Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09) and a number of colleagues in introducing bicameral legislation to establish an Inspector General (IG) for the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to provide independent oversight, and increase transparency and accountability at the agency which has recently come under increased scrutiny over reports and allegations of political favoritism, inconsistent policy implementation and conflicts of interest.

“Americans deserve honest and transparent trade policy,” said Sen. Menendez. “Recent reports of political favoritism, opaque decision-making, and conflicts of interest highlight just how dangerous it can be when an Administration hides public business from the American people. This bill will help ensure that trade policy is determined by our country’s economic interests – and no one else’s.”

“Sunlight remains the ultimate disinfectant, and that is especially true when it comes to our trade policy,” said Rep. Pascrell. “Our nation’s trade policies impact virtually every aspect of our economy and so Americans deserve to know that they are being formulated free of tainting influences and double-dealing. The opaqueness and outright corruption of Trump’s regime has revealed the need for a watchdog in all corners of our government. Our bill will ensure our trade policy will not be wielded for personal or political gain.”

In a June hearing, Sen. Menendez confronted USTR Robert Lighthizer over allegations that President Trump asked Chinese President Xi to make agricultural purchases to help him in the election. "Because if it's true, it shows how clear it is that the administration doesn't really have any intention of actually solving our trade problems with China,” Menendez said.

USTR’s Section 301 China tariff exclusion process has raised concerns over its lack of transparency, inconsistent decision-making, and political favoritism. Further, in June, Bloomberg reported that two USTR employees who helped negotiate USMCA may have violated federal law barring conflicts of interest when they offered their services as private-sector advisers to future clients while still on the federal payroll.

USTR is one of the only cabinet-level agencies without an IG, which means decisions that impact billions of dollars in trade are currently without the same degree of oversight as other federal agencies.

The legislation is co-sponsored by all the Democratic Finance Committee members, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). Reps. Sanford Bishop (Ga.-02), Peter DeFazio (Ore.-04), Alcee Hastings (Fla.-20), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio-09), Jim McGovern (Mass.-02), Frank Pallone (N.J.-06), Jose Serrano (N.Y.-15) and Judy Chu (Calif.-27) are cosponsoring the companion bill in the House.

The USTR Inspector General Act of 2020 would:

  • Establish a statutory IG for the United States Trade Representative under the Inspector General Act of 1978, similar to IGs for the Departments of Commerce, Defense, State, Justice, Treasury, etc. to perform independent oversight, improve transparency and accountability, and crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse;
  • Require the president to appoint an individual to serve as USTR IG, subject to advice and consent of the Senate, not later than 120 days after enactment; and
  • Direct the USTR IG to commence an audit of the Section 301 China tariff exclusion process within 180 days of enactment.

A copy of the bill can be found here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today approved Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Senator Mark R. Warner’s legislation (D-VA) to strengthen federal financial management. The bill would update the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act of 1990, which created a new foundation for federal financial management. The law established a financial management leadership structure, provided for long-range planning, and required audited financial statements.

The legislation, S. 3287, is cosponsored by Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI), Gary Peters (D-MI), James Lankford (R-OK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), David Perdue (R-GA), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and Mike Braun (R-IN). The Data Coalition, Citizens Against Government Waste, the Project on Government Oversight, National Taxpayers Union, Truth in Accounting, R Street Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Americans for Prosperity, Government Accountability Project and Grant Thornton, among others, have endorsed the legislation.

“The Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act was hugely instrumental in promoting financial management at the federal level, and laid the groundwork for a lot of the improvement we’ve seen in the 30 years since it was signed into law,” said Senator Warner.  “With today’s Committee passage of this commonsense bipartisan proposal, we are one step closer to enacting much-needed reforms to the financial oversight established in the original CFO Act. This legislation will help boost financial accountability in our government by promoting consistency across agencies, making it easier for them to carry out long-term initiatives and planning, and empowering them to make more informed and strategic policy decisions through the use of performance data. Now that this bill passed an important hurdle, we are almost to the finish line in taking action to help modernize our financial management structures, and renew Americans’ trust that their government is making smart, informed decisions about how we use taxpayer dollars.”

“The CFO Vision Act will lead to better financial and performance data and increase accountability in government programs and operations,” said Chairman Enzi.  “It will also help ensure our financial information is complete, reliable, timely and consistent and allow Congress to make informed decisions about the financing, management, and evaluation of federal agencies and programs.”

The bill would:

  • Standardize CFO responsibilities across government by helping to enhance strategic decision-making, and correct inconsistencies;
  • Provide deputy CFOs with sufficient authority to ensure continuity in agency financial management operations when CFO vacancies occur;
  • Revise government-wide and agency-level financial management planning requirements by requiring OMB to update the government’s financial plan every four years and provide annual status updates. Additionally, the bill would require the government-wide plan to include actions for improving financial management systems, strengthening the federal financial management workforce, and better linking performance and cost information for decision-making;
  • Develop a broader set of key selected financial management performance-based metrics by requiring OMB to develop a plan to determine the status and progress agencies are making towards achieving cost-effective and efficient government operations.  The bill would also require that information be included in the government-wide and agency-level financial management plans and status reports; and
  • Strengthen internal controls by requiring agency management to identify key financial management information needed for effective financial management and decision making. The bill would also require agencies to annually assess and report on the effectiveness of internal control over financial reporting and other key financial management information.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and a group of 30 senators in writing a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, urging him to reject politically motivated conditions on financial relief for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which is a critical lifeline for many Americans, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The senators also expressed their strong opposition to the use of coronavirus as a pretext to pursue privatization of USPS, which is widely unpopular with the American people.

The senators’ letter comes as the Treasury Department considers a $10 billion loan to support the USPS, which continues to see mail traffic, and thus revenue, drop immensely during this COVID-19 pandemic, all the while becoming an even more important lifeline to Americans and businesses.  President Trump recently publicly threatened that he will not approve the loan unless the USPS raises package rates by an exorbitant amount, in what appears to be a thinly-veiled attempt at retaliation against the president’s perceived critics.

“Enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the USPS has always provided an invaluable service —delivery to anyone with an address, regardless of living in an urban versus rural area, being rich or poor, or old or young,” wrote the senators. “Now, during the COVID-19 crisis, millions of people are receiving their much-needed relief checks through the mail. An affordable delivery service is needed more than ever in these times—to ensure everyone is able to get their essential medicine prescriptions, purchase items not available in their area, or to keep in touch with loved ones in a time of social distancing. U.S. businesses, especially small and medium-sized businesses that are suffering greatly because of lost revenue because of the coronavirus, also rely on receiving goods through the USPS’s affordable pricing structure.

“We are therefore very disturbed to hear President Trump’s public statements threatening approval of the $10 billion loan unless conditions are added such as hiking prices perhaps to even four or five-times as high as current levels. These threats appear to be thinly-veiled attempts to retaliate against what he sees as a vocal critic of his presidency, the Washington Post, and its owner Jeff Bezos. We are concerned about President Trump’s history of invoking another of Bezos’ assets, Amazon, in conjunction with calls to increase prices charged by the USPS, strongly suggesting personal and political motivations on this matter. It would be highly inappropriate and unacceptable for the Department of Treasury to act on such motivations when considering the USPS loan or other USPS relief.” 

The senators further outlined their opposition to privatizing USPS. “We similarly oppose, in the strongest possible terms, using the coronavirus crisis as a way to push through a privatization of the USPS. The White House Office of Management and Budget in 2018 advocated for privatization of the Postal Service, an idea which has been around for a long time but is extremely unpopular with the American people.”

“Taking advantage of this pandemic by raising prices on shipping companies or pursuing privatization for political purposes will only mean one thing—increased prices for everyday consumers, as well as the huge numbers of businesses that depend on the mail service. These reported planned conditions President Trump seeks to impose on the $10 billion loan to the USPS stand in stark contrast with the relative lack of strings placed on monies made available to corporations in recent relief efforts, no matter how badly a company might have been managed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the senators continued. “We urge you to reject these political and ideological calls to use this pandemic to further the President’s agenda while burdening everyday Americans and U.S. companies already struggling to make ends meet.”

In addition to Udall the letter was joined by U.S. Senators Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Il.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Il.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif).

The full text of the letter can be found below and here.

 

Dear Sec. Mnuchin:

We write to you to express our deep concern that the solvency of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which provides essential delivery services for 160 million American homes and businesses, is being jeopardized for political reasons. We urge you to reject imposing counterproductive or politically motivated conditions on the pledged $10 billion emergency loan to the USPS and any other relief that the USPS needs. 

Enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the USPS has always provided an invaluable service —delivery to anyone with an address, regardless of living in an urban versus rural area, being rich or poor, or old or young. Now, during the COVID-19 crisis, millions of people are receiving their much-needed relief checks through the mail. An affordable delivery service is needed more than ever in these times—to ensure everyone is able to get their essential medicine prescriptions, purchase items not available in their area, or to keep in touch with loved ones in a time of social distancing. U.S. businesses, especially small and medium-sized businesses that are suffering greatly because of lost revenue because of the coronavirus, also rely on receiving goods through the USPS’s affordable pricing structure. 

