Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock (both D-GA) in urging the Biden Administration to continue U.S. diplomatic efforts to secure the immediate release of hostages, stop the violence in Gaza, provide access for desperately needed humanitarian assistance, and deescalate tensions across the Middle East.

“Since the October 7th Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, in which Hamas abducted more than 200 civilians — including babies, young children, and the elderly — the United States has played a vital leading role in efforts to secure the release of Americans and Israelis held in Gaza,” the senators wrote to President Biden.

“On November 24th, an agreement brokered with your leadership by the United States, Qatar, and Egypt secured the release of 105 hostages — all women and children — in tandem with a seven-day ceasefire. … Now 130 days since the October 7th massacre, two million Gazan civilians remain displaced in extreme danger and deprivation while hostages held by Hamas remain in life-threatening captivity,” the senators continued. “We therefore write to express our urgent support for your Administration’s ongoing diplomatic efforts to secure the release of hostages in tandem with a restored mutual ceasefire in Gaza.

“We recognize that it is in Israel’s vital national interest that Hamas — a brutal terrorist organization — be removed from power in Gaza. We continue to support Israel’s pursuit of that objective,” the senators affirmed. “We also recognize that without a break in the fighting, humanitarian conditions for civilians in Gaza will become even more catastrophic and thousands more innocents — including many children — will die.”

The senators acknowledged, “such a diplomatic achievement will require the agreement of the warring parties, and that its terms remain under negotiation… In our judgment, it is in our urgent national interest – and the urgent humanitarian interest of millions of innocent civilians — that these negotiations succeed.”

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Ossoff, and Warnock, the letter was cosigned by Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tina Smith (D-MN), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), and Peter Welch (D-VT).

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Mr. President,

Since the October 7th Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, in which Hamas abducted more than 200 civilians — including babies, young children, and the elderly — the United States has played a vital leading role in efforts to secure the release of Americans and Israelis held in Gaza.

U.S. diplomacy has also been essential to efforts to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid and to reaching a pause in hostilities in November of last year.

On November 24th, an agreement brokered with your leadership by the United States, Qatar, and Egypt secured the release of 105 hostages — all women and children — in tandem with a seven-day ceasefire. The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas provided a vital window for humanitarian aid to reach nearly two million Gazan civilians displaced by the war, while the return to safety of those hostages — including a four-year-old American girl, Abigail Idan — gave hope to the families of others abducted by Hamas that strong U.S.-led diplomacy could secure their freedom.

Now 130 days since the October 7th massacre, two million Gazan civilians remain displaced in extreme danger and deprivation while hostages held by Hamas remain in life-threatening captivity.

We therefore write to express our urgent support for your Administration’s ongoing diplomatic efforts to secure the release of hostages in tandem with a restored mutual ceasefire in Gaza.

We recognize that such a diplomatic achievement will require the agreement of the warring parties, and that its terms remain under negotiation. In our judgment, it is in our urgent national interest – and the urgent humanitarian interest of millions of innocent civilians — that these negotiations succeed.

We recognize that it is in Israel’s vital national interest that Hamas — a brutal terrorist organization — be removed from power in Gaza. We continue to support Israel’s pursuit of that objective.

We also recognize that without a break in the fighting, humanitarian conditions for civilians in Gaza will become even more catastrophic and thousands more innocents — including many children — will die.

Without an agreement that secures their release, the prospects are dim for the survival of hostages who remain alive.

Without the space created for regional diplomacy by a restored ceasefire, the political conditions for durable peace and security will remain unreachable, and escalating regional conflict will continue to threaten U.S. national security.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON– U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined a letter led by Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representative Grace Meng (D-NY-6) in support of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s proposal to expand the E-Rate program, which helps schools and libraries access affordable broadband. Under the proposal, the E-Rate program would be updated to allow schools and libraries to loan Wi-Fi hotspots to students and educators. In their letter, the lawmakers call for the expansion and modernization of the E-Rate hotspot program to help reduce educational disparities and ensure that all students can access the internet. 

The lawmakers wrote, “[We] are excited that the Commission has proposed to update the E-Rate program to allow schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless internet services to students and educators. This proposal properly recognizes that learning now extends beyond the physical premises of school buildings.”

The lawmakers continued, “With millions of students at risk of losing internet access at home, we are glad to see the FCC exercising this authority and modernizing the E-Rate program, and we encourage the Commission to provide schools and libraries with the flexibility to adapt their programs to local conditions while continuing to effectively guard against fraud and waste.” 

Students who lack internet access at home face significant disadvantages in school, and a recent study found they receive lower grades than their classmates. Expanding the E-Rate program will build on the progress made through the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), which Warner and Kaine helped pass as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP),?to provide devices and connectivity for students and educators at home. With the ECF set to expire at the end of this year and the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) set to run out of funding soon, expanding the E-Rate program would also help prevent many students from losing internet access.

Joining Sens. Warner, Kaine, Markey, Van Hollen, and Meng on the letter in the Senate are Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Laphonza Butler (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Fetterman (D-PA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). 

Warner – one of the principal authors of the ACP – and Kaine have long fought to expand access to broadband. The senators urged congressional leadership to extend funding for the ACP, which was created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) Warner and Kaine helped pass. They also announced nearly $1.5 billion in federal funding to expand high-speed internet through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, which was also made possible by the BIL. They’ve introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that funding for broadband deployment from the BIL and the ARP, will not be considered taxable income.

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Chairwoman Rosenworcel,

We write in strong support of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposal to allow libraries and schools to provide Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless internet services to students and educators through the E-Rate program. This effort represents an important modernization of the E-Rate program and a recognition that learning now extends beyond the school and library premises. As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, students without access to the internet at home are at a distinct disadvantage compared to their better-connected peers. We urge the Commission to move ahead with the E-Rate hotspot program to help reduce educational disparities and ensure that low-income students are not left behind.

Although the E-Rate program has successfully connected nearly every school and library in the country, the changing nature of education has reconstituted some of the inequalities that led Congress to create E-Rate in 1998. Back then, better-resourced schools gained internet access ahead of low-income and disadvantaged schools, providing an advantage to their students. Today, that inequality exists among individual households. Now, wealthy and middle-class students almost universally can access high-speed internet at home, but low-income and disadvantaged students lag behind. As schools adopt online resources and homework increasingly requires an internet connection, this “Homework Gap” favors students in wealthy households over their low-income classmates.

If this inequality was not clear before 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic made it obvious. Although the pandemic had serious consequences for students of all backgrounds, low-income students — especially those without access to the internet at home — have faced the greatest impact. In surveys of students at different grade levels, the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress has repeatedly shown that high-performing students had much better access to the internet at home. A recent study of Michigan students also found that a student without access to home internet earned significantly lower grades — 0.6 lower, on the 4.0 scale — than his or her connected classmates. A different study using Census Bureau data estimated that individuals with greater access to a computer and the internet at home spent 28 percent more hours learning than those without such access. As this evidence on home connectivity piles up, there should be no debate: Students without access to high-speed internet at home are seriously disadvantaged compared to their better-connected classmates.

Fortunately, during the pandemic, the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) — which Congress created in 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act — helped close this homework gap. The ECF program included $7.17 billion for schools and libraries to distribute devices and internet services to students and educators. Thanks to the hard work of the FCC staff, the Commission quickly stood up this program and began distributing these funds. Over the past two years, the ECF has helped roughly 18 million students at 11,500 schools connect to the internet at home. The program has provided nearly 13 million connected devices and more than 8 million broadband connections to students and educators. Unfortunately, the ECF program is set to sunset at the end of June, leaving students — and schools and libraries — in a potentially dire situation: Without action, millions of low-income students could lose access to the internet at home, a devastating digital cliff that would reverse the ECF’s important achievements. The potential expiration of the Affordable Connectivity Program, which helps low-income households afford broadband, would further exacerbate this impact on disadvantaged students.

Given these stakes, we are excited that the Commission has proposed to update the ERate program to allow schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless internet services to students and educators. This proposal properly recognizes that learning now extends beyond the physical premises of school buildings. When a sixth grader is completing a homework assignment through an online educational platform or a ninth grader is attending class through a video conferencing application, they are clearly engaged in educational activities. In the Communications Act, Congress rightfully provided the FCC with the flexibility to structure and strengthen the E-Rate program as educational conditions change. With millions of students at risk of losing internet access at home, we are glad to see the FCC exercising this authority and modernizing the E-Rate program, and we encourage the Commission to provide schools and libraries with the flexibility to adapt their programs to local conditions while continuing to effectively guard against fraud and waste.

Thank you for your continued commitment to closing the digital divide.

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) pressed the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) on the mail delivery delays and disruptions impacting Virginians in the Richmond region. The push follows an alarming report that the Richmond VA Medical Center recently received hundreds of colon cancer test samples via USPS that are unusable because they exceed the 15-day window the samples were valid for. Some samples date as far back as mid-2023. In their letter, the lawmakers requested a briefing with USPS and a tour of the relevant USPS facility to better understand the causes of these unacceptable delays and discuss what is being done to prevent them from happening again.

“We want to be clear; this is unacceptable,” the lawmakers wrote. “These issues with postal delays have caused unnecessary stress and harm for our constituents and suggest to us that the issues in the region are worse than we thought.”

“We are unsatisfied with the level of urgency and responsiveness the agency has demonstrated with the issues we have raised previously, and this must change with this new revelation,” the lawmakers continued. “USPS has recently declined requests for meetings and tours to discuss these issues – Postal Service customers in Central Virginia deserve transparency and explanation, as soon as possible, regarding these issues.”

Joining the Senators in this push are U.S. Reps. Jennifer McClellan (D-VA-4), Rob Wittman (R-VA-1), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-7), Jen Kiggans (R-VA-2), and Bob Good (R-VA-5).

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Postmaster General DeJoy and Mr. Roane:

In recent months, we have shared with the Postal Service the substantial constituent outreach we have received regarding postal delivery delays and disruptions in the Richmond region. Among other impacts, these delays have caused people to miss needed medications or to receive billing notices after payment deadlines have passed. We have shared these with the agency formally and via staff in an effort to identify if these are isolated cases or signs of a systemic challenge with postal delivery in this area.

We now have received a report from the Richmond VA Medical Center (Richmond VA), with potentially even more alarming consequences. According to the Richmond VA, the facility recently received a delivery from USPS of some 870 immunochemical test samples, which had been collected by veterans at home and then returned by mail. These tests are one method used to early-screen for colon cancer, and must be received back by the VA within a roughly two-week window in order to still be valid. It is our understanding that upon delivery of this recent batch of tests, more than half of the samples were older than two weeks – some dating back to mid-2023 – and therefore were unusable by the VA. The Richmond VA is working with USPS to understand how this could have happened and has stated to our offices that precise answers have not yet been forthcoming from USPS.

We want to be clear; this is unacceptable. These issues with postal delays have caused unnecessary stress and harm for our constituents and suggest to us that the issues in the region are worse than we thought. We are unsatisfied with the level of urgency and responsiveness the agency has demonstrated with the issues we have raised previously, and this must change with this new revelation.

We request a briefing with our offices at your earliest convenience to understand how this could have happened and what is being done to keep it from happening again. We also request a tour of the relevant facility to see firsthand the operational challenges. It is imperative that we understand the systemic issues that are causing these operational challenges on the ground at Virginia postal facilities, so that we may provide the resources and support these facilities require from the federal level in order to prevent further service delays and disruptions. USPS has recently declined requests for meetings and tours to discuss these issues – Postal Service customers in Central Virginia deserve transparency and explanation, as soon as possible, regarding these issues.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we await your response.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs National Security and International Trade and Finance Subcomittee, wrote to Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury, questioning the Department’s failure to implement appropriate sanctions enforcement as major technology firms such as Alphabet and Meta repeatedly flout U.S. sanctions rules through provision of digital advertising services. In his letter, Sen. Warner highlighted reports that tech companies continue to provide adtech services to sanctioned companies that have deep ties to our foreign adversaries, including Russia and Iran.

“[P]ublic reports in November 2023 indicated that Google served ads – and provided publisher monetization and search solutions – to a range of sanctioned Iranian and Russian companies,” Sen. Warner wrote. “Even if, as Google has claimed, these relationships did not result in ad payments to sanctioned entities, Google’s provision of web services to these sanctioned companies suggests a troubling inattention to compliance, particularly given the company’s long track record of ignoring fraud within the online ad ecosystem and of accusations of skirting U.S. sanctions laws.”

As Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Warner outlined the negative impact that these transactions have on U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, and the need for the Treasury Department to enforce the sanctions in place.

“[R]eports suggest that Meta (parent of Facebook) flaunts U.S. sanctions rules, with recent reporting suggesting that the sanctioned Russian oligarch, Ilan Shor, has continued to use Facebook advertising for malign influence activity targeting Moldovan elections,” Sen. Warner continued. “My staff first inquired of the Department about apparent violations by Facebook in February 2023, when prior reports of Shor’s Facebook activity surfaced. This example is especially concerning  given the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s extensive efforts to publicize the ways in which Russian influence actors exploited social media platforms like Facebook to target U.S. elections. Nearly one year later, Facebook has continued to ignore U.S. sanctions laws – reportedly running hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertisements that, on their face (and in the recorded payment information), clearly indicated connection to the sanctioned oligarch.”

 As the 2024 elections ramp up, Sen. Warner stressed the need to combat efforts of foreign malign actors to influence and subvert elections.

