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Legislative Update

Senator Warner has made a list and checked it twice, tallying up some of his wins for Virginia in 2019.

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Warner’s press office released this end of year wrap up:

On Thursday, Congress gaveled out for the year after a whirlwind week of last-minute legislating. Specifically, Congress passed critical end-of-year funding bills to keep the government open for another year, as well as the annual defense bill. Contained in these bills are a number of Senator Warner’s top priorities for Virginia, including protections for military families in privatized housing, a pay raise for the troops, a pay raise and paid family leave for federal workers, and legislation preserving coal miners’ pensions and healthcare, among many others.

You can read about all the Virginia priorities included in the annual defense bill (known as NDAA) here and all of the Virginia priorities included in the annual government funding (or “appropriations”) legislation here.

This has been a busy year for Senator Warner, so as we head into the holiday season, Senator Warner has made a list and checked it twice, tallying up some of his wins for Virginia in 2019.

FOR VETERANS & MILITARY FAMILIES

Military Housing: As part of the annual defense bill, Sen. Warner secured passage of major portions of the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, a bill to address hazardous living conditions in privatized military housing throughout the United States, including service members and their families living in homes with persistent mold blooms, water leaks and rodent and insect infestations. The NDAA also includes provisions establishing a tenants’ bill of rights for military families.

Fixed an Unfair Tax on Gold Star Families: As part of the annual appropriations package passed this week, Congress passed Warner-sponsored legislation correcting one of the many unintended consequences of the 2017 GOP tax bill that treats military and VA survivor benefits as trusts or estates, subjecting the benefits of many military families to a much higher tax rate. The Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act will fix this error by treating any military and VA survivor benefits as earned income, rather than at the trust or parent tax rate.

Repealed the Military Widows Tax: This week, Congress passed the Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act, as part of the NDAA. This Warner-sponsored bill will repeal the unfair law that prevents as many as 67,000 surviving military spouses nationwide from receiving their full Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs survivor benefits.

Pay Raise for our Troops: As part of the NDAA, Sen. Warner helped secure a 3.1% pay raise for all military servicemembers beginning in 2020.

Doing Right by Vietnam Vets: In June, the President signed into law the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, a Warner-sponsored bill that ended the exclusion from VA benefits for Vietnam-era veterans who were exposed to toxic herbacide Agent Orange while serving aboard US Navy ships. Later, as part of the annual appropriations legislation, Sen. Warner voted in favor of $153.6 million to fund the VA’s implementation of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. That funding package also includes language requiring the VA to report to Congress within 30 days 1) the reason for the two-year delay in expanding the presumptive list; 2) a cost estimate for adding new diseases; and 3) the date the VA plans to implement a decision.

Cut Red Tape to Improve VA Healthcare: In August, Sen. Warner secured approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget of lease prospectuses for new VA outpatient clinics in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg. In September, he secured sign-off from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. These final moves are the culmination of a years-long effort led by Sen. Warner to address bureaucratic barriers to these new veterans clinics. Having cleared the final hurdles, the federal government is now accepting bids for the construction of the new facilities.

FOR OUR NATIONAL SECURITY

Funding for Virginia’s Shipbuilding Industry: The NDAA authorizes $23.9 billion dollars for shipbuilding, part of which will fund construction for two Virginia-class submarines and an aircraft carrier. As part of the NDAA, Sen. Warner also voted to fund the Navy’s block procurement of 9 Virginia-class submarines, 5 of which will be launched from Newport News. Sen. Warner has long advocated for block-buy efforts to save taxpayer money and provide stability for the Navy’s capabilities and Virginia’s shipbuilding industry.

USS Truman: The NDAA also authorizes funding for the mid-life refueling of the USS Truman, stationed out of Naval Station Norfolk.

F-22 program relocation to Norfolk: Following efforts by Sen. Warner and the Virginia delegation, the Air Force announced plans to permanently relocate an F-22 Raptor training squadron from Florida to Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

Passed the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA): As Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Warner spends hours each week cloistered away in a secure hearing room, performing oversight over the 17 government entities and numerous cleared private contractors comprising the U.S. intelligence community (many of which are headquartered in Virginia.) In addition to its oversight responsibilities, one task required of the Senate Intelligence Committee is to pass the annual Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA). This week, Congress passed the legislation as part of the annual NDAA bill. You can read about all of the specific, unclassified highlights of that bill here. Sen. Warner is particularly proud to have authored a provision providing 12 weeks of paid parental leave to intelligence personnel, including adoptive and foster parents, matching what many private sector companies are already providing.

Reducing the Security Clearance Backlog: Sen. Warner has been relentless in pushing the Pentagon, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to reduce the wait times for national security workers and contractors to receive security clearances, successfully pushing to get the security clearance backlog cut by more than half over the course of the year. The IAA also includes legislation authored by Sen. Warner to modernize the antiquated security clearance process, return the background investigation inventory that once stood at 725,000 cases to a healthy, stable level, and bring greater accountability to the system.

Bipartisan Senate Reports on Russia’s Intervention in 2016: As part of its oversight investigation into the intelligence community’s response to the 2016 Russian election interference campaign, the Senate Intelligence Committee released two reports, the first on Russia’s efforts against U.S. election infrastructure, and the second on Russia’s use of social media in the 2016 election.

Funding to Secure Our Elections: Sen. Warner helped secure $675 million in additional funding to help states and localities improve the security of their election infrastructure. However, as Sen. Warner has repeatedly and strenuously noted, additional funding is not a substitute for passing the multiple bipartisan election security and anti-misinformation bills that Senate GOP leadership has been blocking all year.

Standing with Hong Kong: President Trump recently signed into law Warner-backed legislation to defend the rights of the people of Hong Kong at a time when Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms are under assault by interference from the Chinese government and Communist Party, and to impose sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong.

FOR FEDERAL WORKERS

Passed Paid Family Leave for Federal Workers: Federal workers will soon be eligible for 12 weeks paid parental leave, thanks to a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that Congress passed this week. Until now, new parents have had to tap into sick leave, vacation time, and unpaid leave in order to care for a child. This provision builds on language Sen. Warner was able to secure in the Intelligence Authorization Act providing 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents in the intelligence community.

Pay Raise for Federal Workers: As part of the end-of-year appropriations bill, Congress approved a 3.1% pay raise for federal workers, which Sen. Warner had formally requested earlier this year.

Preventing the Elimination of OPM: The defense bill passed this week prevents the Trump Administration from merging the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) with the General Services Administration (GSA) without first providing Congress and the public transparency on the rationale behind the move, backed by sound, independent analysis of the potential costs and benefits. This mirrors an effort pushed by Sen. Warner to prevent the federal workforce from being subjected to continued political attacks and increased political interference by the Trump Administration.

Shutdown Back Pay: In January, the President signed Warner-sponsored legislation providing back pay to federal workers affected by the 35-day government shutdown.

Relief for Relocated Federal Workers: As part of the NDAA, Congress passed the bipartisan Relocation Expense Parity Act, a bill Sen. Warner sponsored that will provide financial relief to certain civilian federal employees who have to relocate for work. The bill will ensure that all federal employees who qualify to have their moving costs reimbursed by the government are also repaid for the taxes owed on relocation reimbursements.

MAJOR WINS FOR NOVA

Transportation Funding: The appropriations package approved this week provides $1 billion for competitive transportation grants through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program, formerly known as “TIGER” grants. Virginia has previously used these grants for projects including I-95 Express Lanes, I-564 connector from Norfolk International Terminals at the Port of Virginia, I-64 Delta Frames Bridges in Rockbridge County, the Pulse bus-rapid transit system in Richmond, and Northstar Boulevard in Loudoun County near Dulles.

WMATA $$$: The spending bill also included the full federal funding of $150 million for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) capital improvements. In May, Sen. Warner introduced legislation to renew the federal funding commitment to Metro, provide critical safety reforms, and strengthen oversight of WMATA.

Leesburg Airport: It also includes $7 million for the Federal Aviation Administration to continue its remote tower systems pilot program at smaller airports, including the Remote Tower Center partnership between Leesburg Executive Airport and Saab Technologies, as well as similar remote tower pilot projects being developed around the country.

WMATA Safety: When it was reported that a state-owned Chinese company was a likely frontrunner for the contract to manufacture the new 8000 series rail cars, Sen. Warner successfully pressured WMATA to add additional cybersecurity requirements to the procurement process, in order to reduce the risks that Metro could be vulnerable to hacking or cyberespionage.

CENTRAL VIRGINIA:

Honoring Captain Kahn: In April, legislation sponsored by Sen. Warner was implemented, renaming a Charlottesville Post office in honor of the late U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, a graduate of the University of Virginia.

Richmond Airport: As part of the end-of-year spending package, Sen. Warner secured an additional $734,314 to reimburse Richmond International Airport for baggage screening equipment purchased after 9/11.

COASTAL VIRGINIA:

Honoring a Virginia Beach Hero: In August, the President signed Warner-sponsored legislation into law renaming a Virginia Beach post office after Ryan “Keith” Cox, a longtime public utilities employee who sacrificed his own life to save others during the shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.

Virginia Beach Strong: In December, Congress sent Sen. Warner’s Virginia Beach Strong Act to the President’s desk, where it awaits signature into law. The bill will make technical fixes to the tax code allowing contributions to the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund to be tax-deductible.

Supporting NASA Wallops: Sen. Warner wrote and passed into law legislation to boost aeronautics industry innovation, research and development, and supported successful legislation to reimburse the Town of Chincoteague for the purchase and installation of new production wells to replace contaminated wells located on NASA Wallops Flight Facility property.

… & SWVA:

Passed the Bipartisan Miners Act: Following years of efforts by Sen. Warner to safeguard benefits for mine workers and secure pensions for our nation’s retired miners, Congress passed the Warner-sponsored Bipartisan American Miners Act as part of the end-of-year appropriations bill. The legislation would shore up the 1974 United Mine Workers of America Pension Plan – which is currently headed for insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis – protecting pension benefits for 92,000 miners, and healthcare benefits for 13,000 miners, including 800 retirees in Virginia affected by the 2018 bankruptcy of Westmoreland Coal Co.

Caring for Miners with Black Lung Disease: The annual appropriations bill also extends an expired funding source for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund through 2020, shoring up the stability of this fund established in 1978 to treat coal miners affected by black lung disease. Sen. Warner helped spearhead a Senate effort to restore funding for the Fund after the tax that supports it expired at the end of 2018.

Saved the Flatwoods Job Corps: Sen. Warner helped lead an effort to protect the Flatwoods Job Corps facility in Coeburn, Virginia. In May 2019, USDA and DOL announced they were terminating an interagency agreement that provided for the operation of the Civilian Conservation Center program within the Forest Service. As part of the reorganization, DOL announced plans to close nine of the 25 CCCs operated in eight states, including the Flatwoods center in Coeburn, Virginia. The proposed closures were expected to lead to the loss of nearly 1,100 Forest Service jobs. Under pressure from Sen. Warner and others, the Trump Administration later reversed course, saving a facility that employs ~70 individuals and can accommodate up to 180 students.

Record Funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission: Sen. Warner secured $175 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an increase of $10 million over fiscal year 2019. In April, Sen. Warner led a Senate appropriations letter in support of increased ARC funding. Last fiscal year, ARC supported 32 projects in Virginia totaling $8.2 million in federal investment, matched by nearly $20.5 million in state, local, and private investments. This funding will help create and retain 950 jobs in the region.

Lee County Hospital: In October, after a six-year bipartisan effort spearheaded by Sens. Warner and Kaine, Rep. Morgan Griffith, and local officials, the Lee County Hospital reopened its urgent care center, six years after the hospital closed in 2013, leaving the county without access to a nearby hospital. It is expected to be fully reopened next year. Sen. Warner is also the lead sponsor of legislation to benefit hospitals in medically underserved areas like Lee County, where patients are more likely to be uninsured and hospitals have struggled to stay afloat financially. The States Achieve Medicaid Expansion (SAME) Act of 2019 would allow states like Virginia that expanded Medicaid after 2014 to receive the same level of federal matching funds as states that expanded earlier, and according to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, it would save Virginia’s hospitals an estimated $300 million per year in the first three years of implementation.

Funding for SWVA Forest Farming: Sen. Warner was successful in securing nearly $600,000 in federal funding for Appalachian Sustainable Development/Virginia Tech to continue and expand their Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition. This funding will be used to increase membership and improve opportunities and capabilities among forest farmers in Central Appalachia. This grant is essential for the program to continue its operations for the next three years.

Money for Unmanned Systems: Sen. Warner has been a longtime champion of unmanned systems research, believing the new industry could be a game-changer for Virginia. He personally lobbied Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao to secure $15 million in federal grant money for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) in Blacksburg, and helped include $24 million in the end-of-year spending package for continued research at sites like the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP).

FOR VIRGINIA’S DIVERSE COMMUNITIES

African-American History Commission Funding: As part of the end-of-year appropriations bill, Sen. Warner helped secure $3 million in funding for the 400 Years of African-American History Commission, which was established by legislation Sen. Warner passed with Rep. Bobby Scott and Sen. Kaine in 2017.

Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal: In November, bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sens. Warner and  Kaine to award four African-American women scientists the Congressional Gold Medal for their work at NASA Langley was signed into law by President Trump.

Passed the FUTURE Act: Yesterday, the President signed into law the bipartisan FUTURE Act, legislation Sen. Warner supported that permanently restored $255 million in annual funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) that expired on September 30. Virginia is home to five HBCUs – Virginia Union University, Norfolk State University, Virginia State University, Hampton University, and Virginia University of Lynchburg – that last year received more than $4 million in funding through the program.

Money for Historically Black Colleges and Universities: In addition, the appropriations bill includes another $93 million to support HBCUs and MSIs, providing money for HBCUs in Virginia to make campus improvements and strengthen financial management, academic resources and endowment-building capacity.

Saved Historic HBCU Sites: With Sen. Warner’s support, Congress renewed the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Grant Program, a public lands program that supports the preservation of sites on HBCU campuses that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Last year, Virginia Union, Hampton University, Virginia State, and Virginia University of Lynchburg received grants totaling $2.27 million under the HBCU grant program.

TPS for El Salvador: After the Trump Administration announced plans to end the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) designation that allows nearly 200,000 Salvadorans to live and work in the U.S., Sen. Warner successfully urged the Administration to reverse course and extend the TPS designation for El Salvador, allowing 21,500 Salvadorans to continue working, living and thriving in Virginia.

Reversing Foreign Aid Cuts to Northern Triangle countries: Following an outcry by Sen. Warner and other lawmakers, the Trump Administration reversed plans to block aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras (together commonly referred to as the Northern Triangle countries). Sen. Warner has also introduced legislation to tackle the root causes of the migrant crisis forcing many women, children and families from those countries to seek refuge in the U.S.

Ensuring an Accurate Census: Sen. Warner successfully pushed back on the Trump Administration’s attempts to add a politically-motivated question about citizenship to the 2020 census.

Virginia Tribes: As part of the appropriations package, Sen. Warner secured $1.281 million for the New Tribes program, an increase of $161,000 over last year. In 2018, Sen. Warner and Sen. Kaine successfully passed legislation granting federal recognition to six Virginia tribes.

FOR VIRGINIA FARMERS AND PRODUCERS

Reversing the Chinese Ban on U.S. Poultry: In November, the Chinese government announced that it was lifting its import ban on U.S. poultry products that had been in place since 2015. Opening up the China market has been a top Warner priority since the ban was announced. The Virginia poultry industry has estimated that the lifting of the ban could boost the Commonwealth’s poultry exports by over $20 million a year.

Industrial Hemp Crop Insurance: Following the 2018 passage of Warner-sponsored legislation legalizing industrial hemp, Sen. Warner successfully led an effort to include Virginia in a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) crop insurance pilot program. Crop insurance is often critical for farmers to guard against unforeseen disasters. Drafts of this pilot program initially did not include Virginia, potentially giving growers in other states an unfair advantage in the new market. Following a bipartisan effort to persuade Agrilogic, the private company selected by USDA to run the pilot program, Virginia was included.

FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC LANDS

Record levels of Chesapeake Bay Funding: Sen. Warner – in coordination with other Chesapeake Bay delegation members – was able to secure $85 million for EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, record funding for the program. The Chesapeake Bay Program coordinates Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration and protection efforts throughout the region, and the majority of its funds are passed through to the states and local communities for on-the-ground restoration. The Chesapeake Bay Program is managed by the EPA through the Chesapeake Bay program office. In his initial budget requests, the President proposed slashing Chesapeake Bay funding to just $5 million.

Permanently Renewed LWCF: Sen. Warner supported a successful effort to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which protects and preserves Virginia’s public lands.

Passed the Good Samaritan Search and Recovery Act: Sen. Warner was able to secure passage of the Good Samaritan Search and Recovery Act in the Natural Resources Management Act (S.47). This legislation allows Good Samaritans, or eligible search and recovery operations, expedited access to certain public lands so that they may conduct searches for missing persons. Sen. Warner’s involvement in this issue was prompted by the experience of Jodi Goldberg of Alexandria, whose brother, Keith, was killed and whose body was left at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Las Vegas, Nevada in 2012. His family worked for 10 months to get the permits and secure a one million-dollar liability insurance policy required by the National Park Service before it would allow a trained volunteer search and recovery team to search for his body in the national park.

Passed 9/11 National Memorial Trail Resolution: Sen. Warner with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) secured Senate passage of the 9/11 National Memorial Trail resolution. This resolution highlights the significance of the September 11th National Memorial Trail – a 1,300-mile network of roads and paths that connect the Pentagon Memorial (Arlington, Va.), the Flight 93 National Memorial (Shanksville, Pa.), the National September 11th Memorial and Museum (New York City, N.Y.), and the 9/11 Memorial Garden of Reflection (Yardley, Pa.). The NMT also passes through parts of Maryland, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.

FOR FAMILIES, WORKERS AND CONSUMERS

Ashanti Alert Act Implementation Funding: President Trump signed into law Sen. Warner’s bill to establish a nationwide alert system for missing adults at the end of last year, but the Department of Justice has been too slow to get the Ashanti Alert up and running. As part of his efforts to pressure DOJ to start saving lives with this system, Sen. Warner secured language in the end-of-year spending bill requiring the Department of Justice to provide Congress with a progress report of the Ashanti Alert implementation within 30 days. Additionally, the legislation requires that the DOJ establish a firm deadline for full implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act no later than 90 days after the funding bill is signed into law. The law is named after Ashanti Billie, the 19-year-old who was abducted in Norfolk, Va. on September 18, 2017, and whose body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing.

Ending Annoying Robocalls: On Thursday, Congress sent President Trump a Warner-backed bill cracking down on illegal robocall scams, setting the bill up to become law in the coming days. The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act gives regulators more time to find scammers, increases civil forfeiture penalties for those who are caught, requires service providers to adopt call authentication and blocking, and brings relevant federal agencies and state attorneys general together to address impediments to criminal prosecution of robocallers who intentionally break laws.

Saving Money on Health Care: Congress signed off on Sen. Warner’s bill to reauthorize the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), the independent nonprofit corporation established under the Affordable Care Act to save Americans money on their health care costs and help patients better understand their diagnostic and treatment options.

Researching the Causes of Gun Violence: For the first time in 20 years, Congress signed off this week on $25 million to support scientific studies on gun violence, which kills more than 1,000 Virginians annually. Sen. Warner introduced legislation earlier this year to fund firearms safety and gun violence prevention research at the at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Investing in Workers: For years, Sen. Warner has been calling for companies to do a better job investing in their workforce. After Sen. Warner weighed in, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently proposed modernizing the reporting and disclosure of human capital management practices, which will allow investors to see whether a company is making the appropriate investments in its workforce.

Beach Safety: Sen. Warner successfully encouraged the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to launch a public awareness campaign about the dangers of improperly secured beach umbrellas, after a woman was killed in Virginia Beach in 2016 when she was struck in the torso by an airborne beach umbrella.

Export-Import Bank: As part of the appropriations package, the Export-Import Bank was reauthorized for seven years through 2026. Last year, the Ex-Im Bank supported $51 million in Virginia exports.

Brand USA: Sen. Warner sponsored legislation, which was included in the appropriations package, to reauthorize the Brand USA Program through 2027. Brand USA is a highly effective public-private promotion program which drives important foreign tourism to the Commonwealth. Last year, 1.1 million international tourists spent $2 billion visiting Virginia.

Law Enforcement: Sen. Warner helped secure $547.2 million for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program, the leading source of federal justice funding for state and local jurisdictions, supporting a range of law enforcement and courts programs. Sen. Warner also helped secure $235 million for the COPS Hiring Program, placing 1,300 more police officers on the streets of our communities.

CASEWORK – BY THE #’S

One of Sen. Warner’s most integral duties is assisting constituents with federal services, like Social Security, Medicare, veterans or military affairs, taxes, passports, and immigration issues. Each year, Sen. Warner’s office assists thousands of Virginians in navigating the federal bureaucracy. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

Number of Casework Letters Sent – 13,723

Cases Closed – 2,259

Agency Funds Recouped to Virginians: Nearly $7 million from the IRS, VA, Social Security Administration, and other agencies

Just a couple of highlights from a busy year in casework:

Homecoming: Sen. Warner’s office assisted former UVA Women’s Basketball Coach Joanne Boyle with an immigration issue that had prevented her from bringing her adopted daughter home from Senegal. You can read more about her daughter’s story at ESPN.com.

Approved: After 21-month-old Daryn Sullivan was denied access to a life-changing gene therapy by her insurance company because of its cost, Sen. Warner’s office worked her family to get that decision reversed. You can read more in the Washington Post.

Sen. Warner also helped secure hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grant money for projects all over Virginia: whether it’s major bucks ($50 million to Virginia Commonwealth University to research the long-term impacts of mild traumatic brain injuries or concussions on service members and veterans … $60 million to expand access to affordable housing in Norfolk and Newport News) or smaller amounts ($400,000 to the University of Virginia to expand telemedicine treatment in underserved parts of Virginia), every federal $ makes a BIG difference at home.

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Legislative Update

Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – September 20, 2020

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After months of Speaker Pelosi keeping the House in recess due to COVID-19, we finally returned to regular order this week to conduct the business of the people. Aside from passing important legislation in the Judiciary Committee, particularly one bill related to Alzheimer’s, the House also resumed a full schedule of votes before the whole House. I also took to the Floor this week to support our brave law enforcement officers and to call for the restoration of the Rule of Law in our communities. Additionally, we saw exciting news from the White House as a historic Middle East peace deal was signed on the South Lawn. And finally, on Tuesday, I joined my Republican colleagues on the steps of the Capitol as we laid out our Commitment to America.

Supporting Law Enforcement:
Over the past several months, we have heard politicians, pundits, and riot participants vilifying our Nation’s law enforcement officers – brave men and women who have sworn an oath to protect and serve their communities. This week, following the tragic ambush of two LA County Sheriff’s Deputies, I took to the House Floor to call for the restoration of the Rule of Law in our country and urged my Democrat colleagues to stop using hateful, violent rhetoric when speaking about police officers. Since the beginning of the year, 193 members of law enforcement have been killed in the line of duty. We cannot continue to dishonor their memory by advocating that we dismantle or disband police departments.

Fighting Alzheimer’s:
Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and more than 5 million Americans are currently suffering from it. And while medical advancement has led to a decrease in the number of deaths for many illnesses, Alzheimer’s is unfortunately not one of them. Over the past 20 years, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased a startling 146% and nearly 1 in 3 seniors die from it or another dementia-related illness. That is why I was pleased this week that the Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 6813, the Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness to Prevent Elder Abuse Act, the legislation of which I am a cosponsor. This bill would require the Department of Justice to develop training materials to assist professionals in supporting victims of abuse living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. This legislation is crucial to ensuring our Nation’s seniors are receiving the quality care they deserve. As World Alzheimer’s Day approaches next week, it is my hope that Speaker Pelosi will call this bill for a vote in front of the whole House. To learn more about H.R. 6813, please click here.

Commitment to America:
This week, I joined my Republican colleagues on the Capitol steps as we formally unveiled our caucus’ “Commitment to America”. This plan calls for restoring our way of life, rebuilding the greatest economy in the world, and renewing the American Dream. Our vision for our Nation differs drastically from that of the Democrats, which promotes a message of defund, dismantle, and destroy. To learn more about our “Commitment to America,” click here.

Promoting Peace in the Middle East:
This week, President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, and King Hamad Al Khalifa signed the Abraham Accords at the White House, normalizing relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. This historic agreement is the most significant step toward peace in the Middle East in more than 25 years, and it will bring about greater stability to the region while also increasing pressure on America’s adversaries. To read more about this notable agreement, click here.

Coronavirus Food Assistance Program:
From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, this Administration has been committed to supporting our Nation’s producers – most notably through the Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Since April, this program has provided critical support to farmers and ranchers, helped maintain the integrity of our food supply chain, and ensured that every American continues to receive and have access to the food they need. This week, the President announced that the program would be expanded and receive an additional $14 billion beginning September 21. To learn more or to apply for assistance, please click here.

Vaccine Update:
While vaccines typically take years to produce, the world’s leading scientists and researchers are hard at work to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine at record speeds. There are currently 9 vaccines in Phase 3 of clinical trials meaning they are undergoing large-scale efficacy testing, and 5 have even been approved for early and limited use. The medical community is hopeful that we can have a large-scale vaccine approved by early next year. To learn more, click here.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your congressman. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for the latest updates.

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Legislative Update

Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – September 6, 2020

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legislation and have begun to negotiate the outlines of an agreement to fund the government after October, no Floor action is scheduled in the House next week. However, House committees will be busy meeting next week to consider several pieces of legislation. This week also brought announcements from the Administration concerning White House tours and a telephone town hall for veterans. It was a great week traveling the Sixth District, and I continue to enjoy the opportunity to hear from constituents daily at events throughout our community.

Business Expansion:
This week I was pleased to join Bloomaker, the leading producer and supplier of hydroponically grown flowers in the U.S., as they broke ground on a 22,000 square foot expansion of their facility in Waynesboro. This new warehouse will allow them to meet their largest demand to date and ship nearly 1.5 million amaryllis bulbs to stores across the country. The company currently employs more than 100 part-time seasonal workers to help with the planting, harvesting, packaging, and shipping of its blooms and has plans to further expand its Waynesboro facility in the near future.

It was also announced this week that VIRTEX, an electronics manufacturing service company that provides services to military, aerospace and medical customers, would be introducing a new product line at its facility in Waynesboro. This expansion will create at least 40 new manufacturing jobs for area residents and is another example of our continued economic recovery.

Supporting Child Nutrition:
I recently joined my Republican colleagues on the Education and Labor Committee in writing to Secretary Perdue urging the Department of Agriculture to review flexibilities allowed under law to our Nation’s child nutrition program. Utilizing such flexibilities at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis allowed schools to provide meals to students in need and employing them again would enable educational institutions to continue doing so. I was pleased that Secretary Perdue agreed with our recommendation and this week authorized schools to continue to provide meals to vulnerable students through the end of 2020. To read more about the USDA’s decision, click here. To read the full letter my colleagues and I sent to Secretary Purdue, click here.

COVID-19 Update:
This week, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine entered Phase 3, the final phase of clinical trials. The Federal Government’s task force, Operation Warp Speed, now has three vaccine candidates in the final phase of clinical trials. Earlier this month, the FDA Commissioner emphasized that no matter what, only a safe, effective vaccine will get final approval.

Currently, vaccine developers are searching for thousands of volunteers for these clinical trials. If you wish to participate or would like more information, click here. Additionally, there is a need for plasma donations from those who have recovered from COVID-19 that may help treat people who have recently contracted the coronavirus. To find out if you are eligible and how to donate, click here. Fueled by American ingenuity, scientists and doctors are working around the clock to develop a vaccine, improve and increase testing, and create more effective treatment plans.

Veterans Benefits Administration Telephone Town Hall:
The Under Secretary of the Veterans Benefits Administration, Dr. Paul Lawrence, will be hosting his second Virginia state-wide telephone town hall next Wednesday at 4 pm for veterans in Virginia. He will discuss the benefits our service members have rightly earned and then will take questions for approximately 45 minutes. To participate, dial (833) 380 -0417 during the time of the call.

White House Tours:
While most tours of federal buildings, including the U.S. Capitol, remain suspended due to COVID-19, the White House announced this week that tours will resume in a limited capacity on September 12. Tours will be hosted two days a week instead of five, on Friday and Saturday, from 8:00 am to 11:00 am and the number of guests will be limited to 18% of normal capacity. Further, safety precautions will be in place such as the requiring of wearing masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizer will be readily available. To learn more about White House tours, please click here or call my office at (202) 225-5431.

Schools Reopening:
With school-aged children of my own, I am aware of the uncertainty that surrounds sending kids back to school. To help clarify school plans, over the last few weeks, I have tried to provide you with the most up-to-date reopening information on school districts across the Sixth District. The below schools are slated to begin instruction this week.

Amherst County Schools: School will start September 9th
• All elementary school students will be in school Monday through Thursday with block scheduling in place
• For middle and high school students, they will be split into groups. One group will go to school on Mondays and Wednesdays, the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with both groups doing at-home instruction on Fridays.
• Virtual learning is available for those who have requested.

Bedford County Schools: First day of school pushed back to September 8th
• Pre-K through sixth grade students will attend school daily starting after Labor Day for face-to-face instruction with reduced class sizes so physical distancing can be achieved.
• Seventh graders, eighth graders and high schoolers will receive primarily virtual instruction in the fall, with each student connected to a “learning coach” throughout the school day to provide support and determine days when students may need to come into buildings for individual or small-group interactions with teachers.

Highland County Schools: First day of school set for September 8th
• In-school option Plan A will have students attending school 5 days a week.
• Parents may choose Plan B for their students to have 100% virtual learning.

Lexington Schools: School set to begin remotely on September 8th
• 100% virtual start for the fall semester.
• The school board passed the changes at a remote special session Monday night, and will consider what to do next no later than its next meeting in October.

Rockbridge County Schools: Start date pushed back to September 8th
• Students grades 2 through 12 will learn 100 percent virtually for the first nine weeks.
• Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st grade students will attend in-person learning four days per week, breaking on Wednesdays for building sanitation.

Rockingham County Schools: School set to open on September 10th
• Students will begin the year 100% virtual for grades 2-12 and will then transition to a hybrid model of both distance and virtual learning.
• Grades PK-1 will come to school 4 days of the week.

Warren County Schools: School board will vote to push back start date to September 8th
• Preschool through 12th grade students will participate in a combination of in-person and remote instruction each week.
• Parents were asked to fill out an intent form online by July 17 to let school officials know whether their student would be attending classes online through the virtual academy or in person.

For a full list of public schools’ reopening plans, please click here.

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Legislative Update

Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – August 23, 2020

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As I crisscrossed the Sixth District this week listening and talking with constituents, I was consistently reminded of the hard work and resilience of those I am honored to represent in Congress. Once again, I visited the City of Staunton to see the rebuilding following the devastating flooding in the Queen City two weeks ago. In an effort to obtain federal FEMA assistance for affected residents, I wrote to the Governor requesting an expedited Emergency Declaration from the Commonwealth to get the folks in the area back on their feet in a timely manner. Also, I introduced a third bipartisan government reform initiative with my colleague Congressman Dean Phillips (D-MN-03), and the Speaker called us back to Washington to vote on a politically motivated bill affecting the Postal Service.

48-Hour Bill Review Resolution:
One of the most basic principles of representative government is transparency. That’s why this week, Congressman Dean Phillips (D-MN-03) and I introduced H. Res. 1086 – the 48-Hour Bill Review Resolution. H. Res. 1086 would require that in addition to the 72-hour notice for bill introduction, the actual text to be voted on must be published at least 48-hours before the vote. Adding this rule strengthens the current 72-hour rule by providing an additional layer of protection for the legislative text being considered, thus closing a loophole used far too frequently in Congress. Further, the 48-Hour Bill Review Resolution would require the House to pass an altogether separate resolution in order to waive the waiting period required under H. Res. 1086. This resolution would promote greater transparency and accountability in the legislative process. This is the third government reform bill Congressman Phillips and I introduced this month. In the past few weeks we have also introduced H.R. 7949, the SMART Government Act and H.R. 8022, the Lobbying Disclosure Reform Act.


Politicization of the USPS:

The United States Postal Service provides a vital national service, especially for those in rural areas. With many self-quarantining due to COVID-19, the reliance on the post office for delivery of things like medicine and daily household goods has become even more important. Both parties and past Presidential Administrations realize this and have made bipartisan efforts to reform and strengthen the current postal system.

Unfortunately, this bipartisan tradition has been put in danger by Speaker Pelosi in an effort to score political points. Congress was called into session this week to vote on legislation that would prohibit any further reforms to the USPS, require a rollback of any reforms made after January 1, 2020, and allocate an additional $25 billion to fund the USPS, even though Congress provided an extra $10 billion line of credit as part of the CARES Act enacted earlier this year, and even though the Postmaster General recently announced that he would delay the implementation of any further reforms until after November.

For decades there has been an understanding that the USPS required reforms to meet changing landscapes and competition. Whether President Clinton, Bush, Obama, or Trump, the consistent message has been that in order to ensure financial viability, the USPS needed to continue to reform its operations. Speaker Pelosi could have had the support of most Republicans, including myself, if she had left politics out of the bill and focused on improving USPS operations. Unfortunately, House Democrats placed politics above policy and ended up with a bill that has little chance of actually being signed into law.

Fighting for Staunton:
On August 8, heavy rain and flooding wreaked havoc in downtown Staunton and caused more than $3.1 million in damages to property. Soon after, the City of Staunton provided the necessary data to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and requested an Emergency Declaration but two weeks after the flooding, the State has yet to act. This designation is necessary because state designation helps a locality qualify for Federal Disaster Aid through FEMA. Knowing this is an already difficult time for businesses and area residents, I wrote to the Governor urging swift approval of Staunton’s request for an Emergency Declaration to ensure that the Queen City can quickly begin to rebuild what was lost.

Emergency Relief Check Filing Deadline Extended:
The IRS has extended its deadline to September 30, 2020, for people to provide information to the agency using its Non-Filer Tool. Click here if you have not yet received your Economic Impact Payment and meet any of the criteria below.

• Receive Social Security retirement, survivors, or disability benefits, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments

• Did not file a 2019 or 2018 tax return

• Have a qualifying child under age 17

• Did not already enter information in the IRS’ Non-Filer Tool for yourself and at least one child

Schools Reopening:
With school-aged children of my own, I am aware of the uncertainty that surrounds sending kids back to school. To help clarify school plans, over the last few weeks, I have tried to provide you with the most up-to-date reopening information on school districts across the Sixth District. The below schools are slated to begin instruction next week.

Bath County Schools: Schools will open on August 26th
• 4 days/week (Monday-Thursday) and 1-day remote learning (Friday), however, parents may select 100% virtual learning for their children when registering.
• Information on the virtual learning option is included in the plan. If you have additional questions, contact your child’s school principal.

Botetourt County Schools: School is set to start August 24th
• The Botetourt County school board approved a plan for fall in which students in grades 3-12 will have two days of in-person class and then three remote days of learning. The younger students will be in school five days a week.

• Students in grades 3-12 will be assigned to either Group A or Group B and will go to school on Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday and will learn remotely the other three days of the week. Then, starting on Wednesday, Oct. 21, students will learn in person on Wednesdays too. Wednesdays will alternate between Group A and B days.

• Students can alternatively choose to take all their classes remotely. They will not be considered homeschooled, so they will still be eligible to participate in athletics.

Lynchburg Schools: Lynchburg City Schools will start 100% virtual on August 24th

• Students will begin the year with virtual learning, then transition to in-person learning. As originally presented, this option calls for the transition to in-person learning to happen after the first nine weeks of school, however, the specifics of how often classes would meet will be determined by whatever data is available at that time.

• No decision has been made regarding the future of athletics.

Page County Schools: School will reopen on August 24th

• High school students (grades 9-12) will be learning remotely this fall.

• