving many secure spaces underutilized.
“This year’s defense bill also takes a robust approach in accelerating research and development for next-generation 5G wireless technology and in creating a model for alternative, Western-driven innovation using an open-architecture, or Open-RAN, model,” said Sen. Warner, who co-founded the wireless company Nextel before entering public service.
The defense bill prioritizes U.S. innovation and technology development in the area of 5G and semiconductors, to compete with countries like China. As a former technology and telecommunications executive, Sen. Warner has pushed the Administration to develop a strategy to maintain our advantages in technological innovation, as well as to lead on 5G. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner teamed up with a bipartisan group of leading national security Senators to introduce the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act, which would provide robust investment in Western-allied alternatives to Chinese equipment providers such as Huawei and ZTE. In June, Sen. Warner along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced legislation to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to American soil by increasing federal incentives to stimulate advanced chip manufacturing, enable cutting-edge research and development, secure the supply chain, bring greater transparency to the microelectronics ecosystem, create American jobs, and ensure long-term national security. Language drawing on both proposals was included in the final defense bill.
And as a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Sen. Warner also secured the inclusion of his Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings (ILLICIT CASH) Act. The bipartisan ILLICIT CASH Act seeks to improve corporate transparency, strengthen national security, and help law enforcement combat illicit financial activity being carried out by terrorists, drug and human traffickers, and other criminals.
“With just over a month until the next Administration assumes command, we must ensure that President Biden will have the resources in place to counter any national security threat on day one,” concluded Sen. Warner.
This week, President Trump doubled down on his threat to veto the annual defense bill over a provision to rename military bases named after Confederate military leaders. Sen. Warner has previously cautioned the President against playing politics with the defense bill in the midst of a global pandemic and growing global threats.