We are therefore very disturbed to hear President Trump’s public statements threatening approval of the $10 billion loan unless conditions are added such as hiking prices perhaps to even four or five-times as high as current levels. These threats appear to be thinly-veiled attempts to retaliate against what he sees as a vocal critic of his presidency, the Washington Post, and its owner Jeff Bezos. We are concerned about President Trump’s history of invoking another of Bezos’ assets, Amazon, in conjunction with calls to increase prices charged by the USPS, strongly suggesting personal and political motivations on this matter. It would be highly inappropriate and unacceptable for the Department of Treasury to act on such motivations when considering the USPS loan or other USPS relief.

We similarly oppose, in the strongest possible terms, using the coronavirus crisis as a way to push through a privatization of the USPS. The White House Office of Management and Budget in 2018 advocated for privatization of the Postal Service, an idea which has been around for a long time but is extremely unpopular with the American people. In addition to privatizing parts of the USPS, the Treasury Department’s Presidential Task Force on the Postal Service called for hiking prices charged by the USPS as well as cuts in services and decreased benefits for postal workers. Privatization efforts like these would lead to putting profits over people—meaning rural areas would suffer from service cuts and Americans would be left to the whims of corporations constantly seeking to maximize their bottom lines—and should be off limits during this crisis.

Taking advantage of this pandemic by raising prices on shipping companies or pursuing privatization for political purposes will only mean one thing—increased prices for everyday consumers, as well as the huge numbers of businesses that depend on the mail service. These reported planned conditions President Trump seeks to impose on the $10 billion loan to the USPS stand in stark contrast with the relative lack of strings placed on monies made available to corporations in recent relief efforts, no matter how badly a company might have been managed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge you to reject these political and ideological calls to use this pandemic to further the President’s agenda while burdening everyday Americans and U.S. companies already struggling to make ends meet. 

In addition to being highly inappropriate, any attempt to retaliate against the USPS in this way would also be deeply unpopular with the American people. Recent opinion polling released by the Pew Research Center shows how important the USPS is to all Americans—across political party affiliation. Ninety one percent of survey respondents stated that they viewed the USPS in a positive light, reflecting almost identical majorities from both Republican and Democratic parties. And, our democracy may very well depend on the ability of immunocompromised and otherwise vulnerable people to vote-by-mail in a time where going to polls is risking their very lives.

Finally, these threats are an insult to the hardworking men and women of the USPS, who are on the front lines keeping our society and economy functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic. To provide these critical services to our nation, hundreds of thousands of postal workers are heroically facing the coronavirus every day so that their fellow Americans can more safely remain in their homes and not spread the virus. This is a heavy burden in addition to making sure that “snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” keeps them from guaranteeing everyone with an address receives their mail. Tragically, 44 postal carriers have already lost their lives from COVID-19.

We urge you to do what is right not only for the postal workers bravely delivering our essential goods, but also for the American people and businesses who rely on affordable mail services. We strongly recommend that you reject any politically-motivated conditions that would force price increases, service or benefit cuts, or otherwise hinder the excellent work of the USPS when considering the pledged $10 billion emergency loan or any other relief for the USPS.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released a statement today on a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, which he helped stand up to bring greater scrutiny to the privatized military housing program. The GAO study found deficiencies in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) oversight of privatized military housing and issued a series of recommendations, including ones suggesting that DoD take steps to better track maintenance data and to improve communication with servicemembers and their families –  measures that Sen. Warner successfully worked to pass into law and has been fighting to get implemented ever since. 

“This GAO study, the result of a year-long investigation of privatized military housing, shows what many military families already know – that the DoD has not done enough to protect servicemembers and their families, who have been forced to put up with unacceptable living conditions in private military housing for far too long. Last year, the President signed into law our nation’s annual defense bill, which included a number of measures I authored to give military families new tools to hold private housing companies accountable. This bill also created the first ever Tenants Bill of Rights,” said Sen. Warner. “We need to ensure that every single one of these provisions are implemented as soon as possible. As the GAO study pointed out, there needs to be more transparency in how work order data and maintenance records are tracked. Families deserve to be able to access and follow the status of their work orders so that they can make more informed decisions. In addition, the services need to better communicate the responsibilities of the services and the partners, and to make clear distinctions between the military housing office and the private partner.”  

“Families also need to have the ability to withhold their Basic Housing Allowance if issues in their homes are not addressed, and to have a process for dispute resolution if these problems persist,” he continued. “Congress has acted, but my work is not done. I’m committed to keep pushing the DoD to implement these provisions as quickly as possible. It’s about time to even out the power imbalance between our servicemembers and privatized military housing companies, and these GAO findings are a stark reminder of that.”  

Among other things, the GAO study found that work order data collected by military departments and private partners was not captured reliably or consistently and therefore could not be used by the military services to monitor the quality of homes. The report also found that the data in reports provided to Congress was unreliable – leading to misleading results – and that the performance metrics used by military departments to monitor private partners did not provide meaningful information on housing conditions.

Last year, Sen. Warner introduced legislation to make 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 legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed in December.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after voting in favor of a $2 trillion bipartisan package to provide financial relief to businesses and families as well as hospitals and local governments during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: 

“This is not the first step Congress has taken to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, nor will it be the last. This bill provides significant financial relief to our families and businesses struggling with the effects of widespread closures and other public health measures. It greatly expands access to unemployment benefits – including, for the first time, gig workers, contractors and the self-employed –  and includes tax credits and other incentives I negotiated with the Trump Administration to help small businesses keep workers on payroll and keep them from going out of business during this crisis. This bipartisan bill also includes a massive infusion of resources for hospitals, frontline caregivers, and states and localities dealing with the brunt of COVID-19. I strongly urge the House of Representatives to pass this bill without delay, so that we can get this urgently-required relief to those who so badly need it.

“This is a challenge unlike any we have faced in recent memory, but I believe that we as a country can and will get through this together. I will remain in close touch with state, local and health officials to ensure that we are doing everything possible to provide the resources needed to fight the coronavirus.”

Previously, the President signed a bipartisan $8.3 billion emergency funding bill that directed needed resources to federal, state and local agencies responding to coronavirus. This legislation immediately provided Virginia with $13.3 million in federal funding to help cover the costs of preparations for this public health emergency. It also included language based on Sen. Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act of 2019, which reduces restrictions on the use of telehealth for public health emergency response, as well as $500 million to facilitate its implementation.

On March 18, the President signed a second bipartisan coronavirus response bill that focused on the immediate economic impact of the coronavirus. This legislation expanded paid sick leave to many Americans, cut restrictions on unemployment insurance for workers who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut, and guaranteed freed coronavirus testing. It also included significant emergency funding for Medicaid, nutrition assistance, state unemployment programs, and coronavirus testing at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers.

Today’s legislation provides for $1,200 in direct payments to most Americans, and includes billions of dollars in lending and grant programs designed to help businesses, workers and municipalities survive this crisis, along with strong transparency and accountability measures to make sure that federal funding doesn’t go towards stock buybacks or bonuses for corporate executives. Today’s bipartisan bill also provides for $150 billion for hospitals and other public health infrastructure, part of an unprecedented investment that Sen. Warner and other Democrats fought to include as our frontline responders struggle under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. It also includes an important change to existing tax policy allowing employers, for the first time, to use pre-tax dollars to help pay down employees’ student debt – provision modeled after Sen. Warner’s bipartisan Employer Participation in Repayment Act.

A more comprehensive list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak is available here.  

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Democratic Whip Dick Durbin along with 29 of their Democratic colleagues to introduce the Restoring Military Priorities Act of 2020.  The bill would reverse and restore the Trump Administration’s recent short-sighted transfer of $3.8 billion from Pentagon priorities to build part of President Trump’s border wall.  The bill also reduces DoD’s transfer authority so that DoD cannot once again attempt to divert additional funding for President Trump’s border wall from Congressionally appropriated DoD funds. 

The most recent DoD reprogramming targeted the men and women of the National Guard and a variety of additional programs funded by Congress to address shortfalls that were in many cases identified by military leaders.  This was the third time in less than one year that the Administration has used this unilateral process to bypass Congress and divert funding to President Trump’s border wall.

“Clearly, this Administration is not afraid to drain essential funding from the Department of Defense to build an ineffective wall across our southern border. Therefore, Congress has a responsibility to make sure that these dollars actually go towards supporting our national security interests and providing our men and women in uniform the resources they need to carry out their duties,” said Warner. “Our legislation will reverse the President’s irresponsible decision to divert $3.8 billion from crucial defense projects in Virginia and across our nation, and will make sure that the DoD cannot bypass Congress in the future and give away essential Defense funding.”

“President Trump is again raiding defense programs to fund his own political pet project. Our bill would reverse this reckless reprogramming and protect the Defense Department’s funding to ensure that it is used to support our men and women in uniform as well as the critical national security projects that Congress initially allocated the money for,” Kaine said.