He concluded, “This year, the world’s democracies will hold an unprecedented number of elections. In the wake of Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections in 2016, malign actors worldwide have increasingly embraced social media and online advertising tools as vectors for election influence. Given the centrality of U.S. firms to online advertising and social media markets worldwide, it is vital that the Department enforce American technology company compliance with U.S. sanctions.”  

A copy of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Secretary Yellen,

I write with concern over the Department of Treasury’s (the Department) failure to ensure sanctions compliance in digital advertising markets. In multiple instances in the previous two years, my staff has alerted the Department of instances of apparent sanctions violations by U.S. technology firms. Despite these repeated notifications, United States firms such as Alphabet and Meta continue to flout U.S. sanctions rules.

Various sanctions issued by the U.S. government bar corporations from certain transactions with sanctioned entities. Treasury already gives significant latitude to U.S. technology firms through the issuance of general licenses exempting “internet-based communications.” These exemptions ensure that internet users in foreign countries can continue to access certain basic communications services, particularly in the context of repressive regimes under U.S. sanction. However, these exemptions are not meant to continue facilitation of sanctioned activity, or financially benefit sanctioned entities, and in response to inquiries from my staff the Department acknowledged that online advertising services are not covered by these general licenses. Notwithstanding this acknowledgement, however, the Department has continued to ignore repeated instances of non-compliance by U.S. technology firms.

For instance, public reports in November 2023 indicated that Google served ads – and provided publisher monetization and search solutions – to a range of sanctioned Iranian and Russian companies.  Even if, as Google has claimed, these relationships did not result in ad payments to sanctioned entities, Google’s provision of web services to these sanctioned companies suggests a troubling inattention to compliance, particularly given the company’s long track-record of ignoring fraud within the online ad ecosystem and of accusations of skirting U.S. sanctions laws.  Notably, Google’s facilitation of ad delivery in countries under U.S. sanctions regimes has been a longstanding concern. In 2019, Wired reported that Google appeared to be exposing advertising clients to ad waste and potential sanctions violations.  Similarly, ProPublica has reported on instances of Google ostensibly ignoring U.S. sanctions by monetizing a Serbian media outlet that has sought to promote separatist violence.  ProPublica has also noted that Google’s provision of ad services to sanctioned companies has enabled them to harvest user data  – potentially enabling Russian surveillance and influence activity.

Even more recently, reports suggest that Meta (parent of Facebook) flaunts U.S. sanctions rules, with recent reporting suggesting that the sanctioned Russian oligarch, Ilan Shor, has continued to use Facebook advertising for malign influence activity targeting Moldovan elections.  My staff first inquired of the Department about apparent violations by Facebook in February 2023, when prior reports of Shor’s Facebook activity surfaced. This example is especially concerning given the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s extensive efforts to publicize the ways in which Russian influence actors exploited social media platforms like Facebook to target U.S. elections. Nearly one year later, Facebook has continued to ignore U.S. sanctions laws – reportedly running hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertisements that, on their face (and in the recorded payment information), clearly indicated connection to the sanctioned oligarch. And, notably, this is not the only instance in which Facebook has been accused of profiting from sanctions non-compliance. A pair of whistleblower complaints in 2022 similarly accused the company of enabling influence activity by Russian-linked, sanctioned separatist leaders. 

This year, the world’s democracies will hold an unprecedented number of elections. In the wake of Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections in 2016, malign actors worldwide have increasingly embraced social media and online advertising tools as vectors for election influence. Given the centrality of U.S. firms to online advertising and social media markets worldwide, it is vital that the Department enforce compliance with U.S. sanctions.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, led Sens. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Carper (D-DE) Jack Reed (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in sounding the alarm about the economic deterioration in the West Bank and the troubling rise in violent acts perpetrated by extremist Israeli settlers. In a letter to President Biden, the lawmakers stressed the need for Israel to take steps to address the growing instability in the West Bank, including by ensuring that the Palestinian Security Forces are able to ward off violence against innocent Palestinian civilians and prevent further destabilization, which could open an additional front to the conflict.

This letter follows a decision by Israel to withhold a significant portion of tax revenues that its government collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA). These revenues – meant to be collected and transferred based on longstanding agreement – are critical for the PA’s civil administration and security purposes.

“A range of factors since October 7 – including a loss of wages for the thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank whose work permits Israel revoked – have contributed to an economic situation that has shuttered thousands of West Bank businesses and reduced the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) revenues by roughly 80 percent. Those revenues support a range of critical functions for the PA, including paying public-worker salaries as well as the salaries of members of the Palestinian Security Forces, whose local law enforcement and security efforts are critical to maintaining stability in the West Bank,” wrote the Senators. “A significant source of the PA’s revenue derives from Palestinian import tax revenues, which according to long-standing agreement, the Israeli government collects on behalf of, and then transfers to, the PA. We are concerned that the Israeli government’s decision following the October 7 attacks to withhold a significant portion of these revenues, and the PA’s decision to not accept the reduced sum, is dramatically exacerbating the economic volatility in the West Bank.”

“In addition to harming the well-being of Palestinians, the current lack of revenue transfers directly threatens the economic standing of the security services in the West Bank. Absent these funds, salaries for the more than 30,000 members of the Palestinian Security Forces cannot be paid in full. The possibility of these forces declining to serve, absent pay – and the possibility of militant groups attempting to step in and financially coerce these services – represents a significant security threat, risking the opening of a new front to this conflict to the detriment of Israeli and regional security,” they continued. “We urge you and senior members of your Administration to continue to prioritize the resumption of these transfers in any conversations with the Israeli government as well as Palestinian Authority officials. A commitment by Israel to immediately transfer the full allotment of Palestinian Authority revenues is vital to staving off a significant rise in instability, and would represent a crucial step by Israel towards deescalating tensions in the West Bank.”

A copy of the letter is available here and below:

Dear President Biden,

We write with ongoing concern about the alarming conditions in the West Bank. As Israel continues to address the lethal and ongoing threat posed by Hamas following the terrorist group’s horrific October 7 attacks, Israel must take steps to address growing instability in the West Bank. Israeli settlers’ violence and deteriorating economic conditions are compromising the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians and threaten further destabilization. We are concerned that these conditions risk opening an additional front to the conflict, to the significant detriment of Israeli and regional security.

Members of Congress have joined you in voicing concerns about the alarming rise in violent acts perpetrated by extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank over the past two months. We believe the Israeli government must address these attacks against Palestinians, and we applaud your Administration’s recent actions – including visa bans – targeting those carrying out these attacks.

We are also concerned about the conflict’s economic impact in the West Bank, and the risk it poses for further violence. A range of factors since October 7 – including a loss of wages for the thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank whose work permits Israel revoked – have contributed to an economic situation that has shuttered thousands of West Bank businesses and reduced the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) revenues by roughly 80 percent. Those revenues support a range of critical functions for the PA, including paying public-worker salaries as well as the salaries of members of the Palestinian Security Forces, whose local law enforcement and security efforts are critical to maintaining stability in the West Bank.

A significant source of the PA’s revenue derives from Palestinian import tax revenues, which according to long-standing agreement, the Israeli government collects on behalf of, and then transfers to, the PA. We are concerned that the Israeli government’s decision following the October 7 attacks to withhold a significant portion of these revenues, and the PA’s decision to not accept the reduced sum, is dramatically exacerbating the economic volatility in the West Bank.

In addition to harming the well-being of Palestinians, the current lack of revenue transfers directly threatens the economic standing of the security services in the West Bank. Absent these funds, salaries for the more than 30,000 members of the Palestinian Security Forces cannot be paid in full. The possibility of these forces declining to serve, absent pay – and the possibility of militant groups attempting to step in and financially coerce these services – represents a significant security threat, risking the opening of a new front to this conflict to the detriment of Israeli and regional security.

We acknowledge the need for a number of reforms related to PA governance, including those that would address corruption concerns, as well as its martyr and prisoner payment system. These reforms remain important, alongside supporting near-term stability and security.

In recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Secretary of State Blinken testified that the PA is “vastly under resourced,” and that import tax revenues have indeed been a topic of negotiation with the Israeli government. We urge you and senior members of your Administration to continue to prioritize the resumption of these transfers in any conversations with the Israeli government as well as Palestinian Authority officials. A commitment by Israel to immediately transfer the full allotment of Palestinian Authority revenues is vital to staving off a significant rise in instability, and would represent a crucial step by Israel towards deescalating tensions in the West Bank.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin, and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) wrote to President Biden requesting that the administration include at least $30 million in their FY25 budget request for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to specifically address the agency’s operational costs related to national security and counterterrorism. This request comes as WMATA faces a $750 million budget shortfall that threatens safety and services starting next summer.

In their letter, the senators stress that WMATA, more than other transit authorities, shoulders a heavy security burden because of its role in federal government operations and national security activities. The agency estimates that it spends between $30 and $33 million annually on operations relating to its national security and counterterrorism mission.

“Given this sui generis role played by WMATA, it should come as no surprise that the agency shoulders some burdens that are unique among transit providers. Perhaps most important of these burdens is WMATA’s responsibility to prevent terrorism targeting our Nation’s capital—a responsibility far out of proportion to the size of the system,” the senators wrote.

They continued, “Unfortunately, this responsibility is more than hypothetical. In 2010, an anti-government extremist opened fire at the Pentagon station. A year later, a man was convicted in connection with the targeting of four WMATA stations in a terrorist bomb plot.  And let us not forget that it was a Metro Transit Police officer who, while assisting Capitol Police, discovered the bomb planted at the Democratic National Committee on January 6, 2021.”

Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen have long been active supporters of WMATA, working to secure critical funding, expand service, and improve safety.  

A copy of the letter is available here and below:

Dear President Biden:

We write today to respectfully request that the President’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2025 include at least $30 million for transfer to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for the agency’s operational costs associated with national security activities and countering terrorism on the system.

WMATA’s operations are critical to the functioning of the federal government in the National Capital Region. A majority of WMATA’s 19.6 million riders are federal workers.  Over one-third of all Metrorail stations are located on federal property, serving federal facilities. Two stations on Capitol Hill serve Members of Congress and their staffs. Federal facilities served by WMATA include our most sensitive national security installations, like the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. Pentagon Station, for example, provides convenient rail access to the global headquarters of our Nation’s Department of Defense and uniformed services.

Given this sui generis role played by WMATA, it should come as no surprise that the agency shoulders some burdens that are unique among transit providers. Perhaps most important of these burdens is WMATA’s responsibility to prevent terrorism targeting our Nation’s capital—a responsibility far out of proportion to the size of the system. Unfortunately, this responsibility is more than hypothetical. In 2010, an anti-government extremist opened fire at the Pentagon station. A year later, a man was convicted in connection with the targeting of four WMATA stations in a terrorist bomb plot. And let us not forget that it was a Metro Transit Police officer who, while assisting Capitol Police, discovered the bomb planted at the Democratic National Committee on January 6, 2021.

WMATA estimates that it spends between $30 and $33 million on operations relating to its national security and counterterrorism mission. Similar to the Federal Payment for Emergency Planning and Security Costs for the District of Columbia, these costs are directly attributable to the unique role WMATA plays in ensuring the safety and smooth operation of our Nation’s federal government. Accordingly, it is appropriate that the federal government provide funding to WMATA for these expenses. Therefore, we respectfully request that the President’s budget for FY25 include at least $30 million to support WMATA’s national security operational expenses necessary to keep the system and the National Capital Region safe.

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WASHINGTONOn Friday, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), and Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan (D-VA-04) sent a letter to the Virginia District Manager of the United States Postal Service (USPS) requesting answers and improved transparency regarding the recent mail delivery issues in the Richmond area. In their letter, the lawmakers urge Virginia District Manager Gerald Roane to address these issues and communicate directly with impacted residents. 

“We write to advocate on behalf of our constituents, who have continued to share countless stories of mail delays and mail security concerns throughout Virginia and the Fourth Congressional District. While we appreciate your outreach with our offices, we feel our constituents would greatly benefit from direct communications from you or an appropriate United States Postal Service (USPS) representative,” wrote the lawmakers. “Therefore, we request your office to facilitate a town hall for concerned residents regarding their postal service concerns no later than January 19, 2024.” 

Over the past few months, the lawmakers received hundreds of reports of mail delivery issues, including late and missing deliveries, sudden stops in service, and mail theft. In their letter, the lawmakers highlight various cases currently under investigation, including a local small business owner in the Bellevue neighborhood and a constituent in the Fan neighborhood. 

“One notable case involves a 38-year resident of the Bellevue neighborhood and small business owner who has been grappling with mail delivery issues for over four months. Weekly missed deliveries since September have resulted in the non-receipt of crucial items such as paychecks, credit card bills, and insurance policies. This has, in turn, led to the imposition of late fees and, in some instances, the cancellation of essential services,” they continued. “Similarly, a constituent in the Fan neighborhood of Richmond reported a mail hiatus lasting up to eight days. Despite reporting the issue to their local post office, USPS made no efforts to follow up or notify the family about the status of their case. Ultimately, an automated message from the postal service declared the matter resolved without any prior communication.” 

The lawmakers continue to open constituent cases to advocate on their behalf and resolve these issues.

 Copy of the full letter available here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) wrote to U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Miguel Cardona to urge the DOE to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia on college and university campuses. Since the onset of the Israel-Hamas crisis, higher education institutions have seen a precipitous rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia, including hate speech, harassment, and violence – creating an environment of fear and vulnerability for students.

“We write to express our concern about the alarming rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in the United States following the recent violence in Israel and Gaza. These events have had a profound impact on our college and university campuses, where students of all backgrounds come together to learn and engage,” the senators wrote.

