WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the Senate approved the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):
“I’m pleased that the defense bill I voted for provides a 3 percent pay raise for our servicemembers in addition to supporting many critical priorities for the Commonwealth. The legislation authorizes $240 million in military construction projects throughout Virginia and funds advance procurement for a second Virginia-class submarine to support our nation’s military readiness – something I pushed for after it was originally excluded from the President’s defense budget,” said Sen. Warner.
“After successfully passing into law reforms to fix the deplorable housing conditions in privatized military housing across the Commonwealth, I have been keeping the pressure up to ensure servicemembers and their families can feel safe in their homes. I’m pleased to report that the defense bill includes language to help guarantee that the private housing companies and the military services meet their obligations,” Sen. Warner said. “But our work to ensure our servicemembers feel safe also extends to their time on-duty. That’s why I successfully pushed for a provision mandating reporting on instances of racism and discrimination that our men and women in uniform may encounter while serving our country, and why I’ve been outspoken about giving our military leadership the tools and information they need to combat these destructive biases.”
“And after pushing the Administration for years to extend benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange, I commend my colleagues for joining me in successfully pushing 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, who has repeatedly urged the Trump Administration to stop stonewalling critical benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange.
In March, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found deficiencies in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) 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 publish in DoD’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative Performance Evaluation Report underlying performance metrics for each project, in order for Congress to provide effective oversight.
In the wake of nationwide protests on racial injustice and reports of growing white nationalist extremism, Sen. Warner pushed to mandate reporting on whether servicemembers have faced “racist, anti-Semitic, or supremacist activity” while on duty. Sen. Warner’s bipartisan amendment 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 Government Accountability Office (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.
Warner, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also applauded the inclusion in this year’s defense bill of the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA), as well as his legislation to bolster America’s 5G capabilities and secure the semiconductor supply chain. Additionally, the Senate NDAA includes Vice Chairman Warner’s amendment to provide a secure Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) space for flexible use across the intelligence community, DoD agencies and their contractors. Currently, each agency's SCIF space can only be used by its own personnel and contractors, leaving many secure spaces underutilized.
“This bill also makes critical investments in competing with China when it comes to next-generation 5G wireless technology by providing funding and a model for alternative, Western-driven innovation using an open-architecture, or Open-RAN, model,” said Warner, who co-founded the wireless company Nextel before entering public service. “I’m also pleased that Congress recognizes the need to secure our supply chain and bolster domestic manufacturing of semiconductors.”
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, a bill that would provide a $1 billion investment in Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers such as Huawei and ZTE. Last month, 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 Senate-passed NDAA.
“And while I’m glad this bill includes most of the Intelligence Authorization Act as it passed the Committee last month, with just 103 days until the presidential election, I am deeply disappointed that the Senate has failed to take one easy step to protect our democracy. By stripping the FIRE Act from this year’s defense bill, we’re essentially giving a green light to campaigns to accept foreign assistance,” added Sen. Warner.
As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner pushed to include the Committee’s annual Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) within the annual defense bill. The IAA includes several key priorities, including a bipartisan provision championed by Sen. Warner to protect the integrity of the security clearance process from being abused for political purposes, and to enhance contractor insider threat programs.
Sen. Warner’s legislation, the FIRE Act, which would require campaigns to report to the appropriate federal authorities any contacts from foreign nationals seeking to interfere in a presidential election, was included in the Committee-passed version of the IAA that passed on June 30. However, Senate Republicans forced the provision to be dropped from the bill before adding it to the NDAA. In addition, Senate Republicans stripped critical protections for whistleblowers who step forward to report wrongdoing within the intelligence community.