In the spring of 2019, the Defense Department transferred $2.5 billion in funding to be used to build part of President Trump’s border wall, and the President later raided an additional $3.6 billion in military construction funds for his wall.  Earlier this month, the Defense Department reprogrammed another $3.8 billion from the men and women of the National Guard and a variety of programs added by Congress to address shortfalls that were in many cases identified by military leaders as critical equipment. 

In January, it was reported that President Trump intended to raid $7.2 billion in DoD funds this year to pay for his wall, diverting funding from military families and forcing American taxpayers to pay for his wall.

Warner and Kaine have been outspoken against President Trump’s plan to pull money from military construction projects to build his border wall since it was initially announced last year. Kaine has demanded details on the projects that will lose funding and called on his colleagues in the Senate to oppose the Administration’s efforts.  

Full text of the legislation is available here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, members of the Senate Budget Committee, released the following statements on President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021(FY21) budget: 

“Simply put, the President’s budget fails Virginia. With the deficit at record highs thanks to the President’s massive tax cuts for big business and the wealthiest Americans, this proposal attempts to balance the budget at the expense of hardworking Virginians and investments in our local economy. It completely eliminates funding for the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay – an ecological treasure and important economic engine that supports thousands of jobs. It repays our federal workers for their years of service with deep cuts to their retirement benefits. And instead of investing in our coal communities, the Trump budget would eliminate the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation program that helps communities in Southwest Virginia invest in clean-up and economic revitalization efforts,” said Warner.

“This budget is yet another alarming example of the President’s attempts to leave the most vulnerable Americans behind. It slashes Medicaid, which 1.2 million Virginians rely on for their health care. It cuts food stamp benefits, which keep 695,000 Virginians from going hungry. And it guts other critical programs like community development block grants and home heating assistance. As we have done successfully in years past, we are going to fight on the Budget Committee to reject these harmful cuts and pass a budget that better reflects the needs of all Virginians,” said Kaine.

Below is a list of some of the impacts President Trump’s budget would have on Virginians:

Medicaid: The budget proposes cutting Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. The budget would give states the ability to pursue damaging work requirements, more stringent eligibility criteria, increased co-payments, and more. 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): The budget would restrict access to SNAP, a safety net to prevent the most vulnerable Americans—particularly seniors and children—from going hungry.

Chesapeake Bay: The budget proposes to decimate the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program. These cuts would threaten key federal assistance that helps localities, farmers, and others take steps to reduce the pollution flowing into the Bay.

National Institutes of Health (NIH): The budget proposes $38 billion for NIH, a nearly $4 billion cut from FY20. Millions of Americans rely on NIH research to inform our understanding and development of new and innovative treatments for serious illnesses like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.

After School Programs: The budget would eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding for afterschool programs, which would affect 20,504 children in Virginia.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): The budget would eliminate the PSLF program, denying Virginia’s hardworking public servants—such as teachers, nurses, and first responders, and other public service professionals—the loan forgiveness they earned.

Airports: The budget would eliminate Airport Improvement Program Discretionary grants. In FY19, these grants provided more than $64.8 million for airport improvements across the Commonwealth at both large and small airports.

Port of Virginia: The budget would eliminate the Port Infrastructure Development program. Previously funded at $225 million, funds from this program support critical infrastructure improvements at the Port of Virginia.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields: The budget would eliminate the Heritage Partnership Program, funding to support the maintenance of Shenandoah Valley Battlefields.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): The budget proposes to eliminate LIHEAP, which was previously funded at $8.7 billion. This vital safety net program helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills in localities across the Commonwealth.

Abandoned Mines: The budget would eliminate Abandoned Mine Land Grants, which provided $115 million in discretionary funds last year to help places like Southwest Virginia reclaim and repurpose abandoned coal lands.

Virginia Tribes: The budget would reduce housing block grants to tribes by more than one quarter. Virginia tribes rely on these funds to develop low-income housing.

Affordable Housing: The budget would eliminate the Choice Neighborhoods, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and HOME Investment Partnerships programs—programs that support the building and rehabilitation of affordable housing. In 2019, Virginia cities and counties received $57 million in CDBG grants and $25 million in HOME grants. In 2018, Newport News and Norfolk received $60 million in Choice Neighborhoods grants to build affordable housing in the Marshall-Ridley neighborhood and St. Paul’s area, respectively.

Economic Development Administration (EDA): The budget would eliminate the EDA. Virginia was awarded 12 EDA grants for $4 million in 2018, including funding to help the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) build an apprenticeship academy and prepare young Virginians for jobs in a growing industry. 

Federal Employees: The budget would make federal employees’ health and retirement benefits more expensive for workers. 

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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. 

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote to the U.S. Department of State to follow up on an Inspector General (IG) report that found the Department sent highly-trained bomb-sniffing dogs to foreign partner nations without proper follow-up to ensure they were receiving adequate healthcare. The IG found that as a result, at least 10 dogs trained to assist in fighting terrorism died in the Kingdom of Jordan from various medical problems, including largely preventable illnesses such as parvovirus and heat exhaustion. Many of the dogs were trained at a State Department-contracted facility located in Winchester, Va.

“The IG report outlined a series of problems in the program, which led to the premature deaths of many dogs due to preventable illness, lack of veterinary care, and poor working conditions. Overall, the report makes clear the Department of State is not adequately monitoring and protecting the canines it provides to these countries,” wrote Sen. Warner, a dog owner.

The State Department’s antiterrorism assistance program provides Explosive Detection Canines (EDCs) to foreign countries to support local law enforcement in deterring and countering terrorism. The program is primarily implemented by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Antiterrorism Assistance, in partnership with the Bureau of Counterterrorism. Although the State Department previously relied on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to provide and train the bomb-sniffing dogs, in 2016, the State Department established its own canine training center, the Canine Validation Center (CVC) in Winchester, Va., which is responsible for procuring dogs, training foreign students as handlers, and conducting assessments to determine a country’s ability to care for the dogs and operate a canine program. In addition, the CVC is responsible for conducting health and welfare assessments in foreign countries.

As of September 2018, 100 dogs had been trained at the CVC and provided under the antiterrorism program to six partner nations. In addition, the State Department retains responsibility for approximately 70 dogs that had previously been trained and provided under the ATF program to seven countries.

The IG report found several deficiencies in the program, including:

  • The Bureau of Counterterrorism and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security “do not have mechanisms in place to ensure effective management of the health and welfare of canines in the EDC program” including an absence of policies, procedures, written standards for the department, or written agreements with partner nations to ensure the dogs’ health and safety.
  • The Department does not sufficiently monitor the trained canines that are provided to partner nations, including through follow-up visits and agreements that outline standards.
  • The treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan, where the majority of the dogs are sent, is of particular concern. Despite longstanding concern over the treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan’s care, at least 100 EDCs have been sent to Jordan since 2008. From 2008 through 2016, at least ten dogs died as a result of medical conditions.

The report found multiple instances of dogs that had been severely mistreated in Jordan, including Zoe, a 2-year-old female Belgian Malinois that died of heatstroke; Mencey, a 3-year-old male Belgian Malinois that was euthanized after she contracted two diseases spread by sandflies and ticks; and Athena, a 2-year-old female Malinois who made a full recovery in the United States after a State Department veterinary team conducted a site visit in Jordan and found her “severely emaciated” and housed in a kennel that was “covered in dirt and feces,” according to the IG. While the IG advised that the State Department cease providing canines to Jordan until “there is a sustainability plan in place to ensure canine health and welfare,” the State Department has not yet agreed to that recommendation.  

“The Department spends millions of taxpayer dollars in order to train the canines, provide appropriate veterinary care, and embed mentors in partner nations, among other expenses associated with the program. Yet once the dogs are deployed, many face mistreatment, malnutrition and unsafe facilities,” Sen. Warner wrote today. “I ask that you provide my office with a plan for how you will improve this program to protect taxpayer resources and ensure the safety and health of these highly-trained bomb-detection dogs.”

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

 

September 17, 2019

The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

I am writing to express my concern over a recent State Department Office of Inspector General report, which documented the failure of the Department to protect highly skilled explosion-detection dogs trained by the U.S. government and deployed to Jordan, an important U.S. counterterrorism partner, and additional countries. 

Earlier this month, the Inspector General for the State Department released a report entitled, “Evaluation of the Antiterrorism Assistance Explosive Detection Canine Program – Health and Welfare,” which evaluated the Department’s program to provide Explosive Detection Canines (EDCs) to foreign countries for counterterrorism purposes. Many of these dogs were trained in the Canine Validation Center (CVC) in Winchester, Virginia.  As of September 30, 2018, the CVC had trained 100 dogs, which were sent to six foreign partner nations. In addition, 66-89 dogs trained by a pre-existing program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) were still active in seven partner nations.  

The IG report outlined a series of problems in the program, which led to the premature deaths of many dogs due to preventable illness, lack of veterinary care, and poor working conditions. Overall, the report makes clear the Department of State is not adequately monitoring and protecting the canines it provides to these countries. Some specific findings from their investigation include the following:

  • The Bureau of Counterterrorism and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security “do not have mechanisms in place to ensure effective management of the health and welfare of canines in the EDC program” including an absence of policies, procedures, written standards for the Department, or written agreements with partner nations to ensure the dogs’ health and safety.
  • The treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan, where the majority of the dogs are sent, is of particular concern.
    • Despite longstanding concern over the treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan’s care, at least 100 EDCs have been sent to Jordan since 2008. From 2008 through 2016, at least 10 dogs died as a result of medical conditions including canine parvovirus and heat exhaustion.
    • The Department does not sufficiently monitor the trained canines that are provided to partner nations, including through follow-up visits and agreements that outline standards.

The Department spends millions of taxpayer dollars in order to train the canines, provide appropriate veterinary care, and embed mentors in partner nations, among other expenses associated with the program. Yet once the dogs are deployed, many face mistreatment, malnutrition and unsafe facilities.

I ask that you provide my office with a plan for how you will improve this program to protect taxpayer resources and ensure the safety and health of these highly-trained bomb-detection dogs. Should you have any questions, please contact Caroline Wadhams in my office at (202) 224-2023. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, issued the following statement today following the Senate passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, a two-year bipartisan budget deal that would suspend the debt ceiling until July 2021:

“Today I voted to preserve the full faith and credit of the United States and steer us away from another harmful government shutdown in the fall. By suspending the debt ceiling for two years, the bipartisan budget agreement guarantees that the United States will continue to pay our bills, while also preventing harmful sequester cuts that would hurt our military and jeopardize important programs that serve our veterans, prepare our children for the future, and rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges.

“Even with this deal, overall spending on education, research and development, homeland security, and other important investments will still be near historic lows as a percent of the economy. Our nation’s long-term fiscal challenges are real, but they are primarily due to declining tax revenue and a failure to reform our mandatory spending programs. It is disappointing that congressional and White House negotiators chose to pay for only a fraction of this deal, with fee increases and cuts to spending, when there are more sustainable and equitable ways we could have paid for this must-pass legislation. We should be asking large corporations and the wealthiest among us to contribute more—not putting $2 trillion in tax breaks that disproportionately benefit them on the nation’s credit cards. I continue to believe that we must do more to strengthen our nation’s balance sheet, so it is strong enough to sustain continued economic growth for the long term, and I urge my colleagues from both parties to more seriously address our financial challenges in the future.”

The legislation, which passed the House of Representatives on July 25 by a vote of 284 – 149, now heads to the President’s desk for approval.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  A bipartisan group of senators, led by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Senator James Lankford (R-OK), is calling on the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to make a list of all federal programs publicly available on a central government-wide website in order to identify and eliminate program waste and duplication. In addition to Senators Enzi and Lankford, the group included Senators John Kennedy (R-LA), Mike Braun (R-IN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), David Perdue (R-GA), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Rick Scott (R-FL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Providing a comprehensive list of these federal programs “is critical to helping Congress make informed budgetary decisions and ensuring that we are able to identify – and take appropriate steps to eliminate – duplication, fragmentation, and overlap in federal programs,” wrote the senators.  This list “is a key component of ongoing efforts to improve the federal budgeting process, including by better incorporating performance metrics into budget decision-making.”

The Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 requires OMB to issue guidance to agencies for implementing the inventory requirement and identifying information about each program for publication. An initial program inventory published by OMB in May 2013 had 1,524 programs, but in October 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the 2013 effort had fallen short. GAO made a number of recommendations to OMB to update relevant guidance, develop a more coherent picture of all federal programs, and better ensure information is useful for decision-makers. These recommendations remain open.

The senators specifically want to know OMB’s strategy and timeline for the program inventory. They also are requesting information about the process OMB is using in its approach to developing a federal program inventory.

Read the full letter here.

# # #

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced the Agriculture Research Integrity Act, which would bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from reorganizing and moving the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) out of the National Capital Region. Experts agree that Secretary Perdue’s proposal would undermine their effectiveness and relevance, and the rank-and-file staff opposes the move – just yesterday, it was reported that federal employees at both agencies “have quit in unusually large numbers” since the Secretary announced he would relocate the offices.

“The proposed relocation of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture from the National Capital Region could severely impact the ability of these agencies to carry out their critical research missions,” said Senator Warner. “These agencies provide invaluable research that drives agricultural, nutritional, and environmental policy in the U.S. Removing these agencies from the National Capital Region would negatively impact their work by disconnecting them from other vital research agencies located in the region and could impact their ability to attract and retain highly-qualified personnel.”

“The experts at NIFA and ERS conduct the scientific research that helps grow the food our families eat. They need a seat at the table with decision makers,” said Senator Van Hollen. “This proposed move – coupled with other efforts to undermine their work – is part of a broader effort by the Trump Administration to banish facts and science from policy decisions. We are committed to fighting it tooth and nail.” 

“Once again, the Trump Administration is seeking to marginalize scientists and independent research, choosing to scatter federal employees and potentially politicize what has historically been the work of nonpartisan civil servants,” said Senator Cardin. “With this bill, Congress has an opportunity to show it’s respect for our federal workforce and their work in advancing agriculture, food, the environment, and rural America on behalf of all Americans.” 

“USDA is proposing to uproot more than 700 hardworking federal employees from the National Capital Region with no cost/benefit analysis and no obvious public benefit. These federal workers will be forced to sell their homes, take their kids out of school, and move across the country to a location to be determined. This suspicious process is currently under investigation by the USDA Inspector General. Until USDA gives Congress and its own employees some straight answers, this move should be stopped,” said Senator Kaine. 

“The National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service carry out vital science and research missions that our nation’s farmers, consumers, and lawmakers rely on.  Uprooting those agencies and their staffs would undermine those missions.  That would be a ‘solution’ to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Senator Leahy.

“The National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service play a critical role in ensuring that our agriculture industry remains a global leader and can meet the needs of American families for generations to come,” said Senator Merkley. “There is no reason why taxpayer money should be wasted on moving these research facilities hundreds of miles away, far from the officials who make sure their findings are honest and not influenced by politics or food manufacturers. I’m urging all of my colleagues in Congress to protect the future of American agriculture by saying no to any plan to move these essential agencies.”

“We rely on these workers to provide quality research about our food, our farming and our rural economy, and they deserve a say in this process. Uprooting families and workers is a bad idea that undermines productivity,” said Senator Brown.    

“U.S. farmers face constant uncertainty – not least of which comes from the extreme weather variability brought on by a changing climate. Secretary Perdue has added fuel to the uncertainty by proposing to uproot, reorganize, and ultimately gut two research agencies essential to the stability of a productive and sustainable food system. Since the Trump administration has been unable to provide evidence of how this move will benefit farmers, eaters, and the public interest, Congress must stop the reorganization and relocation. We thank Senator Van Hollen for leading the way,” said Rebecca Boehm, an economist for Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment program

“Under the Trump administration, the USDA is suppressing the publication of scientific research that ERS employees conduct and has proposed upending employees’ lives by relocating the agency outside the nation’s capital,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. “Just like we have been standing up and fighting back against numerous other anti-worker proposals from the Trump Administration, we will join the employees at ERS and NIFA in fighting against efforts to relocate them and politicize their research. AFGE thanks Senator Van Hollen for introducing this important legislation that will aid in our fight for fairness for these federal workers.” 

“The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the farmers we represent from all regions of the country applaud the sponsors for introducing this bill.  We believe that nothing less than the future of public agricultural research and objective, policy-relevant economic analysis is at stake.  We encourage the Senate to follow the House lead and prohibit the misguided, unauthorized, and unfunded effort to move and undermine NIFA and ERS,” said Nichelle Harriott, Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

The House companion bill has been introduced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and language prohibiting the ERS and NIFA move was included in the House Agriculture funding bill released yesterday. 

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), today wrote to Acting Director Russell T. Vought to express grave concern over a new Trump Administration proposal that would, among other things, effectively end Congress’ ability to provide advice and consent over the individual responsible for establishing federal workforce policy and regulations. As part of a White House proposal sent to congressional leaders on Thursday, workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would be transferred to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), thereby taking these crucial duties from a Senate-confirmed director and assigning them to an administrator appointed directly by the President. 

“We wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce,” the Senators wrote. “The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President. Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date.”

Last Thursday, May 16, the Trump Administration requested congressional authorization to merge the vast majority of OPM functions and responsibilities into the General Services Administration (GSA), including Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. A key component of this proposal involves transferring the role of establishing government-wide workforce policy to a new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within OMB, which rests under the authority of the Executive Office of the President. This move would remove the Senate’s ability to have pre-selection oversight over the individual responsible for setting policies and regulations that affect federal workers nationwide, therefore opening the doors for this, or a future Administration, to act with political motivation towards the federal workforce. 

In their letter to OMB, the Senators conveyed great concern about the possibility of allowing politically-motivated individuals to set policies that affect loyal public servants in apolitical career roles. They also questioned Acting Director Vought about the nature of this unprecedented decision and its effect on federal workers – and requested that no further action be taken until all questions are thoroughly addressed. These questions include:

  • What analysis has been conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors have been considered, and which perceived benefits were regarded as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?
  • How can federal workers nationwide and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input was considered from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does this proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen have been long-time, outspoken advocates for federal workers. In February, the Senators pressed OMB to implement the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees they worked to pass into law earlier in the year. Amid the partial federal government shutdown, the Senators took a series of actions to protect affected workers, including guaranteeing back pay for federal employees, urging back payfor contractors, introducing budget amendments to protect federal workers, and urging OPM to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance for federal employees.

 

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

 

May 20, 2019

 

The Honorable Russell T. Vought

Acting Director

Office of Management and Budget

Executive Office of the President

Washington, DC 20503

 

Dear Acting Director Vought:

We write today in response to your proposal to merge the functions and responsibilities of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) within the General Services Administration (GSA). Specifically, we wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce.

In your letter to Congress dated May 16, 2019, you outline a proposal to transfer the “vast majority” of OPM’s current mission to GSA. As you note, this would include Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. The proposal would also create an Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which would assume the workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by OPM.

We have serious concerns with housing this new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Executive Office of the President, and having it run by an Administrator appointed directly by the President and without Senate confirmation. Your proposal details that this Office is to, among other functions, “provide overall strategic direction and coordination of workforce policy and regulations for all Executive agencies, other than the Government Accountability Office.” The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President.

Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date. To that end, we ask that you provide responses to the following questions:

  • What analysis have you conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors did you consider, and which perceived benefits did you regard as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?
  • The civil service system is statutorily required to be apolitical and merit-based. However, this proposal would significantly impede Congress’ ability to conduct oversight over this matter by no longer allowing the Senate to provide advice and consent over the individual directly responsible for setting all federal workforce policy and regulations. How can federal workers and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input did you consider from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does your proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

As a first step in conducting oversight of this dramatic proposal, our federal workforce is owed answers to these questions. Until the aforementioned questions have been thoroughly addressed and the authorities under which you are proposing such actions are clearly articulated, we respectfully request that you take no further action on this or any related matter.

We request your reply by the end of this month. We will continue to actively monitor the Administration’s explanation of this proposal to other Members of Congress and to the public, and look forward to your reply.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), today wrote to Acting Director Russell T. Vought to express grave concern over a new Trump Administration proposal that would, among other things, effectively end Congress’ ability to provide advice and consent over the individual responsible for establishing federal workforce policy and regulations. As part of a White House proposal sent to congressional leaders on Thursday, workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would be transferred to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), thereby taking these crucial duties from a Senate-confirmed director and assigning them to an administrator appointed directly by the President.

“We wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce,” the Senators wrote. “The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President. Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date.”

Last Thursday, May 16, the Trump Administration requested congressional authorization to merge the vast majority of OPM functions and responsibilities into the General Services Administration (GSA), including Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. A key component of this proposal involves transferring the role of establishing government-wide workforce policy to a new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within OMB, which rests under the authority of the Executive Office of the President. This move would remove the Senate’s ability to have pre-selection oversight over the individual responsible for setting policies and regulations that affect federal workers nationwide, therefore opening the doors for this, or a future Administration, to act with political motivation towards the federal workforce.

In their letter to OMB, the Senators conveyed great concern about the possibility of allowing politically-motivated individuals to set policies that affect loyal public servants in apolitical career roles. They also questioned Acting Director Vought about the nature of this unprecedented decision and its effect on federal workers – and requested that no further action be taken until all questions are thoroughly addressed. These questions include:

What analysis has been conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors have been considered, and which perceived benefits were regarded as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?

  • How can federal workers nationwide and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input was considered from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does this proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen have been long-time, outspoken advocates for federal workers. In February, the Senators pressed OMB to implement the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees they worked to pass into law earlier in the year. Amid the partial federal government shutdown, the Senators took a series of actions to protect affected workers, including guaranteeing back pay for federal employees, urging back pay for contractors, introducing budget amendments to protect federal workers, and urging OPM to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance for federal employees.

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

May 20, 2019

The Honorable Russell T. Vought

Acting Director

Office of Management and Budget

Executive Office of the President

Washington, DC 20503

Dear Acting Director Vought:

We write today in response to your proposal to merge the functions and responsibilities of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) within the General Services Administration (GSA). Specifically, we wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce.

In your letter to Congress dated May 16, 2019, you outline a proposal to transfer the “vast majority” of OPM’s current mission to GSA. As you note, this would include Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. The proposal would also create an Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which would assume the workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by OPM.

We have serious concerns with housing this new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Executive Office of the President, and having it run by an Administrator appointed directly by the President and without Senate confirmation. Your proposal details that this Office is to, among other functions, “provide overall strategic direction and coordination of workforce policy and regulations for all Executive agencies, other than the Government Accountability Office.” The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President.

Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date. To that end, we ask that you provide responses to the following questions:

  • What analysis have you conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors did you consider, and which perceived benefits did you regard as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?
  • The civil service system is statutorily required to be apolitical and merit-based. However, this proposal would significantly impede Congress’ ability to conduct oversight over this matter by no longer allowing the Senate to provide advice and consent over the individual directly responsible for setting all federal workforce policy and regulations. How can federal workers and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input did you consider from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does your proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

As a first step in conducting oversight of this dramatic proposal, our federal workforce is owed answers to these questions. Until the aforementioned questions have been thoroughly addressed and the authorities under which you are proposing such actions are clearly articulated, we respectfully request that you take no further action on this or any related matter.

We request your reply by the end of this month. We will continue to actively monitor the Administration’s explanation of this proposal to other Members of Congress and to the public, and look forward to your reply.

 Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – As part of his ongoing fight for military families facing hazardous living conditions, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today urged the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish a temporary housing advisory group to assist the military services in addressing widespread health hazards in private military housing. In a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan, Sen. Warner emphasized the need for an independent group capable of providing neutral analysis and advice to the department in order to develop long-term solutions for servicemembers and military families. 

“As the military services determine the best path forward, multiple perspectives and deep expertise in housing, state and local housing regulations, and environmental hazards are necessary to determine next steps and make stronger agreements. Clearly, these areas are not the core expertise of the Pentagon leadership, nor are they part of a military leader’s career trajectory. Housing is not a core mission of the Department of Defense,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Therefore, I urge you to establish a temporary advisory group for the Department of Defense – a high-level group of independent experts, well-versed in these issues who can assist the department in this process.” 

Stressing the need to reopen and renegotiate 50-year agreements between the services and the military housing companies, Sen. Warner urged Acting Secretary Shanahan to convene a housing advisory group composed of 10-15 subject-matter experts tasked with analyzing the current Military Housing Privatization Initiative as well as the agreements between the private companies and military services. This group would provide recommendations related to housing, real estate, public health, and environmental hazards in order to ensure that military families do not continue to be subjected to health threats, including persistent mold blooms, water leaks, and rodent and insect infestations. 

The letter also states that, once established, the advisory group should ensure that any agreements between the services and private companies codify the following: 

  • Ensure that independent and credentialed housing inspectors provide regular inspections and oversight at the housing units to ensure safe, secure and high-quality housing; 
  • Ensure that companies are adhering to state, local and regulatory laws related to environmental hazards. If these standards have not been determined by these authorities, DoD should establish standards in coordination with the EPA, and require that these companies adhere to standards for these hazards, including mold;
  • Require these companies to utilize appropriately credentialed and/or skilled contractors for health, safety and environmental problems across the services; 
  • Ensure that tenants have direct access to a true housing advocate, who assists the servicemembers and their families;
  • Ensure there exists an independent, third-party arbiter who can assist in resolving disputes between the tenants and the companies in a fair and transparent manner; and
  • Determine penalties when these companies fail to provide safe and healthy housing, whether that be withholding rent payments, incentive fees, cancelling the contracts or alternative mechanisms.

This letter is the latest in a series of multifaceted efforts by Sen. Warner to ensure that military families in Virginia and throughout the nation can count on high-quality housing free of health, safety, and environmental hazards. On Monday, Sen. Warner wrote to four private military housing companies requesting a plan of action from each company on how they intend to tackle the deplorable health hazards documented by military families. Recently, Sen. Warner hosted roundtables in Norfolk, Fort Lee, and Fort Belvoir with affected families who were upset by conditions in their homes and frustrated about the lack of response from the military services and their respective housing companies. Additionally, earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act – legislation that would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold rent until issues are resolved, prohibit contractors from charging certain fees, and require the military to withhold incentive fees to poorly performing contractors.

 

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

 

May 14, 2019

 

The Honorable Patrick M. Shanahan

Acting Secretary of Defense

U.S. Department of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301

 

Dear Acting Secretary Shanahan:

 

I write today to strongly encourage the Department of Defense to convene a temporary housing advisory group of outside experts to assist you in determining the best long-term solutions for addressing pervasive health hazards in private military housing across the military services. This group would analyze the current Military Housing Privatization Initiative, established in 1996, as well as the agreements between the military services and the private companies, and offer recommendations to strengthen accountability and improve the quality of housing.     

 

I have been deeply concerned about health hazards, including mold, lead, and rodent infestations in private military housing in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the country. The Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force have almost 12,000 privatized homes throughout the Hampton Roads region at Little Creek, Fort Story, Naval Station Norfolk, Oceana, and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, as well at Wallops, Dahlgren, Quantico, Fort Belvoir, and Fort Lee. Lincoln Military Housing, Clark Realty Capital, Balfour Beatty Communities, and Hunt Military Communities currently manage these units.

 

For this reason, I introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act with Senators Dianne Feinstein, Tim Kaine and Kamala Harris, to begin reforming the privatized housing program to ensure that our servicemembers have safe, secure and high-quality housing. This legislation would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold rent until issues are resolved, and prohibit the private companies from charging certain fees. It would also require the military to withhold incentive fees for poor performance.

 

While I am glad to see that the military services are taking some steps to address these hazards, including establishing call centers for current and former housing residents to address housing related environmental hazards, and establishing a tenant bill of rights, systematic change must occur in the program. These 50-year agreements between the military services and the military housing companies must be re-opened and renegotiated to tackle the problems that have been identified.   

 

As the military services determine the best path forward, multiple perspectives and deep expertise in housing, state and local housing regulations, and environmental hazards are necessary to determine next steps and make stronger agreements. Clearly, these areas are not the core expertise of the Pentagon leadership, nor are they part of a military leader’s career trajectory. Housing is not a core mission of the Department of Defense.

 

Therefore, I urge you to establish a temporary advisory group for the Department of Defense – a high-level group of independent experts, well-versed in these issues who can assist the department in this process. This group would include approximately 10-15 subject matter experts from outside of government and from other government agencies, who would provide analysis and neutral advice related to housing, real estate, public health and environmental hazards. In addition, advocates for the servicemembers and their families should be included in this group.

 

The Department of Defense has a long history of using advisory groups to provide independent and informed advice, such as the Defense Innovation Board, Defense Science Board, Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, and the Military Family Readiness Council.    

In addition to advising the DoD on broader policy, the advisory group would need to ensure that agreements between the military services and the private companies codify the following:

 

•          Ensure that independent and credentialed housing inspectors provide regular inspections and oversight at the housing units to ensure safe, secure and high-quality housing;

•          Ensure that companies are adhering to state, local and regulatory laws related to environmental hazards. If these standards have not been determined by these authorities, DoD should establish standards in coordination with the EPA, and require that these companies adhere to standards for these hazards, including mold;

•          Require these companies to utilize appropriately credentialed and/or skilled contractors for health, safety and environmental problems across the services; 

•          Ensure that tenants have direct access to a true housing advocate, who assists the servicemembers and their families;

•          Ensure there exists an independent, third-party arbiter who can assist in resolving disputes between the tenants and the companies in a fair and transparent manner; and

•          Determine penalties when these companies fail to provide safe and healthy housing, whether that be withholding rent payments, incentive fees, cancelling the contracts or alternative mechanisms. 

 

Thank you for your attention to this serious matter. I am happy to discuss this issue further. 

 

Sincerely, 

 

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has introduced the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act, bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would help save millions of federal dollars by curbing erroneous payments to deceased individuals.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains the most complete federal database of individuals who are reported to have died. However, only a small number of federal agencies have access to this official list, and most federal agencies rely on a slimmed down, incomplete, and less timely version of the death information. In addition, most Inspectors General lack access to the complete death information. As a result, many federal agencies make erroneous payments to people who are actually deceased. 

“This should be a no-brainer: One of the easiest ways we can cut down on government waste, fraud, and abuse is by stopping fraudulent payments made to dead people,” said Sen. Warner. “This bill will save millions in taxpayer dollars. It’s just common sense.” 

The SSA Office of the Inspector General reported that in 2015, according to the agency’s own records, there were 6.5 million people who have active Social Security numbers who are 112 years of age or older. In reality, there are only a few dozen people known to be that old in the entire world. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimated that it paid $239 million in “suspect” tax refunds in 2016.

Key provisions in the bill include:

·         Allowing Federal Agencies Access to the Complete Death Database. Under current law, only federal agencies that directly manage programs making beneficiary payments have access to complete death data.  The Act allows all appropriate federal agencies to have access to the complete death data for program integrity purposes, as well as other needs such as public safety and health.

·         Requiring Use of Death Data to Curb Improper Payments. The Act would require that federal agencies make appropriate use of the death data in order to curb improper payments.

·         Improving the Death Data. The legislation would establish procedures to ensure more accurate death data. For example, the bill requires the SSA to screen for “extremely elderly” individuals. This is in response to a 2015 Inspector General Report that identified 6.5 million individuals currently listed as being older than 112 years of age as still alive.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act was introduced by Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), John Kennedy (R-LA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Bipartisan companion legislation has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-MT).

 

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Washington – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement regarding the signing of the Executive Order transferring responsibility for background investigations to the Department of Defense:

“I am pleased that after many months of delay, the President has kept the background investigation mission intact, signing an executive order transferring the remaining portion of the National Background Investigation Bureau to the Department of Defense. This is an important step toward transforming the security clearance system. 

“There is much more we can do to reform decades-old policies and processes to reflect today’s threat environment, adapt to the dynamic of a modern mobile workforce, and capitalize on opportunities offered by modern information technology. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration to pass my legislationenacting further critical reforms to the security clearance process.”

In February, Sen. Warner reintroduced the Modernizing the Trusted Workforce for the 21st Century Act of 2019, which draws on provisions from the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2018/2019, which was unanimously reported out of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in June 2018. The Modernizing the Trusted Workforce for the 21st Century Act would: 

  • Hold the Executive Branch accountable for addressing the immediate background investigation backlog crisis.
  • Provide a plan for consolidating the National Background Investigation Bureau at the Department of Defense.
  • Implement practical reforms so that policies and clearance timelines can be designed to reflect modern circumstances.
  • Require that reforms be implemented equally for all departments, and for personnel requiring a clearance, regardless of whether they are employed by the government or industry.
  • Strengthen oversight of the personnel vetting apparatus by codifying the Director of National Intelligence’s responsibilities as the Security Executive Agent.
  • Promote innovation, including by analyzing how a determination of trust clearance can be tied to a person, not to an agency’s sponsorship.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) called on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act portions of an essential bill to address hazards in private military housing. The Senators introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act last month in response to a Reuters investigation that exposed health, safety and environmental hazards in privatized military housing throughout the United States.

“While we are pleased that the military services have realized the scope and severity of the problem, and have begun to circulate a ‘Resident Bill of Rights’ for servicemembers living in privatized housing, we strongly believe that Congress must enact legal protections for our military families and strengthen accountability mechanisms for these private companies,” the Senators wrote. 

They concluded, “We believe these reforms are necessary to ensure that contractors are responsive to servicemembers’ concerns, that military housing officials are exercising proper oversight, that servicemembers are empowered to leave any home they feel is unsafe for their family without fear of incurring a financial penalty, and, most importantly, for servicemembers and their families to live in safe and secure housing.”

Among other things, the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act would create stronger oversight mechanisms, allow the military to withhold payments to contractors until issues are resolved, and prohibit contractors from charging certain fees. It would also require the military to withhold incentive fees to poorly performing contractors.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long advocated for servicemembers and military families. Last week, they filed an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget resolution to ensure military families have safe and healthy housing. Sen. Warner also recently met with military families in Newport News to hear about their experiences living in privatized military housing, and Sen. Kaine recently toured privatized military housing near Naval Station Norfolk. Last month, the Senators also visited Fort Belvoir to hear from military families about their experiences with military housing.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Feinstein, and Harris, the letter was signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Jon Tester (D-MT). 

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

 

April 1, 2019

 

The Honorable James Inhofe

Chairman

Senate Committee on Armed Services

Russell Senate Building, Room 228

 

The Honorable Jack Reed

Ranking Member

Senate Committee on Armed Services

Russell Senate Building, Room 228

 

Dear Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Reed:

 

We write today to request that the Armed Services Committee include provisions of our legislation, entitled the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, to improve privatized military housing, in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

 

As you know, major problems with privatized military housing have surfaced since Reuters first published a series of articles last year. The Reuters articles, and hearings held by your committee, have revealed that many servicemembers and their families have been forced to live in homes with serious health, safety and environmental hazards, without sufficient recourse.

 

The contractors who operate privatized military housing have too often failed to properly remedy these hazards, or outright ignored servicemembers’ concerns. The military housing officials and installation commanders responsible for ensuring that our servicemembers have safe housing have frequently fallen well short of their charge.

 

While we are pleased that the military services have realized the scope and severity of the problem, and have begun to circulate a “Resident Bill of Rights” for servicemembers living in privatized housing, we strongly believe that Congress must enact legal protections for our military families and strengthen accountability mechanisms for these private companies.

 

To that end, our bill would:

 

1)      Require installation commanders to withhold payment of a servicemember’s basic allowance for housing (BAH) until a military housing official has inspected an environmental, safety or health hazard, verified that appropriate remediation has taken place, and the servicemember concurs that the remediation is satisfactory. In the case that the hazard requires the servicemember to leave the housing unit, the contractor will pay all relocation costs. 

 

2)      Prohibit payment of a deposit, and any fee or penalty related to ending a lease early, except for normal wear and tear. The bill also requires contractors to reimburse servicemembers for damage to their private property caused by a hazard. 

 

3)      Require the Secretary of Defense to withhold incentive fees to any contractor who persistently fails to remedy hazards.

 

4)      Create standard credentials for health, safety and environmental inspectors across the services, and including contractors, to ensure consistent inspection practices.

 

5)      Require the DOD to establish an electronic system so that installation commanders and servicemembers can track and oversee work orders.

 

We believe these reforms are necessary to ensure that contractors are responsive to servicemembers’ concerns, that military housing officials are exercising proper oversight, that servicemembers are empowered to leave any home they feel is unsafe for their family without fear of incurring a financial penalty, and, most importantly, for servicemembers and their families to live in safe and secure housing.

 

We thank you for your leadership and we look forward to continuing to work on this vitally important issue.

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, along with 45 of their colleagues, introduced the For the People Act, a sweeping package of comprehensive reforms that would make government work for the people. The landmark legislation aims to restore the promise of American democracy by making it easier, not harder, to vote; ending the dominance of big money in politics; and ensuring that public officials work for the public interest. Earlier this month, the House passed their companion legislation, H.R. 1, by a vote of 234-193.  

“Our nation belongs to the people – not just the wealthy or the powerful people – but all the people,” said Warner. “I’m proud this legislation includes the Honest Ads Act, a bill I introduced to bring overdue transparency and accountability to online political ads. By facilitating access to the ballot box, addressing the influence of money in politics, and ensuring that lawmakers can be held accountable by those they serve, this bold legislation will strengthen democracy and put power back in the hands of everyday Americans.”

“I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce landmark legislation to protect the power of the American people in our democracy,” said Kaine. “This bill is about ensuring Americans can exercise their right to vote, securing our elections, and bringing more transparency to money in politics.”

The For the People Act would:

Make It Easier, Not Harder, To Vote

— Improve Access and Secure Voting Rights – Expands access to the ballot box by taking aim at institutional barriers to voting, such as cumbersome registration systems, limited voting hours, and many other roadblocks. The bill creates automatic voter registration across the country, ensures that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full rights restored, expands voting by mail, promotes early voting and online voter registration, and modernizes the U.S. voting system. 

— Promote Integrity – Fights back against the assault on voting rights by reaffirming Congress’s commitment to restoring the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting voter roll purges like those seen in Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere, and ensuring that discriminatory voter ID laws do not prevent Americans citizens from exercising their rights. This bill would also end partisan gerrymandering to prevent politicians from picking their voters and making Americans feel like their voices do not count. 

— Bolster Election Security – Ensures that American elections are decided by American voters without interference by foreign adversaries. The bill creates a national strategy to protect our democratic institutions, increases oversight over election vendors, and enhances federal support for state voting system security upgrades, including paper ballot voting systems.

End The Dominance of Big Money In Politics 

— Guarantee Disclosure – Shines a light on dark money in politics by requiring all political organizations to disclose their donors, which will break the nesting-doll system that allows big-money contributors and special interests to hide their spending in networks of so-called “social welfare” organizations; expands “Stand By Your Ad” provisions; and harmonizes internet disclosure rules with existing broadcast rules.

— Empower Citizens – Builds a 21st-century campaign finance system to increase the power of small donors, reaffirms Congress’s authority to regulate money in politics, and pushes back against Citizens United. This bill levels the political playing field for Americans, creating a multiple matching system for small donations and allowing the American people to exercise their due influence in a post-Citizens United world, while reaffirming that Congress should have the authority to regulate money in politics. The new system of citizen-owned elections will decrease special interests’ influence on Congress and the White House and lay the groundwork for an agenda that serves the American people.

— Strengthen Oversight – Repairs and restructures the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to break gridlock and enhance enforcement mechanisms, tightens rules on super PACs, and repeals policy riders that block sensible disclosure measures. 

Ensure Public Officials Work For The Public Interest

— Fortify Ethics Laws and Slow the Revolving Door – Breaks the influence of special interests in Washington and increases accountability by expanding conflict of interest law and divestment requirements, slows the revolving door, prohibits members of Congress from serving on for-profit corporate boards, limits first class travel for government officials, ends taxpayer-financed settlements for officeholders, and requires presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.

— Impose Greater Ethics Enforcement – Gives teeth to federal ethics oversight by overhauling the Office of Government Ethics, requires the Supreme Court to create a new ethical code, and closes registration loopholes for lobbyists and foreign agents.

The legislation is sponsored by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR). In addition to Warner and Kaine, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Angus King (I-ME), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Doug Jones (D-AL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

The full text of the legislation is available HERE.

A one-page summary of the bill is available HERE.

A longer summary of the bill is available HERE.  

A section-by-section summary of the legislation is available HERE.

A list of organizations supporting the legislation is available HERE

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) – all members of the Senate Committee on the Budget – filed four amendments to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget resolution aimed at protecting federal employees and contractors. The amendments would put the Senate on the record in favor of preserving retirement security for federal employees, and providing back pay to service contractors affected by the recent federal government shutdown. 

“Federal workers are the backbone of our government. If we want to recruit and retain top talent, we have to offer competitive pay and benefits, including retirement security,” said Sen. Warner, who added, “Though the shutdown itself may be over, for many federal contractors who went without pay for 35 days, the effects have been long-lasting. The Senate cannot forget about these workers, many of whom work paycheck to paycheck. We owe it to them to provide back pay.” 

“This year, federal workers experienced the longest shutdown in history. Their finances were pinched and their families were hurt. As we look at next year’s budget, my priority is to ensure that we’re protecting federal workers against pay cuts, preserving their retirement security, and trying to secure back pay for the service contractors impacted by government shutdowns,” said Sen. Kaine. 

“Our federal workers and federal contract employees provide crucial services to the American people. These amendments will protect the hard-earned paychecks and benefits of our federal employees and help secure back pay for contract workers harmed by the government shutdown,” said Sen. Van Hollen.

One amendment would ensure that federal workers are not shouldering more than their fair share of deficit reduction. This amendment would establish a scorekeeping rule that would prevent federal employees from being subject to increased retirement contributions meant to offset the cost of other, unrelated congressional spending. Despite there being no solvency concerns related to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), Congress has repeatedly increased the required federal employee contribution rate without offering any additional benefit. Combined with years of pay freezes, the increased requirements have resulted in de facto pay cuts for thousands of hardworking federal employees. 

Another amendment would preserve the retirement security of civil service employees by preventing further retirement benefit reductions and protecting the retirement plans that employees have spent decades building.

A third amendment would establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to provide back pay to service contractors affected by the recent government shutdown. The shutdown caused more than 800,000 employees and thousands of contractors to go without pay for 35 days, and while affected federal employees were assured that they would be compensated for their missed wages, their contractor colleagues – who perform essential functions like cleaning, food service, and security – were not given that same guarantee. This amendment would put the Senate on the record in support of making these workers whole, following the record-breaking shutdown. 

A fourth amendment would protect federal workers’ retirement benefits by striking a provision in the draft budget that could cut federal employees’ benefits by at least $15 billion.

Sens. Warner, Kaine, and Van Hollen have fiercely advocated for federal employees and contractors, especially during and following the government shutdown. In January, the Senators, along with several colleagues, introduced a bill to pay back federal contract workers after the shutdown. They also joined a bipartisan group of Senators earlier this month in urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to include contractor back pay in the upcoming disaster package. Additionally, the Senators pressed OMB in February for a timeline detailing the implementation of the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees that the Senators worked to pass into law earlier in the year. 

The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to begin its two-day markup on the FY20 budget resolution on Wednesday, March 27. Though nonbinding, the budget resolution provides a blueprint for future congressional action on federal programs.  

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), members of the Senate Committee on the Budget, filed an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget resolution to ensure military families have safe and healthy housing. The amendment would protect the wellbeing of our nation’s military families by creating a reserve fund to address health hazards in military housing.

“Thousands of servicemembers call Virginia home, and their experiences with unsafe living conditions in housing are disturbing and unacceptable,” said Sen. Warner. “This amendment would ensure we can improve housing conditions for servicemembers and their families, whether they’re stationed here in the Commonwealth or across the country.” 

“Too many of our troops and their families are living in unacceptable conditions,” said Sen. Kaine. “When servicemembers are deployed, their families not only have to worry about their loved ones in harm’s way, but many of them have to endure added anxiety caused by lead, mold, or rodent infestations in their homes. Military families sacrifice so much to serve our nation – they shouldn’t have to tolerate horrible housing conditions, and our amendment is part of an effort to make sure they never have to again.” 

“Members of our military and their families in California and across the nation make sacrifices every day and their housing should be clean and free from health hazards,” said Sen. Harris.  “I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this common-sense amendment to ensure our nation’s military families live in the safe and comfortable housing that they deserve.”  

The proposed amendment would reaffirm a commitment by Congress to address pervasive allegations of health hazards at privatized military housing under the budget resolution. The health hazard allegations include mold blooms, lead poisoning, cockroaches, rodent infestations, and water leaks.  

In February, Sens. Warner, Kaine and Harris introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, which would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold payments to contractors until issues are resolved, and prohibit contractors from charging certain fees. It would also require the military to withhold incentive fees to poorly performing contractors.

The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to begin its two-day markup on the FY20 budget resolution on Wednesday, March 27.

 The budget amendment text can be found here.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), joined with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a member of the Committee, to introduce bipartisan legislation to protect the integrity of the security clearance process and ensure that it cannot be abused for political purposes.

“Americans should be able to have confidence that the security clearance process is being used only to protect our nation’s greatest secrets,” said Sen. Warner. “Our bipartisan bill will make clear that security clearances are not to be used as a tool to punish political opponents or reward family members, but to ensure personnel are thoroughly vetted to the highest standards.”

“The security clearance system is critical to protecting our country from harm and safeguarding access to our secrets. Americans should have the utmost confidence in the integrity of the security clearance process,” said Sen. Collins. “This bipartisan bill would make the current system more fair and transparent by ensuring that decisions to grant, deny, or revoke clearances are based solely on established adjudicative guidelines.” 

The Integrity in Security Clearance Determinations Act will ensure that the security clearance process is fair, objective, transparent, and accountable by requiring decisions to grant, deny, or revoke clearances to be based on published criteria. It explicitly prohibits the executive branch from revoking security clearances based on the exercise of constitutional rights, such as the right to freely express political views, or for purposes of political retaliation. It also bans agencies from using security clearances to punish whistleblowers or discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, religion, age, handicap, or national origin.

The bipartisan bill also codifies in statute the right of government employees to appeal decisions to deny or revoke a security clearance, and requires the government to publicly publish the results of such appeals – providing transparency, accountability and basic due process rights in an otherwise opaque and irregular process. 

The legislation aims to enhance the rigor and accountability of our security clearance process and to prevent abuses. It complements other reforms the executive branch is undertaking to modernize how the government processes clearances, and was developed with input from a wide range of experts across the government and in private law practice. 

A copy of the bill text is available here. 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), in light of newly-released deferred maintenance numbers, emphasized the need to pass the Restore Our Parks Act – bipartisan legislation to address the maintenance backlog at national parks across the country. New numbers from the National Park Service (NPS) show that the national backlog of deferred maintenance needs grew by more than $313 million last year – with a $100 million increase in Virginia alone. The total overall cost of backlogged maintenance projects at NPS sites nationwide now reaches $11.9 billion. 

“Unfortunately, these numbers show what we already know – the longer we wait, the worse this backlog becomes,” said Sen. Warner. “Our national parks are hurting, and with the parks maintenance backlog in Virginia alone totaling $1.1 billion, we cannot afford to delay these repairs any longer. We need to pass the Restore Our Parks Act and fund the critical renovations our parks require.”

According to NPS, despite completing more than $671 million in needed repair work during FY18, the deferred maintenance backlog at the Park Service has ballooned to over $11.9 billion – an increase of over $300 million from FY17. Additionally, Virginia’s total maintenance backlog increased from $1 billion dollars in FY17 to $1.1 billion in FY18. This includes an increase of almost $10 million in deferred maintenance at Shenandoah National Park, more than $12 million at Colonial National Historical Park, more than $60 million for the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and more than $26 million for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Restore Our Parks Act has widespread support among legislators and conservation groups and would reduce the maintenance backlog by establishing the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” and allocating existing revenues from onshore 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 exceeding $1.3 billion each year for the next five years.

Sen. Warner, who will be meeting with Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent J.D. Lee on Thursday to discuss the backlog and other issues, reintroduced the Restore Our Parks Act in February along with Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Angus King (I-ME). A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and has the backing of more than 120 cosponsors.

VA National Park Deferred Maintenance as of 2018 is available here. The chart below reflects VA data for FY17 and FY18.

National Park:

FY17 Deferred Maintenance

FY18 Deferred Maintenance

Change   

 

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

$1,998,224

$3,263,249

$1,265,025

 

Assateague Island NS

$2,774,577

$2,545,865

– $228,712

 

Blue Ridge Parkway

$186,619,608

$212,702,891

 $26,083,283

 

Booker T Washington National Monument

$1,370,913

$1,418,420

$47,507

 

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP

$327,072

$823,242

$496,170

 

Colonial National Historical Park

$421,872,932

$433,899,266

$12,026,334

 

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

$1,848,864

$1,805,537

– $43,327

 

Fort Monroe National Monument

$2,280,548

$2,495,127

$214,579

 

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefields Mem NMP

$10,371,731

$12,688,403

$2,316,672

George Washington Birthplace National Monument

$1,306,614

$1,648,576

$341,962

 

George Washington Memorial Parkway

$233,441,316

$293,494,667

$60,053,351

 

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

$64,760

$498,101

$433,341

 

Maggie L Walker National Historic Site

$531,648

$702,422

$170,774

 

Manassas National Battlefield Park

$6,516,560

$8,186,965

$1,670,405

 

Petersburg National Battlefield

$11,754,041

$8,924,807

– $2,829,234

 

Prince William Forest Park

$18,619,932

$24,148,020

$5,528,088

 

Richmond National Battlefield Park

$6,581,205

$5,261,371

– $1,319,834

 

Shenandoah National Park

$79,208,621

$88,765,195

$9,556,574

 

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

$31,149,289

$34,175,868

$3,026,579

 

 

Total

 

$1,018,629,457

 

$1,137,447,992

 

$118,818,535

 

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, today released the following statement regarding the Trump Administration’s budget proposal:

“There is much to be concerned by in the Trump Administration’s proposed budget, which is chock-full of short-sighted, draconian cuts to critical programs like medical research, education, environmental protection, transportation, and health care. It’s difficult to take seriously the Administration’s newfound commitment to deficit reduction after they pushed through a budget-busting tax cut that is already adding $1.9 trillion to the deficit, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. 

“It’s particularly galling that, just weeks after the longest government shutdown in history, the President’s proposed budget takes direct aim at the federal workers who bore its brunt by pushing for yet more cuts: retirement cuts. Benefit cuts. Another pay freeze. Federal workers are the backbone of a functioning government, and they deserve better than what we’ve seen from this Administration.”

 

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Washington – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, wrote today to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, requesting areview of the Trump administration’s compliance with security clearance policies and procedures. This request comes on the heels of alarming reports that detail how President Trump ignored objections from White House Counsel Donald McGahn and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, and granted security clearances to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner.

“We write to request that you review compliance by the Executive Office of the President (EOP) with policies and procedures governing security clearances and access to secure compartmented information (SCI),” the Senators wrote. “We also request that you review the adequacy of policies and procedures to ensure that mitigation measures are implemented when eligibility to access to classified information is granted despite potential security risks. We believe that you have the authority and expertise to conduct this review, including in your role as Security Executive Agent under Executive Order 13467.” 

The improper handling of these clearances is just the latest in a series of allegations that highlight substantial irregularities and questionable decisions by the Trump Administration. Additional reports claim that former White House Staff Secretary Robert Porter was allowed to handle extremely sensitive information for over a year with an interim clearance, despite his record of domestic abuse, and that the White House overturned an unprecedented 30 clearance adjudication recommendations made by career security professionals. 

Noting that the Trump Administration is currently working on transforming the security clearance system to reflect new threats, modern technologies, and the nation’s mobile workforce, the Senators emphasized the need to ensure that today’s system operates with integrity, especially at the White House.

Sen. Warner has been an outspoken critic of the Trump Administration’s abuse of the security clearance process. He also recently reintroduced legislation to modernize the government’s antiquated security clearance system and reduce the background investigation backlog.

 

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

 

March 8, 2019

 

The Honorable Daniel Coats

Director of National Intelligence

Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Washington, DC 20511

 

The Honorable Michael K. Atkinson

Inspector General of the Intelligence Community

Washington, DC 20511

 

Dear Director Coats and Inspector General Atkinson:

 

We write to request that you review compliance by the Executive Office of the President (EOP) with policies and procedures governing security clearances and access to secure compartmented information (SCI).  We also request that you review the adequacy of policies and procedures to ensure that mitigation measures are implemented when eligibility to access to classified information is granted despite potential security risks.  We believe that you have the authority and expertise to conduct this review, including in your role as Security Executive Agent under Executive Order 13467.

 

Public reporting over the last two years has raised serious concerns of alleged irregularities and questionable decisions related to eligibility determinations for EOP personnel access to classified information. These allegations include abuse in granting interim clearances, to include for access to SCI; revoking a former senior intelligence official’s eligibility for access to classified information seemingly for reasons of political retribution; overruling unfavorable adjudications made by career security professionals in some 30 cases; and the President’s decision himself to grant his daughter and son-in-law clearances despite the documented concerns from the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff.

 

The Administration is undertaking an important transformation of the security clearance system to reflect today’s threats, today’s mobile workforce, and modern technologies.  While we must stay focused on that larger reform effort, we must ensure that today’s system operates with integrity, particularly at the White House.

 

We look forward to your attention to this matter and request you brief us on the results of your reviews within 60 days.

 

Sincerely,

 

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