The letter draws attention to a few specific and recent examples of Islamophobia and antisemitism on college campuses. At Stanford University, an Arab Muslim student was the victim of a hit-and-run, where the perpetrator shouted vulgar and racist remarks during his attack. At Cornell University, a student posted violent threats online against the Jewish community, subsequently leading to his arrest. 

“In the face of these challenges, it is essential that we stand together as a nation against discrimination, xenophobia, and bigotry. Hate has no place in America, and our educational institutions play a pivotal role in ensuring that,” the senators continued. “We look forward to your continued dedication to this important issue. We are hopeful that, together, we can create a safer environment for students at our colleges and universities.”

In the letter, the senators specifically call on the DOE to:

  • expand the Antisemitism Awareness Campaign, 
  • craft an Islamophobia Awareness Campaign, 
  • conduct additional outreach to Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab student communities, and
  • provide resources to colleges and universities from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long been vocal advocates against Islamophobia and antisemitism. Earlier this week, they also sent a letter to the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Special Counsel requesting guidance on the self-expression rights of federal workers as related to the conflict and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. 

A copy of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Secretary Cardona:

We write to express our concern about the alarming rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in the United States following the recent violence in Israel and Gaza. These events have had a profound impact on our college and university campuses, where students of all backgrounds come together to learn and engage.

The United States prides itself on being a nation that values diversity, inclusion, and religious freedom. Unfortunately, hate-fueled incidents targeting Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab students on our college campuses have shown that we still have much work to do to uphold these values. Incidents such as hateful rhetoric, harassment, vandalism, and threats have been reported, creating an environment of fear and vulnerability for students, many of whom have deep and personal connections to the region and the ongoing conflict.

At Stanford University, an Arab Muslim student was the victim of a hit-and-run, where the perpetrator shouted vulgar and racist remarks during his attack. At Cornell University, a student posted violent threats online against the Jewish community, subsequently leading to his arrest. Sadly, these are just a few of the startling incidents reported across the country, and we must do all we can to prevent it from growing.

We want to commend the Department of Education for the creation of the Antisemitism Awareness Campaign, which lays out a set of initiatives to ensure that all students, including Jewish students, are able to attend school free from discrimination. Recent events have highlighted the urgency and importance of continuing and expanding this campaign, which we urge you to do.  

Similarly, in following the Administration’s recent announcement to establish the first-ever National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia, we urge you to build upon that and create an Islamophobia Awareness Campaign for educational institutions. Through this effort, it is critical to acknowledge that Islamophobia also hurts those who are not of the Muslim faith. Individuals perceived to be Muslim, such as members of the Christian Arab and Sikh community, have unfortunately experienced the pain of anti-Muslim hate.

As you work to combat these various acts of hate, we also ask you to expand outreach to Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab student communities. This outreach should aim to address the specific concerns and challenges faced by these communities and provide a platform for support and action. By actively listening and understanding their unique concerns, we can work towards creating an environment where students feel safe, heard, and protected. 

Additionally, we were pleased to learn that the Department of Education recently issued a Dear Colleague reminding schools of their legal obligation to provide all students with a learning environment free from discrimination. This Dear Colleague included an updated discrimination complaint form, which specifies additional protections for students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We appreciate these efforts and request that you continue to provide comprehensive information and resources from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to colleges and universities. These tools can empower educational institutions to respond effectively to and report discrimination, harassment, bias, and related incidents.

In the face of these challenges, it is essential that we stand together as a nation against discrimination, xenophobia, and bigotry. Hate has no place in America, and our educational institutions play a pivotal role in ensuring that. 

We look forward to your continued dedication to this important issue. We are hopeful that, together, we can create a safer environment for students at our colleges and universities.

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WASHINGTON – In response to China’s continued dominance of the critical mineral supply chain, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) led a group of bipartisan colleagues in a call for action to secure supply chains and reduce U.S. reliance on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for minerals that are inputs for critical technologies, including through increased government support to U.S. private sector companies investing and operating in critical mineral projects.

This is the latest step that the Intelligence Committee leaders have taken to counter China’s dominance of this growing industry. Last month, Sens. Warner and Rubio hosted government officials and domestic industry leaders for a roundtable discussion on access to critical minerals

In a letter to the Biden administration, the senators highlighted the exploding demand of critical minerals and their growing importance to U.S. national security, while pointing out the U.S. is falling behind its adversaries in efforts to secure the global critical mineral supply chain.

The senators wrote, “Demand for critical minerals is growing exponentially, yet the U.S. substantially lags behind its adversaries in securing critical mineral supply chains. In fact, in many cases China controls nearly 100 percent of the end-to-end supply chain, and is actively seeking to maintain and increase its control of these resources around the globe.”

Outlining key areas where improvement is needed to expand domestic capabilities, the senators requested that the administration take a series of steps to ensure U.S. support to domestic industry, to strengthen internal coordination across government agencies, and to formulate a strategy for U.S. collaboration with our allies, to combat China’s growing dominance in this space.

They continued, “Focusing the efforts of the U.S. government, in coordination with our allies, upon standing up processing, refining, and metallurgical capacity must be a priority if we are going to succeed in reducing our reliance on China for critical minerals.”

Sens. Warner and Rubio were joined in this letter by U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), James Lankford (R-OK), Chris Coons (D-DE), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

In a separate letter to Reta Jo Lewis, Chair of Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM), Sens. Warner and Rubio advocated for the prioritization of EXIM’s projects to secure critical mineral supply chains both domestically and in allied and partner nations, in order to reduce dependence on China.

The senators wrote, “Given the national security and economic implications of critical mineral supply chains, U.S. government agencies and institutions – including EXIM – must better align efforts to support the establishment of supply chains that serve our interests and are independent of the influence and control of the PRC.”

In order to ensure that appropriate steps to prioritize critical mineral projects are being taken, the senators requested EXIM seek approval from their board of directors to invest in relevant projects, develop a strategy to coordinate with the private sector engaged in this space, and notify Congress of any additional resources or fixes needed to better support critical mineral projects.

They concluded, “The stakes of our economic struggle with the PRC demands that we reduce our dependence on them in critical technology sectors and for critical goods, especially those with defense and energy applications.”  

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of Special Counsel requesting guidance on the self-expression rights of federal workers as related to the conflict and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. This letter comes in response to concerns voiced by Virginia federal workers who fear censorship or retaliation for expressing their personal views about the ongoing conflict.

“Virginia is home to one of the highest concentrations of federal employees in the country. These federal employees perform essential work for the country and deserve respect for their public service and commitment to their fellow citizens,” wrote the Senators. “Unfortunately, we have heard from a number of federal employees in Virginia that they are either afraid to share their personal views for fear of being targeted for reprisal, or do not know the policies around sharing personal views and have consequently remained silent, even amid personal grief. Fears of being targeted for reprisal or remaining silent have manifested in numerous ways, including deleting social media, refraining from attending demonstrations, or simply refusing to share any views.”

“As federal employees – many of whom have personal connections to the ongoing conflict – continue to serve their country with dignity and professionalism through this challenging period, it is essential that they be offered clear and transparent guidance on their right to self-expression as employees of the United States government,” they continued. “Although we appreciate your outreach efforts to federal employees thus far, current OPM and OSC policies lack adequate guidance on this matter and have left many federal employees unaware of their rights. This conflict has brought incredible heartache to countless Americans, and we urge you to act swiftly to develop clear guidance on federal employees’ rights allowing for the appropriate expression of these sentiments.”

A copy of the letter is available here, and full text is available below.

Dear Director Ahuja and Acting Special Counsel Gorman:

We are writing on behalf of federal employees in Virginia who have expressed fears about censorship and reprisal resulting from their expression of views related to the horrific terrorist attack committed by Hamas against Israel on October 7 and the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. We are concerned that the federal government has not provided adequate guidance on federal employees’ rights to self-expression. To that end, we request that you develop and circulate clear guidance, or direct agencies to do so, concerning the federal government’s policies on federal employee self-expression, and that you ensure federal employees do not face retaliation for expressing their personal views in line with that guidance.

Virginia is home to one of the highest concentrations of federal employees in the country. These federal employees perform essential work for the country and deserve respect for their public service and commitment to their fellow citizens. Unfortunately, we have heard from a number of federal employees in Virginia that they are either afraid to share their personal views for fear of being targeted for reprisal, or do not know the policies around sharing personal views and have consequently remained silent, even amid personal grief. Fears of being targeted for reprisal or remaining silent have manifested in numerous ways, including deleting social media, refraining from attending demonstrations, or simply refusing to share any views.

We understand your office held a “Learning Community Webinar” to discuss antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of religious discrimination on October 27. We appreciate efforts such as this and strongly encourage you to build on this conversation to further inform federal employees and provide clarity on their rights to self-expression. As federal employees – many of whom have personal connections to the ongoing conflict – continue to serve their country with dignity and professionalism through this challenging period, it is essential that they be offered clear and transparent guidance on their right to self-expression as employees of the United States government.

Although we appreciate your outreach efforts to federal employees thus far, current OPM and OSC policies lack adequate guidance on this matter and have left many federal employees unaware of their rights. This conflict has brought incredible heartache to countless Americans, and we urge you to act swiftly to develop clear guidance on federal employees’ rights allowing for the appropriate expression of these sentiments.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON– Today, members of Virginia’s congressional delegation wrote to the General Services Administration (GSA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) to request an investigation into concerns raised by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding the site selection process for a new FBI headquarters. The letter was signed by US Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), and Representatives Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), Jennifer McClellan (D-VA), Jen Kiggans (R-VA), and Morgan Griffith (R-VA).

“We write to request an immediate investigation into the serious concerns raised by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Christopher Wray, regarding the site selection process for a new FBI headquarters,” wrote the Members. “There is overwhelming evidence suggesting that the General Services Administration (GSA) administered a site selection process fouled by political considerations and alleged impropriety – one that was repeatedly curated to arrive at a predetermined outcome.”

“In summary, GSA changed the original site selection criteria – which had been developed by GSA experts, in accordance with the agency’s own best practices for site selection – in a way that favored the Greenbelt site, and did so over the objections of the FBI Director,” the Members continued. “Then GSA changed the person tasked with confirming the final site selection from a career official to a political appointee. As identified by the FBI, there existed a potential conflict of interest with that political appointee, tied to the Greenbelt site. The political appointee then overturned the decision of a panel of career officials who unanimously selected Springfield, in part by changing how certain criteria were calculated and how certain factors were considered, contrary to what had been previously outlined to the public and to Congress by GSA. Almost immediately after directing the final site selection to Greenbelt, the political appointee promptly left the federal government, implicating Congress’s ability to engage with this individual in an oversight capacity. In defending the indefensible, GSA has decided to proceed with the selection of Greenbelt over the objections of its client agency, the FBI.”

“These facts, when taken together, paint an ugly picture of a fatally flawed procurement that demands further investigation,” the Members concluded. “We request that your office initiate an immediate investigation into the site selection process for the FBI headquarters.”

Full text of the letter is available here and below. 

Dear Acting Inspector General Erickson,

We write to request an immediate investigation into the serious concerns raised by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Christopher Wray, regarding the site selection process for a new FBI headquarters. There is overwhelming evidence suggesting that the General Services Administration (GSA) administered a site selection process fouled by political considerations and alleged impropriety – one that was repeatedly curated to arrive at a predetermined outcome.

Throughout the site selection deliberations, GSA suppressed, dismissed, and overrode the judgement and recommendations of career officials from GSA and the FBI. This has led the Director of the FBI to take the extraordinary step of calling into question the “fairness and transparency in the process and GSA’s failure to adhere to its own site selection plan.”

In July 2023, the agency executed a series of changes to significantly alter long-established site selection criteria and scoring rules. The changes made to the criteria were almost exclusively responsive to perceived concerns and direct requests from representatives of the Greenbelt site, meant to tilt the selection process in favor of Greenbelt. GSA made these changes over the objections of the FBI, which wrote to GSA in a June 26, 2023 memo that the original scoring criteria “best balanced the many wide-ranging elements considered for optimal site selection.”

That same month, the agency finalized a plan to unilaterally remove a career official from the position of Site Selection Authority, the person tasked with confirming the recommendation of the site selection panel and certifying a final site selection. The agency, instead, installed a political appointee as the Site Selection Authority. Director Wray, once again, raised serious objections to the change. Additionally, the FBI identified potential conflicts of interest that the appointee had related to the Greenbelt site, and raised concerns about potential impartiality. These concerns were never fully addressed by GSA.

In August 2023, the site selection panel, comprised of two career GSA officials and one career FBI official, reached a unanimous decision to select Springfield, Virginia as the home for the new FBI headquarters. The new Site Selection Authority unilaterally overturned the decision of the panel, including by making changes to the scoring – contrary to GSA’s own site selection plan – which benefited consideration of the Greenbelt site, and hurt the Springfield site. According to the FBI, “the justification offered for those changes have been both varied and insufficient.”

In summary, GSA changed the original site selection criteria – which had been developed by GSA experts, in accordance with the agency’s own best practices for site selection – in a way that favored the Greenbelt site, and did so over the objections of the FBI Director. Then GSA changed the person tasked with confirming the final site selection from a career official to a political appointee. As identified by the FBI, there existed a potential conflict of interest with that political appointee, tied to the Greenbelt site. The political appointee then overturned the decision of a panel of career officials who unanimously selected Springfield, in part by changing how certain criteria were calculated and how certain factors were considered, contrary to what had been previously outlined to the public and to Congress by GSA. Almost immediately after directing the final site selection to Greenbelt, the political appointee promptly left the federal government, implicating Congress’s ability to engage with this individual in an oversight capacity. In defending the indefensible, GSA has decided to proceed with the selection of Greenbelt over the objections of its client agency, the FBI. 

These facts, when taken together, paint an ugly picture of a fatally flawed procurement that demands further investigation. We request that your office initiate an immediate investigation into the site selection process for the FBI headquarters.  

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee, (both D-VA) joined U.S. Sens. John Ossoff (D-GA), Jack Reed (D-RI), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) in a letter to President Biden regarding increasing violence by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. On October 29, the United Nations warned of escalations in the West Bank, and since, reports continue to warn about the destabilizing potential of the violence in the region. 

“As Israel confronts the atrocities of the October 7th Hamas attacks, and threats in Gaza and southern Lebanon, it is crucial that U.S. and Israeli policy reinforce the stability and security of the West Bank,” the senators wrote. “If additional action to prevent these violent settler activities is not taken, we worry that civilians and U.S. national security interests will suffer grave harm.”

“We are encouraged by recent statements from the White House emphasizing the need to mitigate settler violence. We also note the vital role that the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC) is playing to manage risk in the area,” they continued. “However, more must be done. We urge your administration to enhance its diplomatic efforts to prevent further violence and respectfully request a briefing from your administration on current policy to address incidents of extremist settler violence and the forcible displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Following the October 7th attacks, Sens. Warner and Kaine strongly condemned the assault. In the days following Hamas’s attacks, Sens. Warner and Kaine took a series of steps to ensure that the Biden Administration addresses emergency needs in Gaza, curbs crypto-financed terrorism, and continues supporting the release of American hostages throughout this crisis. Earlier this month, Sens. Warner and Kaine also called for a short-term cessation of violence in order to ensure assistance is reaching Palestinian civilians in Gaza. 

A copy of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Mr. President,

We write to express concern about threats to West Bank stability and the risks these threats pose to U.S. national security interests and to civilians. As Israel confronts the atrocities of the October 7th Hamas attacks, and threats in Gaza and southern Lebanon, it is crucial that U.S. and Israeli policy reinforce the stability and security of the West Bank. Alarming incidents of violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians represent an acute destabilizing risk that must be mitigated to prevent wider conflict in the region. Israeli media has reported that Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, is itself concerned that settler violence could inflame the West Bank.

Moreover, reports from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that Israeli forces at times accompany extremist settlers as they attack Palestinian people, evict them from their homes, and destroy property, are cause for serious concern and must be addressed.

If additional action to prevent these violent attacks is not taken, we worry that civilians and U.S national security interests will suffer grave harm. The situation is likely to exacerbate anger and grievance among the people of the West Bank and across the Arab world, inhibit efforts to cooperate with Arab states against shared threats, and undermine moderate Palestinian leaders who can offer an alternative to Hamas and make peace with Israel. Ultimately, these conditions could provoke widespread violence and a broader conflict.

We are encouraged by recent statements from the White House emphasizing the need to mitigate settler violence. We also note the vital role that the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC) is playing to manage risk in the area.

However, more must be done. We urge your administration to enhance its diplomatic efforts to prevent further violence and respectfully request a briefing from your administration on current policy to address incidents of extremist settler violence and the forcible displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Thank you for your timely response to this request.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, wrote to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm detailing the need for the United States to establish its leadership in the research, development, production and manufacturing of new battery technologies. Currently, the People’s Republic of China dominates end-to-end supply chains, including the mining and refining of critical mineral inputs for lithium-ion batteries, which are used in the U.S. energy grid, electric vehicles, and military weapons and platforms, among other industries.

In October 2023, China restricted exports of raw and synthetic graphite, critical to manufacturing battery anodes. The move followed July 2023 export controls on gallium and germanium, two components used in the manufacturing of semiconductors and other critical technologies.

“The PRC near-monopoly over battery production, and the upstream materials they require, poses substantial defense and economic security vulnerabilities,” the senators wrote.

In recent years, the U.S. has taken steps through the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act to establish and re-shore capabilities related to advanced batteries. However, the U.S. currently lacks the infrastructure needed to test and scale up next-generation battery technologies to reach commercial, “gigafactory” scale. Private sector companies then turn to China for up-scaling facilities – posing significant supply chain risks to the United States.

They continued, “We commend the Department of Energy for continuing to be at the forefront of innovation, but the U.S. must become a leader in manufacturing batteries and battery components, while securing our supply chains for the materials that make up those components. In addition, it is critical that the U.S. lead in next-generation battery technology and alternative chemistries, including by supporting domestic companies developing and producing solid-state electrolytes, sodium-ion, lithium-sulfur, and iron-oxide among others.”

In order to ensure that the federal government is adequately investing in domestic battery developments, the senators requested that the Department:

  • Ensure consideration of innovative technologies beyond conventional lithium-ion batteries in the next round of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) Battery Materials Processing and Battery Manufacturing & Recycling Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA);
  • Consider support for public-private pilot-line manufacturing facilities, focusing on innovative technologies;
  • Coordinate with the Department of Defense and other national security agencies to support procurement of innovative, U.S.-developed energy storage technologies; and
  • Coordinate with federal, state, and tribal permitting agencies to accelerate reviews for domestic mining and processing facilities to secure our supply chains for next-generation battery manufacturing. 

In his capacity as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Warner has been an active advocate on the need for the U.S. to counter China’s dominance of this growing industry. Last month, Sen. Warner hosted government officials and domestic industry leaders for a roundtable discussion on securing access to critical minerals, including those used in the manufacturing of advanced batteries.

A copy of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Secretary Granholm:

We write to emphasize the national security imperative in outcompeting our adversaries in the next generation of battery technologies. Experts assess the United States to be ten to twenty years behind Asia in commercialization of battery technology, with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) accounting for over three quarters of battery cell production, maintaining a near monopoly on the mining and refining of critical mineral inputs for most batteries.  We provide specific recommendations below to ensure U.S. leadership in this space.

Last year, demand for lithium-ion batteries exceeded 700 GWh globally, and demand is expected to grow over seven times by 2035. These batteries are critical inputs for our electric vehicles, our power grid storage, and our military equipment. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks cautioned in 2021, batteries are “essential to thousands of military systems from handheld radios, to unmanned submersibles and to future capabilities like lasers, directed energy weapons and hybrid electric tactical vehicles.” And that “when it comes to batteries, America needs to lead the world.”  

Yet, the U.S. produced less than 10 percent of these batteries last year. By contrast, the PRC accounted for 70 percent of the global production of lithium-ion batteries. Of the five critical minerals required for most lithium-ion batteries, the PRC controls between 60-100 percent of the mining or refining for these minerals.

The PRC near-monopoly over battery production, and the upstream materials they require, poses substantial defense and economic security vulnerabilities. In October 2023, China restricted exports of graphite, critical to manufacturing battery anodes. This follows China’s proposed export controls on gallium and germanium in July 2023.

We commend the Department of Energy for continuing to be at the forefront of innovation, but the U.S. must become a leader in manufacturing batteries and battery components, while securing our supply chains for the materials that make up those components. In addition, it is critical that the U.S. lead in next-generation battery technology and alternative chemistries, including by supporting domestic companies developing and producing solid-state electrolytes, sodium-ion, lithium-sulfur, and iron-oxide among others.

In order to ensure that the U.S. reduces its dependence on adversary-dominated supply chains and capitalizes on innovative domestic battery development, we ask that the Department:

  • Ensure consideration of innovative technologies beyond conventional lithium-ion batteries in the next round of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) Battery Materials Processing and Battery Manufacturing & Recycling Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). Alternative technologies developed and manufactured in the U.S. can help to ensure a more resilient domestic battery market and foster alternatives to supply chains China currently dominates.
  • Consider support for public-private pilot-line manufacturing facilities, focusing on innovative technologies. Such facilities could play a key role in allowing our domestic companies to scale up and compete internationally. Currently, no such shared pilot-scale battery and battery component manufacturing facilities exist in the U.S. forcing many of our innovative companies to seek out such facilities abroad exposing firms to IP theft.
  • Coordinate with the Department of Defense and other national security agencies to support procurement of innovative, U.S.-developed energy storage technologies. The U.S. government must lead in procuring new technologies, which can enhance mission capability while sending an important signal to domestic industry that the government will reward innovative technology produced domestically.
  • Coordinate with federal, state, and tribal permitting agencies to accelerate reviews for domestic mining and processing facilities to secure our supply chains for next-generation battery manufacturing.  For example, several years have passed since the last approval of a major new critical minerals mine on federal lands while at the same time smelters and processing facilities have been closing across the country. This is occurring despite the strong bipartisan consensus that additional mining and processing in the United States is necessary to secure the supply chain for batteries and compete with our adversaries. The Department must ensure that federal, state, and tribal permitting agencies are aware of the urgent nature of this issue.

We ask that your Department within 30 days of receiving this letter brief the Senate Intelligence and Energy and Natural Resources Committees on the initiatives outlined above, and on ongoing research and development of next-generation battery technologies. We also welcome your consideration of how the Intelligence Community can best contribute to, collaborate on, and support these efforts.

With the right support, we are confident that our domestic industry can lead the next generation of battery technology, as it has done in so many of the world’s greatest innovative technologies. We stand ready to assist in that effort.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and nine Democratic colleagues in a call to the Department of Labor (DOL), urging Acting Secretary Julie Su to hold companies accountable to the fullest extent of the law for serious violations of child labor laws. Specifically, the Senators urged DOL to go after companies that benefit from illegal child labor by continuing to rely on contractors found liable of breaking labor laws and exploiting vulnerable children.

This letter comes amid an ongoing inquiry by DOL into Tysons, Perdue, and their contractors following an alarming report by New York Times Magazine. This report raised serious concerns about the influx of unaccompanied noncitizen children working long hours in dangerous conditions, including 14 year-old Marcos Cux, whose arm was nearly torn off while working around dangerous machinery at a Perdue complex on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. In the letter, the Senators urge the Department to consider steps to reduce such exploitation and provide vulnerable children – particularly recently arrived unaccompanied migrant children – safe and age-appropriate workforce development opportunities.

The senators wrote, “There have been multiple reports in recent months regarding the continued use of illegal child labor across the United States.  We appreciate the efforts the Biden Administration and the Department of Labor (DOL) are taking to eliminate this scourge. However, these recent reports highlight the need to take further steps to protect children from dangerous employment that could result in injury and even death.”

“Child labor violations do not occur in a vacuum—often, these violations take place alongside multiple other types of labor violations.  A recent federal investigation found that a 17-year-old worker who fell 24 feet from the roof of a home improvement store in October 2022 was not only doing work that violated child labor laws, but that the roofing contractor had also failed to pay 30 employees their full wages and exposed other workers to dangerous fall hazards,” they continued. “Reports show that children are particularly vulnerable to these types of dangerous, low-paying jobs, as their adult counterparts often are able to find better pay elsewhere. Companies who have been found to exploit their workers—children or otherwise—must be monitored closely to ensure these types of egregious violations do not reoccur.”

We also urge you to consider additional means by which to provide eligible vulnerable noncitizen youth—particularly recent arrivals who are unaccompanied—access to safe and appropriate work opportunities. The Department has received funding from Congress to support programs that provide workforce development opportunities to ensure that youth have access to age-appropriate jobs and subsidized training. These programs offer opportunities for training and skills development to attain an on-ramp to quality career pathways,” the senators wrote. “However, it is often difficult for such vulnerable children to navigate our labor laws without assistance.  Some may not understand laws related to applying for work permits, and may not be aware that certain jobs, such as cleaning positions in a meatpacking plant, are extremely dangerous and unlawful. We strongly encourage DOL to ensure that workforce development programs and opportunities are accessible in areas that need them most, including areas of the country where repeated child labor exploitation has occurred.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, and Durbin, the letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

A copy of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Acting Secretary Su:

There have been multiple reports in recent months regarding the continued use of illegal child labor across the United States.  We appreciate the efforts the Biden Administration and the Department of Labor (DOL) are taking to eliminate this scourge.  However, these recent reports highlight the need to take further steps to protect children from dangerous employment that could result in injury and even death.  We urge you to consider the steps outlined below to continue to reduce such exploitation and provide vulnerable children with safe and appropriate work opportunities.

We urge you to continue to ensure that companies that contract with violators of child labor laws and benefit from child labor exploitation are held responsible to the fullest extent possible under the law.  After an investigation by DOL found more than 100 children cleaning meatpacking plants around the country, the cleaning company, Packers Sanitation Services Inc., was ordered to pay a $1.5 million fine, but according to report at the time, none of the corporations that benefited from the children’s work were investigated.  While we agree that subcontractors who directly hire children for these dangerous jobs should be held accountable, we firmly believe that DOL also should investigate companies that choose to work with such subcontractors.  We are pleased that the Department recently opened a federal investigation into whether corporations can be considered employers when children enter their factories through contractors.  Are additional measures needed from Congress to better hold employers across all levels accountable for violations of child labor laws?

Child labor violations do not occur in a vacuum—often, these violations take place alongside multiple other types of labor violations.  A recent federal investigation found that a 17-year-old worker who fell 24 feet from the roof of a home improvement store in October 2022 was not only doing work that violated child labor laws, but that the roofing contractor had also failed to pay 30 employees their full wages and exposed other workers to dangerous fall hazards.  Reports show that children are particularly vulnerable to these types of dangerous, low-paying jobs, as their adult counterparts often are able to find better pay elsewhere.  Companies who have been found to exploit their workers—children or otherwise—must be monitored closely to ensure these types of egregious violations do not reoccur. 

We also urge you to consider additional means by which to provide eligible vulnerable noncitizen youth—particularly recent arrivals who are unaccompanied—access to safe and appropriate work opportunities.  The Department has received funding from Congress to support programs that provide workforce development opportunities to ensure that youth have access to age-appropriate jobs and subsidized training.  These programs offer opportunities for training and skills development to attain an on-ramp to quality career pathways.  The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) authorizes several youth-targeted programs, which are the primary DOL-administered workforce development programs for youth.

Participants in programs authorized under Title I of WIOA must be authorized to work in the United States.  Notably, unaccompanied children of working age are eligible to apply for a work permit six months after they apply for asylum, or if the Department of Homeland Security has determined they are abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent and therefore are eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).

However, it is often difficult for such vulnerable children to navigate our labor laws without assistance.  Some may not understand laws related to applying for work permits, and may not be aware that certain jobs, such as cleaning positions in a meatpacking plant, are extremely dangerous and unlawful. We strongly encourage DOL to ensure that workforce development programs and opportunities are accessible in areas that need them most, including areas of the country where repeated child labor exploitation has occurred.  To what extent does the Administration work to connect noncitizen children—particularly recently arrived unaccompanied children—to state or local workforce development resources or provide other resources to ensure these children understand U.S. labor laws and workforce training opportunities? 

Thank you for your continued work to eradicate child labor exploitation.  We strongly support such initiatives, and are committed to collaborating with you to protect our nation’s young people from exploitation.

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WASHINGTON – As conflict in the Middle East continues as a direct result of the violent and horrific terrorist attacks by Hamas, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is pushing the Biden Administration to ensure that the U.S. response includes efforts to address emergency needs in Gaza, curb crypto-financed terrorism, and continue supporting the release of American hostages.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of State, Sen. Warner and a number of his colleagues stressed the dire situation of more than one million people who have fled the violence and are in need of lifesaving humanitarian assistance as Gaza is predicted to run out of food and water within days.

Sen. Warner and his colleagues wrote, “The United Nations estimates that Gaza will run out of food and water within days. Healthcare facilities are overwhelmed, running desperately short on supplies and impacted by the lack of electricity. The humanitarian needs on the ground have dramatically increased over the past week, and conditions will likely continue to deteriorate in the days and weeks ahead.”

Urging Secretary of State Blinken to provide strong U.S. funding towards the United Nation’s request for $294 million in needed assistance, they continued, “Displaced people around the world depend on lifesaving humanitarian assistance from the UN and its partners to feed their families, receive medical treatment, and secure shelter. The United States should continue its steadfast support for Israel while also doing our part to help the UN assist innocent civilians as they flee the violence.”

In a separate letter to the White House and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Sen. Warner and a group of colleagues highlighted alarming reports that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) skirted U.S. sanctions and funded their operations through the use of cryptocurrency. Specifically, they noted that the two groups raised over $130 million in crypto and moved millions of dollars among each other. They also requested answers to a number of questions pertaining to the Administration’s plan to prevent the use of crypto for the financing of terrorism.

Sen. Warner and his colleagues wrote, “That the deadly attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians comes as the group has become ‘one of the most sophisticated crypto users in the terror-finance domain’ clarifies the national security threat crypto poses to the U.S., and our allies. Congress and this Administration must take strong action to thoroughly address crypto illicit finance risks before it can be used to finance another tragedy. As Congress considers legislative proposals designed to mitigate crypto money laundering and illicit finance risks, we urge you to swiftly and categorically act to meaningfully curtail illicit crypto activity and protect our national security and that of our allies.”

In a third letter, Sen. Warner joined a group of colleagues in urging President Biden to build on steps he has already taken, and do everything possible to support the safe release of the Americans currently held hostage by Hamas.

Sen. Warner and his colleagues wrote, “Hamas has already killed 30 Americans and likely injured many more. We agree with your labeling of Hamas’s immoral attacks as an ‘act of sheer evil,’ and a ‘violation of every code of human morality.’ The terrorists responsible for these atrocities hide behind human shields while they threaten to livestream the execution of hostages.”

They continued, “As a result, we urge the United States to continue supporting Israel’s urgent efforts to dismantle the threat of Hamas, provide the necessary resources for Israel’s defense, and continue offering whatever support necessary to immediately and safely rescue kidnapped Americans, with particular attention to those who require urgent medical care. Lastly, many families are painfully waiting for any update on the health of their loved ones who have been taken hostage. We urge you to encourage our allies and partners in the region to place pressure on Hamas to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to have access to the hostages while the United States and Israel work to secure their release.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), wrote to Chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Lina Khan urging the Commission to take action against Google and Meta over their failure to remove graphic videos depicting the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward from YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. In August 2015, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, employees at CBS affiliate WDBJ, were murdered by a former co-worker while reporting live on WDBJ’s morning broadcast. The live footage as well as the killer’s own recorded video have circulated online since. For years, Andy Parker, Alison’s father, has been vocal about the damaging impact that this footage has had on his family, including during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.   

“I am deeply troubled by this response, as the burden of finding and removing harmful content should not fall to victims’ families who are grieving their loved ones,” Sen. Warner wrote. “This approach only serves to retraumatize them and inflict additional pain. Instead, I firmly believe that the responsibility lies solely with the platform to ensure that any content violating its own Terms of Service is removed expeditiously.”

In March 2020 and October 2021, Mr. Parker submitted complaints to the FTC and requested a Section 5 investigation of deceptive practices in connection with YouTube and Meta (then Facebook).The complaints argue that YouTube and Meta have failed to enforce their terms of service by neglecting to remove videos of the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward from their platforms. Section 5 of the FTC Act prohibits ''unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce,” with a deceptive act defined as one that misleads or is likely to mislead a consumer acting reasonably.

Sen. Warner continued, “It has been over three years since Mr. Parker and the Georgetown University Law Clinic filed their first complaint regarding this case, and Mr. Parker continues to endure harassment as a result of the videos remaining on these platforms. Given the practices outlined above, I ask that your agency consider all possible avenues to ensure that companies like Google and Meta uphold their Terms of Service, not only in Mr. Parker’s case but also in other instances where their platforms may host violent and harmful content.”

Sen. Warner is one of Congress’ leading voices in demanding accountability and user protections from social media companies and has previously pressed Meta on Facebook's role in inciting violence around the world.

Text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Chairwoman Khan,

I write today in support of my constituent, Mr. Andy Parker, and his urgent requests for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take action against Google and Meta over their failure to remove videos depicting the tragic murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward from YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. In light of this behavior, we ask that your agency engage closely with Mr. Parker regarding his complaints and explore all possible avenues to ensure that Google and Meta uphold their Terms of Service in relation to violent and harmful content.

In August 2015, journalist Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward were shot and killed during a live television interview in Moneta, Virginia. Following this horrifying event, footage captured by the assailant, as well as video from the live news broadcast, were uploaded to several online platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. Despite the platforms having policies banning violent content and repeated requests from Mr. Parker and volunteers acting on his behalf to remove this distressing footage, these videos continue to exist on all three platforms to this day. Even more troubling, the footage has been circulated widely by conspiracy theorists who subject the victims’ families to further harm and harassment by falsely claiming the attack was a hoax.

While both Google and Meta purport to have robust content moderation protocols, Mr. Parker's experience demonstrates that the responsibility of removing harmful content often falls upon the victims’ families. It is my understanding that Google responded to Mr. Parker’s complaints by directing him to flag and report each individual video of the attack on YouTube. Further, Instagram’s policy states, “If you see a video or picture on Instagram that depicts the violent death of a family member, you can ask us to remove it. Once we've been notified, we will remove that specific piece of content.” I am deeply troubled by this response, as the burden of finding and removing harmful content should not fall to victims’ families who are grieving their loved ones. This approach only serves to retraumatize them and inflict additional pain. Instead, I firmly believe that the responsibility lies solely with the platform to ensure that any content violating its own Terms of Service is removed expeditiously.

For years, volunteers from the Coalition For A Safer Web have reported videos of Alison’s murder and requested repeatedly for the videos to be taken down on Mr. Parker’s behalf. Disturbingly, only some of the flagged videos have been removed, with many still viewable on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. While Meta has responded that it removed certain videos from Facebook and Instagram, there are still clear violations of their Terms of Service present on their platforms, with videos of Alison Parker’s murder, filmed by the perpetrator, still accessible on Instagram. While YouTube appears to have more thoroughly removed content of Alison Parker’s murder filmed by the perpetrator, content containing disturbing footage of the moment of attack is widespread. Through the continued hosting of videos showing the heinous attack on Alison Parker and Adam Ward and other violence, these platforms fail to provide users with an experience free of harmful content despite claiming to do so.

It has been over three years since Mr. Parker and the Georgetown University Law Clinic filed their first complaint regarding this case, and Mr. Parker continues to endure harassment as a result of the videos remaining on these platforms. Given the practices outlined above, I ask that your agency consider all possible avenues to ensure that companies like Google and Meta uphold their Terms of Service, not only in Mr. Parker’s case but also in other instances where their platforms may host violent and harmful content. Further, I ask that you engage closely with Mr. Parker as you consider this request and provide him with a prompt response to his complaints.

I look forward to further engagement with you regarding Mr. Parker’s complaints. Thank you for your urgent attention to this matter. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young, calling on OMB to fulfill requirements outlined in his Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020. Under the law, OMB was directed to complete a review of agency policies pertaining to IoT devices to ensure they are consistent with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cybersecurity guidelines. Almost three years later, OMB has yet to complete this review.

“I acknowledge that the law has far-reaching impacts across the federal government, which may require extensive interagency coordination, but I believe that IoT cybersecurity is of critical importance to our national security,” Sen. Warner wrote. “I am disappointed to see that OMB has not yet fulfilled its obligation to ensure that IoT devices procured by the Federal government meet the NIST guidance.”

Sen. Warner recognized the progress made by the agency to issue guidance, but voiced frustration over the lack of urgency to review agency policies.

He continued, “We were happy to see some forward progress – namely, the inclusion of information on the IoT Cybersecurity waiver process in OMB’s December, 2022 FISMA guidance – and we know that you intend to include additional guidelines in the upcoming Fall 2023 FISMA guidance. However, I am concerned by the pace that OMB has taken to meet its statutory obligations under federal law.”

In order to ensure that OMB is taking appropriate steps to fulfill its obligations outlined in the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020, Sen. Warner posed a series of questions to Director Young:

  • Where is OMB in the review of agency information security policies and principles to ensure that they align with NIST guidelines?
  • What policies and principles has OMB issued to date to:
    • ensure agency policies and principles are consistent with the NIST standards and guidelines?
    • address security vulnerabilities of information systems?
  • Which agencies have aligned policies with NIST guidelines, and which have yet to do so?
  • Is OMB tracking the volume of waivers that agencies are granting? Can you provide my office with a summary of these numbers?

Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur, is co-Chair of Senate Cybersecurity Caucus and is a leader in the Senate on security issues related to the Internet of Things.

Text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Director Young,

I write today to express my concern and emphasize my support for the implementation of the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020 (Public Law No: 116-207). This Act, signed into law on December 4, 2020, requires the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to take steps to increase the cybersecurity of Internet of Things (IoT) devices acquired by the Federal Government. NIST completed its statutory obligation – publishing IoT Device Cybersecurity Guidance for the Federal Government: Establishing IoT Device Cybersecurity Requirements – on November 29, 2021. However, OMB has yet to uphold its own statutory obligation under the law – to review agency policies and principles pertaining to IoT devices to ensure those policies and principles are consistent with the NIST guidelines. Under the law, OMB was supposed to complete the agency review within 180 days of NIST’s publication but has yet to make significant progress on a key piece of implementation.

I acknowledge that the law has far-reaching impacts across the Federal government, which may require extensive interagency coordination, but I believe that IoT cybersecurity is of critical importance to our national security. The security of the Federal government’s IoT devices is a priority the Administration and I share, as outlined by Executive Order 14028, Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity (EO 14028). Despite the requirements under this law and the aforementioned EO, I am disappointed to see that OMB has not yet fulfilled its obligation to ensure that IoT devices procured by the Federal government meet the NIST guidance.

Throughout 2022 and 2023, my office has been engaged with you in order to better understand where OMB stands in their implementation of this law. We were happy to see some forward progress – namely, the inclusion of information on the IoT Cybersecurity waiver process in OMB’s December, 2022 FISMA guidance – and we know that you intend to include additional guidelines in the upcoming Fall 2023 FISMA guidance. However, I am concerned by the pace that OMB has taken to meet its statutory obligations under federal law.  

We intended the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act to harness the purchasing power of the federal government and incentivize companies to finally secure the devices they create and sell. I would like to emphasize the importance of OMB’s implementation of the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020 and ask that you provide responses to the following questions within 60 days:

  1. Where is OMB in the review of agency information security policies and principles to ensure that they align with NIST guidelines?
  2. What policies and principles has OMB issued to date to:
    1. ensure agency policies and principles are consistent with the NIST standards and guidelines?
    2. address security vulnerabilities of information systems?
  3. Which agencies have aligned policies with NIST guidelines, and which have yet to do so?
  4. Is OMB tracking the volume of waivers that agencies are granting? Can you provide my office with a summary of these numbers?

I applaud OMB’s continued efforts to improve Federal government cybersecurity, and look forward to continued engagement as you make progress with implementation of the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in calling on the Biden Administration to swiftly enact and continue to strengthen a proposed rule to limit the availability of short-term limited duration insurance (STLDI) plans, which are commonly referred to as “junk plans.” Junk plans provide inadequate coverage and deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

In July, following pressure from Sens. Warner, Kaine, and their colleagues, the Biden Administration released new draft regulations to roll back a 2018 Trump Administration effort that made junk plans more widely available to consumers. Since 2018, these plans have continued to proliferate. However, they are not required to adhere to important standards, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions and coverage for essential health benefits like maternity care or mental health services. Once finalized, the Biden Administration’s rule will restore a 90-day limit on the use of junk plans, instead of the current four-year maximum, so they can only be used on a temporary basis as intended, such as when people are transitioning from one plan to another.

In a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Department of Labor Acting Secretary Julie Su, and Department of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the senators urged the Biden Administration to swiftly enact the proposed rule, continue to strengthen protections, and increase transparency on junk plans to protect Americans from this inadequate coverage. 

“We applaud your efforts to protect Americans who may have been duped into these junk plans, and urge the Biden Administration to swiftly finalize the rule and bolster our collective efforts to expand access to affordable, comprehensive health coverage,” wrote the senators. “With this new proposal, the Biden Administration is taking action to better protect consumers and promote access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance.”

In addition to expressing support for the Biden Administration’s proposed rule, the senators urged administration leaders to take further measures to protect consumers as they finalize the new rule on STLDI plans, including cracking down on the practice of “stacking,” or repeatedly enrolling the same consumer in junk plans across different issuers. The senators also called on the Biden Administration to bring greater transparency to junk plans through disclosure and reporting requirements and to consider additional protections for individuals shopping for coverage during the annual Open Enrollment period, which is set to begin November 1.

“For too long, junk plans were able to proliferate unchecked, resulting in increased exposure to financial harm for consumers. By finally limiting the duration of these plans and providing better protections for consumers, we are helping ensure that when families spend their hard-earned dollars on health insurance, they get the high-quality coverage they deserve,” concluded the senators.

Joining Sens. Warner, Kaine, Baldwin, Sanders, and Wyden in signing the letter were Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Peter Welch (D-VT).

A full version of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretaries Becerra, Su, and Yellen:

We write in support of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor, and the Department of the Treasury’s (collectively, the Departments’) long-awaited proposal to address short-term limited duration insurance (STLDI) plans. In 2018, the previous administration sought to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by expanding access to STLDI plans that can deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions and fail to provide adequate health care coverage when Americans need it most. While STLDI plans have their purpose, such plans provide junk coverage when compared to high-quality, comprehensive coverage. We applaud your efforts to protect Americans who may have been duped into these junk plans, and urge the Biden Administration to swiftly finalize the rule and bolster our collective efforts to expand access to affordable, comprehensive health coverage.

In 2018, regulations issued by the previous administration rewrote the definition of STDLI coverage, allowing these plans to expand their term of coverage from three months to 364 days with the option to renew for up to three years. Unlike marketplace plans, STLDI plans are not required to comply with consumer protections that limit out-of-pocket costs or coverage of essential health benefits, including mental health services, treatment for substance-use disorder, prescription drugs, and maternity care. Furthermore, these plans engage in discriminatory practices, such as retroactive coverage rescissions, medical underwriting, and lifetime and annual caps, which were commonplace before the ACA. Since 2018, many consumers shopping for coverage may not have understood that they were buying a plan that puts them at risk for pre-existing conditions and coverage gaps.

With this new proposal, the Biden Administration is taking action to better protect consumers and promote access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance. We appreciate the Department’s efforts to hold true to a definition of “short-term” that is just that – short term. STLDI policies were originally intended to temporarily fill gaps in coverage while people transition between jobs or when students were required to disenroll from student health coverage over the summer months. As such, we believe these plans should be strictly limited to three months without the option for extensions.

We also strongly support the proposal to prevent insurance companies or brokers from repeatedly enrolling the same consumer in STLDI coverage, a practice known as “stacking,” and request that the Administration do more to prohibit stacking of STLDI plans across different issuers. In addition, as we continue to ensure that Americans have access to affordable coverage, it is critically important for Congress, state regulators, researchers, stakeholders, and federal departments to understand the true impact of the junk insurance market on the ACA marketplaces and other forms of high-quality coverage. As a part of this rulemaking, we strongly urge the agencies to implement policies that would bring greater transparency to these products including disclosure and reporting requirements for intermediary entities such as brokers, associations, and lead generators.

Finally, we urge the Administration to consider additional protections for individuals who may be shopping for coverage during the ACA’s annual Open Enrollment (OE) period.

Fraudsters, always looking for opportunities to take advantage of consumers, are enrolling individuals into plans without their consent, and numerous studies have documented the use of deceptive and misleading marketing to lure consumers into junk plans. We urge the Departments to proactively work with state insurance commissioners to address misleading marketing practices. High-quality insurance coverage is now more affordable than ever before thanks to the enhanced premium tax credits passed as part of the American Rescue Plan Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as the Administration’s efforts to fix the “family glitch” which eliminated the subsidy cliff that impacted over five million Americans. It is our responsibility to ensure that the OE period, which is set to begin on November 1, is as successful as possible in promoting access to high-quality, affordable coverage.

For too long, junk plans were able to proliferate unchecked, resulting in increased exposure to financial harm for consumers. By finally limiting the duration of these plans and providing better protections for consumers, we are helping ensure that when families spend their hard-earned dollars on health insurance, they get the high-quality coverage they deserve.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote to President Biden, urging the Administration to boost the federal government’s tech workforce in order to address the challenges of rapidly advancing AI, building on previous government initiatives to draw in engineers, product managers, and other digital policy experts to revamp the government’s approach to technology. In his letter, Sen. Warner stressed the need for a similar arrangement specifically targeting AI.

“It is clear to me that we will not be able to meet the need in this rapidly advancing field without a diverse and representative group of talented minds,” Sen. Warner wrote. “These individuals should possess technical knowledge, but also a keen understanding of the social impact of AI.”

He continued, “Your administration has taken a number of practical and important steps to advance the safe deployment of AI technologies. To supplement these efforts, I urge you to use your existing authority to bring the best and brightest minds to the table to help our nation grapple with the wide-ranging impact that AI will have on our society. I look forward to working with you on this endeavor.”

Sen. Warner, a former tech entrepreneur, has been a leading voice in the Senate calling for increased efforts into appropriately regulating and addressing the threats of AI, while still harnessing its full potential. Sen. Warner engaged directly with AI companies to push for responsible development and deployment. Last month, he sent a series of letters to major AI companies urging them to take additional action to promote safety and prevent malicious misuse of their products. In April, Sen. Warner  called on AI CEOs to develop practices that would ensure that their products and systems are secure. In July, he also pushed on the Biden administration to keep working with AI companies to expand the scope of the voluntary commitments.

Additionally, Sen. Warner wrote to Google last month to raise concerns about their testing of new AI technology in medical settings. Separately, he urged the CEOs of several AI companies to address a concerning report that generative chatbots were producing instructions on how to exacerbate an eating disorder.

Text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear President Biden,

I write today regarding the need to bolster our Federal workforce and build capacity within the government to address artificial intelligence (AI). Already, excellent work related to AI is happening across the Federal government – from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to the National Institutes of Health – but given the work that needs to be done, we undoubtedly need more expertise and more capacity. The rapid advancements in AI technologies underscores the need to build a robust knowledge base within the Federal government to grapple with AI applications across various sectors of our economy and society. Given the speed of innovation in this space, I urge you to use the powers of your office to launch a new initiative focused on bringing the best and brightest minds into government service to meet the challenges and harness the benefits of AI.

In recent years, we have seen successful examples of innovative initiatives that bring talented individuals together within the Federal government to serve the public and solve some of our government’s most pressing needs. For example, 18F has brought together a team of designers, software engineers, strategists, and product managers to collaborate with federal agencies in order to improve and modernize government technology. Similarly, the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) has brought together engineers, product managers, and digital policy experts to be paired with leading civil servants in order to impact our government’s approach to technology and address some of the most critical government services. What these initiatives have in common – and what I believe we must focus on in a similar initiative for AI – is bringing together a group of bright minds, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, to lend their expertise to the federal government on issues of national importance.

It is clear to me that we will not be able to meet the need in this rapidly advancing field without a diverse and representative group of talented minds. These individuals should possess technical knowledge but also a keen understanding of the social impact of AI. Furthermore, a dedicated group of individuals focused solely on AI can help the federal government think through the opportunities to harness AI technologies to meet federal objectives while also working collaboratively with agencies to guard against AI-generated risks within their purview.

Your Administration has taken a number of practical and important steps to advance the safe deployment of AI technologies. To supplement these efforts, I urge you to use your existing authority to bring the best and brightest minds to the table to help our nation grapple with the wide-ranging impact that AI will have on our society. I look forward to working with you on this endeavor.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) led a group of colleagues in a letter to Anne Milgram, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), expressing support for the agency’s new engagement on a potential special registration for telehealth but sharing serious concerns over the agency’s proposed rules on the future of prescribing controlled substances via telehealth. Despite efforts by Sen. Warner to ensure continued access to telehealth services following the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), the DEA’s rules as proposed would drastically affect patient care.

Joining Sens. Warner and Thune in this letter are U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK).

At the start of the pandemic, the DEA acted swiftly to take advantage of exceptions detailed in the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act that allowed the agency to waive in-person requirements for prescribing controlled substances in the case of a Public Health Emergency (PHE). With the expiration of the COVID-19 PHE earlier this year, however, the DEA announced a proposed rule detailing their plans for prescribing these medications via telehealth going forward that would limit the ability of doctors to prescribe controlled substances without an in-person visit and place unnecessary requirements on care providers. The proposed rule would only allow a 30-day supply of a schedule III-V non-narcotic medication prior to an in-person medical evaluation, and would not permit any initial supply for schedule II or schedule III-V narcotic medication.

The senators wrote, “Although we appreciate the limited flexibilities proposed by the rule, they are insufficient to meet the health care needs of our constituents and the needs of the providers who care for them. We support the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) extending the full set of telehealth flexibilities through November 2023 and are encouraged by the upcoming public listening sessions on the proposed regulations. We urge the DEA to consider feedback from health care stakeholders and apply the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure patients maintain access to care through telehealth, while still minimizing diversion and fraud.”

Highlighting the difficulty patients have scheduling in-person appointments, the senators continued, “We have concerns about our constituents’ ability to obtain in-person appointments within 30 days of starting a new medication, and the potential consequences to their health of starting a new medication and abruptly ending it should they not be able to obtain such an appointment. It takes on average 26 days to schedule a new patient appointment with a health care provider. Therefore, a 30-day supply could result in patients going without their medication while they wait for an in-person appointment or will turn to higher-acuity and higher-cost settings of in-person care to meet this deadline, such as emergency departments.” 

The senators also called attention to a rule Congress created as part of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act that requires the DEA create a registration for telemedicine practitioners who would not be subject to mandatory in-person medical evaluations. The goal of this special registration is to allow medical evaluations over telehealth more broadly, which the senators state this DEA rule does not accomplish.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, tremendous progress was made to ensure that patients could receive care without interruption. Reinstating these hard limits on telehealth would be taking a step backwards, and have serious impacts on the care options for thousands of patients. Sen. Warner has consistently led efforts to expand telehealth accessibility, introducing legislation to expand telehealth services and repeatedly calling on congressional leadership to extend telehealth services after the end of the pandemic.

 

A copy of the letter is available here and text is below:

 

Dear Administrator Milgram:

 

On behalf of our constituent patients, health care providers, and pharmacists, we’re writing to share strong concerns with the notice of proposed rulemaking on the future of controlled substances prescribing over telehealth. Although we appreciate the limited flexibilities proposed by the rule, they are insufficient to meet the health care needs of our constituents and the needs of the providers who care for them. We support the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) extending the full set of telehealth flexibilities through November 2023 and are encouraged by the upcoming public listening sessions on the proposed regulations. We urge the DEA to consider feedback from health care stakeholders and apply the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure patients maintain access to care through telehealth, while still minimizing diversion and fraud.

 

Proposed Rule

As you know, the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (“Ryan Haight Act”) offered seven exceptions to the in-person medical evaluation requirement when providers are engaged in the “practice of telemedicine;” a public health emergency is one such exception, and we’re grateful the DEA moved swiftly to utilize that exception during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

However, we are concerned that the proposed rule undermines the gains made during the PHE that saw expanded access to critical health care services through telehealth

 

Initial supply: Prior to an in-person medical evaluation, the proposed rule permits a DEA-registered prescriber to provide an initial 30-day supply of a controlled substance for non-narcotic schedule III-V medications. We have concerns about our constituents’ ability to obtain in-person appointments within 30 days of starting a new medication, and the potential consequences to their health of starting a new medication and abruptly ending it should they not be able to obtain such an appointment. It takes on average 26 days to schedule a new patient appointment with a health care provider. Therefore, a 30-day supply could result in patients going without their medication while they wait for an in-person appointment or will turn to higher-acuity and higher-cost settings of in-person care to meet this deadline, such as emergency departments.

 

Despite the 180-day grace period after the end of the PHE, new and existing patients will be seeking in-person appointments simultaneously in a health care system that is already burdened by a shortage of health care providers. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 163 million Americans live in Mental Health Care Health Professional Shortage Areas.  Approximately 8,200 additional psychiatrists would be needed nationwide just to remove this shortage designation.  Nationwide averages also obscure the variation among states and territories; for example, Arizona has only 8.5% of its psychiatric health care needs met and would need 227 psychiatrists to meet 100% of these needs.  And beyond mental health care, 100 million Americans live in Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas, with more than 17,000 primary care providers needed at a minimum to remove the designation. 

 

Medical societies representing health care providers and their patients nationwide have encouraged a window of longer than 30 days for an initial prescription in order to provide enough time to obtain an appointment: the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychiatric Association recommend 180 days, with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) urging no less a 90-day maximum when the provider believes it is appropriate. In addition, the AMA and the AAMC recommend that existing patients have one year to fulfill the in-person appointment requirement.

 

Provider safety: The proposed rule requires the prescribing provider to report their physical address at the time of the telemedicine appointment. Health care providers have shared they sometimes do telemedicine appointments from their home and have safety and privacy concerns with their home address being on the prescription. We urge you to allow providers to use the business address of their DEA registration.

 

Referrals:

  • Referring providers: The proposed rule requires that an in-person medical evaluation be performed by a DEA-registered provider before a referral to another DEA-registered provider who would be permitted to prescribe a controlled substance over telehealth. We are concerned that individuals without adequate in-person access to a DEA-registered provider will see their health care treatment options limited should they be referred to a specialist for a telehealth appointment, or instead a second in-person medical evaluation would be required with a DEA-registered provider prior to seeing a specialist, which would increase costs to the patient and the health care system as a whole. We urge you to work with health care providers to ensure patients do not encounter any truly unnecessary barriers to care.  
  • Prescribing practitioner: The proposed rule requires a referring provider to specifically include the name and National Provider Identifier (NPI) of the prescribing practitioner to which the referring prescriber is referring the patient. In practice, patients are often referred to a group practice where they see whichever specialist has a first available appointment. Or, referrals may not have a provider indicated at all, as the patient often has to explore insurance network coverage and new patient availability. This requirement may prevent patients from receiving the legitimate health care services they need.

 

Recordkeeping: Finally, we have heard widespread concerns about additional recordkeeping and other administrative burdens required from providers and pharmacies. This additional administrative burden will strain an already exhausted workforce could also deter providers from being able to provide this care. Stakeholders have shared that existing recordkeeping requirements should be sufficient for the purpose of DEA being able to combat diversion and fraud, and we encourage you to work with providers on the least burdensome path forward.

 

Special Registration

In addition to the PHE exception to the Ryan Haight Act discussed above, Congress also created a “special registration” exception, not as an option for DEA to utilize but a requirement to do so most recently in the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (“SUPPORT Act”). We do not believe this NPRM fulfills DEA’s obligation to create a special registration.

 

Congress envisioned this special registration to allow certain health care providers to be cleared and registered to use their clinical judgment when a medical examination can be done over telehealth for the purposes of a controlled substances prescription. DEA envisioned this to be the case, as well: in the preamble to Ryan Haight Act implementation regulations, DEA wrote:

 

“Special registration for telemedicine—a practitioner who is engaged in the practice of telemedicine within the meaning of the Act is not subject to the mandatory in-person medical evaluation requirement of 21 U.S.C. 829(e) (although such practitioner remains subject to the requirement that all prescriptions for controlled substances be issued for a legitimate medical purpose.”

 

Although we appreciate DEA not requiring a special registration for the initial prescriptions currently proposed, we are concerned that the proposed rule does not include the special registration directed to be created by Congress and even envisioned by the DEA. However, we are pleased to see DEA recently indicate further consideration of a special registration process that would allow clinicians to prescribe a controlled substance via telemedicine without an in-person visit. We appreciate the continuation of the comment process via public listening sessions, and encourage the DEA to review and incorporate stakeholders’ feedback in future rulemaking related to telemedicine prescribing.

 

In addition to allowing qualified health care providers to determine when a medical evaluation over telehealth is appropriate, a special registration would also provide a framework to evaluate the appropriateness of certain prescribers having the ability to prescribe over telehealth medications not covered by the post-COVID-19 proposed rule, namely Schedule II medications and Schedule III-V narcotic medications.

 

Health care providers across the board continue to ask for a special registration process that would provide a pathway for certain providers to provide more care involving controlled substances over telehealth than the proposed rule allows, and we implore DEA to follow its statutory requirements under the Ryan Haight Act and the SUPPORT Act and do just that.

 

Thank you for your consideration of these concerns, and we look forward to continuing to work with you on these important issues.

                       

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WASHINGTON – Ahead of a Tuesday oversight hearing in the Senate Banking Committee with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Gary Gensler, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) reintroduced legislation to require publicly traded companies to disclose information regarding workforce management metrics, including investments made in skills training, workforce safety, and employee retention.

“Workers are the most valuable resource a company can have, but without a clear set of standards for reporting, the investment that public companies make in their personnel are next-to-impossible to track,” said Sen. Warner. “This legislation will help provide a clearer picture of how public companies are managing, supporting, and investing in their workers – factors that significantly influence a company’s ability to innovate and compete.”

“Big Tech and other corporations use subcontracting and outsourcing to hide their total number of workers. The result is that too many workers are invisible under current disclosure requirements,” said Sen. Brown. “The Workforce Investment Disclosure Act will finally shed some sunlight on how companies outsource and subcontract their workers and allow the public to scrutinize what these companies are doing to invest in their workers.”

Since the start of his tenure in 2021, Chair Gensler has stated disclosure of these workforce metrics would be a priority of his agenda, but a rule making this a requirement has yet to be proposed. The Workforce Investment Disclosure Act would require public companies disclose basic human capital metrics, which have an increasingly high value across industries in our 21st century economy. These metrics include workforce turnover rates, skills and development training, workforce health and safety, workforce engagement, and compensation statistics.

Specifically, the legislation would build on existing disclosure requirements by requiring companies to disclose:

  • Demographic information;
  • Data on temporary and contract workers;
  • Employee turnover rate;
  • Employee skills and capabilities;
  • Workforce health, safety, and well-being, including findings of harassment or discrimination; and
  • Employee compensation, benefits, and incentives.

Sen. Warner, a former entrepreneur and venture capitalist, has long stressed the importance of updating human capital disclosure requirements to reflect the priorities of modern companies. First introducing the Workforce Investment Disclosure Act in 2020, Sens. Warner and Brown have also urged the SEC to implement improvements to their human capital disclosure rules including for part-time employees.

Full text of the bill is available here

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today urged several artificial intelligence (AI) companies to take additional action to promote safety and prevent malicious misuse of their products. In a series of letters, Sen. Warner applauded certain companies for publicly joining voluntary commitments proposed by the Biden administration, but encouraged them to broaden their efforts, and called on companies that have not taken this public step to commit to making their products more secure.

As AI is rolled out more broadly, researchers have repeatedly demonstrated a number of concerning, exploitable weaknesses in prominent products, including abilities to generate credible-seeming misinformation, develop malware, and craft sophisticated phishing techniques. In July, the Biden administration announced that several AI companies had agreed to a series of voluntary commitments that would promote greater security and transparency. However, the commitments were not fully comprehensive in scope or in participation, with many companies not publicly participating and several exploitable aspects of the technology left untouched by the commitments.

In a series of letters sent today, Sen. Warner pushed directly on companies that did not participate, including Apple, Midjourney, Mistral AI, Databricks, Scale AI, and Stability AI, requesting a response detailing the steps they plan to take to increase the security of their products and prioritize transparency. Sen. Warner additionally sent letters to companies that were involved in the Biden administration’s commitments, including Amazon, Anthropic, Google, Inflection AI, Meta, Microsoft, and OpenAI, asking that they extend commitments to less capable models and also develop consumer-facing commitments – such as development and monitoring practices – to prevent the most serious forms of misuse. 

“While representing an important improvement upon the status quo, the voluntary commitments announced in July can be bolstered in key ways through additional commitments,” Sen. Warner wrote.

Sen. Warner also called specific attention to the urgent need for all AI companies to make additional commitments to safeguard against a few highly sensitive potential misuses, including non-consensual intimate image generation (including child sexual abuse material), social-scoring, real-time facial recognition, and proliferation activity in the context of malicious cyber activity or the production of biological or chemical agents.

The letters follow up on Sen. Warner’s previous efforts to engage directly with AI companies to push for responsible development and deployment. In April, Sen. Warner directly called on AI CEOs to develop practices that would ensure that their products and systems are secure. In July, he also pushed on the Biden administration to keep working with AI companies to expand the scope of the voluntary commitments.

Additionally, Sen. Warner wrote to Google last week to raise concerns about their testing of new AI technology in real medical settings. Separately, he urged the CEOs of several AI companies to address a concerning report that generative chatbots were producing instructions on how to exacerbate an eating disorder. Additionally, he has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at making tech safer and more humane, including the RESTRICT Act, which would comprehensively address the ongoing threat posed by technology from foreign adversaries; the SAFE TECH Act, which would reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, online harassment, and discrimination on social media platforms; and the Honest Ads Act, which would require online political advertisements to adhere to the same disclaimer requirements as TV, radio, and print ads.

Copies of each of the letters can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark Warner joined Sens. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Edward Markey (D-MA), and others to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enforce its existing regulations regarding consent for receiving telemarketing calls, also known as robocalls. The letter also asks the FCC to issue guidance along the lines of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) recent Business Guidance restating the FCC’s long-held requirements for these unwanted telemarketing calls. By issuing guidance similar to the FTC’s, the FCC will assist telemarketers and sellers in complying with these requirements. 

“While the consideration of new regulations may be appropriate in some instances, we believe that the FCC’s current regulations already prohibit many of the activities that lead to the proliferation of unwanted telemarketing calls,” wrote the Senators. “Both the regulations issued in 2003 delineating the rules for telemarketers to obtain consent for calls to lines subscribed to the Do Not Call Registry, and those issued in 2012 governing consent to receive telemarketing calls made with an artificial or prerecorded voice or an automated telephone dialing system, clearly set out the types of protections intended by Congress to eliminate unwanted telemarketing calls.”

The Senators concluded, “As Congress instructed the FCC ‘to maximize consistency with the rule promulgated by the Federal Trade Commission’ relating to the implementation of the Do-Not-Call Registry, we respectfully urge the FCC to issue a guidance along the lines of the FTC’s recent Business Guidance restating its long-held requirements for these unwanted telemarketing calls. As inconsistent rules governing the same activity would be problematic, by issuing guidance similar to the FTC’s, the FCC will assist telemarketers and sellers in complying with these requirements.”

Sen. Warner, a former cell phone entrepreneur, has been active in fighting robocalls for many years. He sponsored the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act to give regulators – including the FCC – more time to find scammers, increase civil forfeiture penalties, require service providers to adopt call authentication and blocking, and bring relevant federal agencies and state attorneys general together to address impediments to criminal prosecution of robocallers. Former President Trump signed the TRACED Act into law in 2019. In July, he applauded new efforts from the FTC to crack down on spam calls.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Lujan, and Markey, the letter is signed by U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Peter Welch (D-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Angus King (I-ME), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Gary Peters (D-MI). This letter is endorsed by Appleseed, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Privacy Information Center, National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, National Consumers League, Public Citizen, Public Knowledge, and U.S. PIRG.

Full text of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Chairwoman Rosenworcel:

We are heartened that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering ways to curtail the number of unwanted telemarketing calls—currently over 1.25 billion every month—in a proceeding pending under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). As the Commission recognizes, the continued onslaught of illegal calls threatens the trustworthiness and usefulness of our nation’s telephone system.

While the consideration of new regulations may be appropriate in some instances, we believe that the FCC’s current regulations already prohibit many of the activities that lead to the proliferation of unwanted telemarketing calls. Both the regulations issued in 2003 delineating the rules for telemarketers to obtain consent for calls to lines subscribed to the Do Not Call Registry, and those issued in 2012 governing consent to receive telemarketing calls made with an artificial or prerecorded voice or an automated telephone dialing system, clearly set out the types of protections intended by Congress to eliminate unwanted telemarketing calls. Both of these regulations allow robocalls calls only if the call recipients sign a written agreement relating to calls from a single seller. 

Additionally, the FCC’s 2003 regulation for telemarketing calls to lines registered on the Do Not Call Registry requires that the “signed, written agreement” must be “between the consumer and the seller.” This requirement provides two protections. First, it means that the seller, not a telemarketer or a lead generator, or anyone other than the seller, or the agent of the seller, must be party to the agreement with the consumer. Second, it limits the calls that are covered by the agreement to calls related only to the seller that was the party to the agreement. Enforcement of the current limitations applicable to agreements providing consent for telemarketing calls under the existing regulations would eliminate the sale and trading of these consents which have led to the proliferation of unwanted telemarketing robocalls.

Moreover, as many of these agreements are entered into online, current federal law requires specific protections for consumers receiving writings through electronic records in the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (the E-Sign Act). One example of these protections in the E-Sign Act is the prohibition of oral communication as a substitute for a writing. Although telemarketers routinely ignore the requirements of the E-Sign Act, the legislation’s mandate for E-Sign consent before writings can be provided in electronic records in 15 U.S.C. § 7001(c) is fully applicable.

Finally, as Congress instructed the FCC “to maximize consistency with the rule promulgated by the Federal Trade Commission” relating to the implementation of the Do-Not-Call Registry, we respectfully urge the FCC to issue a guidance along the lines of the FTC’s recent Business Guidance restating its long-held requirements for these unwanted telemarketing calls. As inconsistent rules governing the same activity would be problematic, by issuing guidance similar to the FTC’s, the FCC will assist telemarketers and sellers in complying with these requirements. This guidance should also emphasize that the obligations imposed by the E-Sign Act apply when these agreements are entered into online.

We appreciate your work to curb unwanted and illegal robocalls. Issuing guidance that emphasizes the meaningful requirements of current regulations as well as the requirements of the federal E-Sign Act will go a long way to reduce the number of unwanted robocalls. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

 
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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today urged Google CEO Sundar Pichai to provide more clarity into his company’s deployment of Med-PaLM 2, an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot currently being tested in health care settings. In a letter, Sen. Warner expressed concerns about reports of inaccuracies in the technology, and called on Google to increase transparency, protect patient privacy, and ensure ethical guardrails.

In April, Google began testing Med-PaLM2 with customers, including the Mayo Clinic. Med-PaLM 2 can answer medical questions, summarize documents, and organize health data. While the technology has shown some promising results, there are also concerning reports of repeated inaccuracies and of Google’s own senior researchers expressing reservations about the readiness of the technology. Additionally, much remains unknown about where Med-PaLM 2 is being tested, what data sources it learns from, to what extent patients are aware of and can object to the use of AI in their treatment, and what steps Google has taken to protect against bias.

“While artificial intelligence (AI) undoubtedly holds tremendous potential to improve patient care and health outcomes, I worry that premature deployment of unproven technology could lead to the erosion of trust in our medical professionals and institutions, the exacerbation of existing racial disparities in health outcomes, and an increased risk of diagnostic and care-delivery errors,” Sen. Warner wrote. 

The letter raises concerns over AI companies prioritizing the race to establish market share over patient well-being. Sen. Warner also emphasizes his previous efforts to raise the alarm about Google skirting health privacy as it trained diagnostic models on sensitive health data without patients’ knowledge or consent.

“It is clear more work is needed to improve this technology as well as to ensure the health care community develops appropriate standards governing the deployment and use of AI,” Sen. Warner continued.

The letter poses a broad range of questions for Google to answer, requesting more transparency into exactly how Med-PaLM 2 is being rolled out, what data sources Med-PaLM 2 learns from, how much information and agency patients have over how AI is involved in their care, and more.

Sen. Warner, a former tech entrepreneur, has been a vocal advocate for Big Tech accountability and a stronger national posture against cyberattacks and misinformation online. In April, Sen. Warner directly expressed concerns to several AI CEOs – including Sundar Pichai – about the potential risks posed by AI, and called on companies to ensure that their products and systems are secure. Last month, he called on the Biden administration to work with AI companies to develop additional guardrails around the responsible deployment of AI. He has also introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at making tech more secure, including the RESTRICT Act, which would comprehensively address the ongoing threat posed by technology from foreign adversaries; the SAFE TECH Act, which would reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, online harassment, and discrimination on social media platforms; and the Honest Ads Act, which would require online political advertisements to adhere to the same disclaimer requirements as TV, radio, and print ads.

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

Dear Mr. Pichai,

I write to express my concern regarding reports that Google began providing Med-PaLM 2 to hospitals to test early this year. While artificial intelligence (AI) undoubtedly holds tremendous potential to improve patient care and health outcomes, I worry that premature deployment of unproven technology could lead to the erosion of trust in our medical professionals and institutions, the exacerbation of existing racial disparities in health outcomes, and an increased risk of diagnostic and care-delivery errors.

Over the past year, large technology companies, including Google, have been rushing to develop and deploy AI models and capture market share as the technology has received increased attention following OpenAI’s launch of ChatGPT. Numerous media outlets have reported that companies like Google and Microsoft have been willing to take bigger risks and release more nascent technology in an effort to gain a first mover advantage. In 2019, I raised concerns that Google was skirting health privacy laws through secretive partnerships with leading hospital systems, under which it trained diagnostic models on sensitive health data without patients’ knowledge or consent. This race to establish market share is readily apparent and especially concerning in the health care industry, given the life-and-death consequences of mistakes in the clinical setting, declines of trust in health care institutions in recent years, and the sensitivity of health information. One need look no further than AI pioneer Joseph Weizenbaum’s experiments involving chatbots in psychotherapy to see how users can put premature faith in even basic AI solutions.

According to Google, Med-PaLM 2 can answer medical questions, summarize documents, and organize health data. While AI models have previously been used in medical settings, the use of generative AI tools presents complex new questions and risks. According to the Wall Street Journal, a senior research director at Google who worked on Med-PaLM 2 said, “I don’t feel that this kind of technology is yet at a place where I would want it in my family’s healthcare journey.” Indeed, Google’s own research, released in May, showed that Med-PaLM 2’s answers contained more inaccurate or irrelevant information than answers provided by physicians. It is clear more work is needed to improve this technology as well as to ensure the health care community develops appropriate standards governing the deployment and use of AI

Given these serious concerns and the fact that VHC Health, based in Arlington, Virginia, is a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, I request that you provide answers to the following questions. 

  1. Researchers have found large language models to display a phenomenon described as “sycophany,” wherein the model generates responses that confirm or cater to a user’s (tacit or explicit) preferred answers, which could produce risks of misdiagnosis in the medical context. Have you tested Med-PaLM 2 for this failure mode?
  2. Large language models frequently demonstrate the tendency to memorize contents of their training data, which can risk patient privacy in the context of models trained on sensitive health information. How has Google evaluated Med-PaLM 2 for this risk and what steps has Google taken to mitigate inadvertent privacy leaks of sensitive health information?
  3. What documentation did Google provide hospitals, such as Mayo Clinic, about Med-PaLM 2? Did it share model or system cards, datasheets, data-statements, and/or test and evaluation results?
  4. Google’s own research acknowledges that its clinical models reflect scientific knowledge only as of the time the model is trained, necessitating “continual learning.” What is the frequency with which Google fully or partially re-trains Med-PaLM 2? Does Google ensure that licensees use only the most up-to-date model version?
  5. Google has not publicly provided documentation on Med-PaLM 2, including refraining from disclosing the contents of the model’s training data. Does Med-PaLM 2’s training corpus include protected health information?
  6. Does Google ensure that patients are informed when Med-PaLM 2, or other AI models offered or licensed by, are used in their care by health care licensees? If so, how is the disclosure presented? Is it part of a longer disclosure or more clearly presented?
  7. Do patients have the option to opt-out of having AI used to facilitate their care? If so, how is this option communicated to patients?
  8. Does Google retain prompt information from health care licensees, including protected health information contained therein? Please list each purpose Google has for retaining that information.
  9. What license terms exist in any product license to use Med-PaLM 2 to protect patients, ensure ethical guardrails, and prevent misuse or inappropriate use of Med-PaLM 2? How does Google ensure compliance with those terms in the post-deployment context? 
  10. How many hospitals is Med-PaLM 2 currently being used at? Please provide a list of all hospitals and health care systems Google has licensed or otherwise shared Med-Palm 2 with.
  11. Does Google use protected health information from hospitals using Med-PaLM 2 to retrain or finetune Med-PaLM 2 or any other models? If so, does Google require that hospitals inform patients that their protected health information may be used in this manner?
  12. In Google’s own research publication announcing Med-PaLM 2, researchers cautioned about the need to adopt “guardrails to mitigate against over-reliance on the output of a medical assistant.” What guardrails has Google adopted to mitigate over-reliance on the output of Med-PaLM 2 as well as when it particularly should and should not be used? What guardrails has Google incorporated through product license terms to prevent over-reliance on the output?

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) urged the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to more effectively promote educational assistance programs that would help alleviate the burden of student loan payments. Specifically, the senators are focused on efforts to make employers and employees aware of their Employer Participation in Repayment Act, which allows employers to contribute up to $5,250 tax-free to employees’ student loans annually through 2025.

“This provision within section 127 is a win-win for employers and employees, as it provides a pathway towards student loan debt relief for borrowers and provides employers with another option to recruit and retain talent necessary to grow their businesses,” the senators wrote.

In April of this year, Sen. Warner questioned IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel on the organization’s outreach efforts regarding benefits available to borrowers. During the exchange, Commissioner Werfel committed to devoting significant efforts to making taxpayers aware of these benefits. Since then however, little progress has been made to make employers and employees aware of these programs, which would greatly reduce stress of monthly payments for borrowers and help employees retain qualified candidates.  

“During your testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on April 19, 2023, you stated that outreach on section 127, including ensuring that taxpayers are aware of such benefits, is a top priority of the agency,” the senators continued. “However, we have found that resources on educational assistance programs are difficult to locate on the IRS website. Additionally, within these hard-to-find and limited resources, the expansion of the program to include student loan debt as a qualifying tax-free educational expense is not highlighted as new information and the eligibility window is deeply buried. Furthermore, online IRS webinars have failed to adequately promote employer-provided educational assistance programs and call attention to student loan debt payments as a qualifying expense.” 

The senators requested the IRS take a series of steps to better promote these programs and ensure that employers and employees are fully aware of the benefits afforded to them, including that:

  • The IRS host and publish webinars on employer-provided educational assistance programs;
  • The IRS publish new and robust resources to aide employers seeking to take advantage of section 127 benefits;
  • And the IRS communicate expanded section 127 benefits and new resources to employers and employees, including, but not limited to, transmitting this information through IRS e-newsletters for business owners.

Created in 1978 and made permanent in 2012, section 127 of the IRS Code provides a tax benefit allowing employers to contribute up to $5,250 in tax-free annual assistance to employees pursuing continued education. In 2019, with broad bipartisan support, Sens. Warner and Thune introduced the Employer Participation in Repayment Act, legislation that extends this tax-free benefit to employees’ existing student loans. The senators played a key role in extending this provision through 2025 as part of the 2021 government spending package.  

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

Dear Commissioner Werfel,

We write to urge the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to take meaningful steps to effectively promote educational assistance benefits provided under section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code, specifically the temporary provision within the law that allows employers to contribute up to $5,250 tax-free towards their employees’ student loans annually. This provision within section 127 is a win-win for employers and employees, as it provides a pathway towards student loan debt relief for borrowers and provides employers with another option to recruit and retain talent necessary to grow their businesses.

Nationwide, Americans owe more than $1.7 trillion in student loan debt, outstripping credit cards and auto loans as the country’s leading source of non-housing debt. With increased college costs leading to students taking on more debt, the need for innovative solutions to ease the burden of student loan debt is greater than ever. That is why we were pleased to secure passage of our Employer Participation in Repayment Act (EPRA), which reformed educational assistance programs under section 127 to include student loans payments as a qualifying educational expense.

Prior to this change, employers with educational assistance programs could provide their employees with up to $5,250 per year in tax-free benefits for ongoing education purposes (e.g., tuition and fees). The EPRA provision that we championed as part of the CARES Act amended section 127, expanding the $5,250 tax-free, annual benefit to include student loan payments through 2020, with subsequent legislation extending this benefit through 2025. In other words, as a result of this change in the law, employers are provided with an important tool to help their employees pay down outstanding student loan debt.

The modernization of section 127 better meets the needs of today’s workforce, as it not only helps individuals pay down their student loans, but also serves as a unique tool for employers to attract and retain talented employees. Additionally, employer-sponsored student loan repayment under section 127 helps employees get out of debt faster and put more of their hard-earned paycheck towards other necessities. While we were proud to champion this necessary expansion of section 127, as its sunset date approaches we want to make sure that we are maximizing the reach of this important benefit.

According to a 2023 survey of over 4,000 participants representing independent organizations, 48% of respondents indicated that their organization provides undergraduate or graduate tuition assistance. However, only 8% of responding organizations shared that they offer student loan repayment as an educational assistance benefit. This underscores the need for the IRS to use all tools at the agency’s disposal to increase awareness among employers about recent changes to section 127. Furthermore, the IRS should take steps to ensure that employers of all sizes have resources available to them to quickly form an educational assistance program for their workforce.

During your testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on April 19, 2023, you stated that outreach on section 127, including ensuring that taxpayers are aware of such benefits, is a top priority of the agency. However, we have found that resources on educational assistance programs are difficult to locate on the IRS website. Additionally, within these hard-to-find and limited resources, the expansion of the program to include student loan debt as a qualifying tax-free educational expense is not highlighted as new information and the eligibility window is deeply buried. Furthermore, online IRS webinars have failed to adequately promote employer-provided educational assistance programs and call attention to student loan debt payments as a qualifying expense.

To ensure that employers and employees are fully aware of the benefits afforded to them under section 127, we request that you take the following actions:

1)      We request that the IRS host and publish webinars on employer-provided educational assistance programs. Webinars should provide details on student loan debt being a qualifying expense under section 127 and provide participants with the opportunity to engage in a meaningful Q&A session with IRS staff. Furthermore, webinars should be scheduled with adequate notice periods, promoted in conjunction with relevant stakeholders, including industry associations, and published prominently on the agency’s website for future reference.

2)      We request that the IRS publish new and robust resources to aide employers seeking to take advantage of section 127 benefits. These new resources should include a sample written plan for employers to utilize and the addition of a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section on employer-provided educational assistance programs to the IRS webpage. These resources should be clearly visible and prominently displayed on the IRS webpage.

3)      Finally, we ask that the IRS communicate expanded section 127 benefits and new resources to employers and employees, including, but not limited to, transmitting this information through IRS e-newsletters for business owners.

We are hopeful that by providing additional resources and informing employers and employees of section 127 benefits, we will address our shared goals of promoting workforce development, improving worker recruitment and retention, and providing much-needed student loan debt relief.

We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

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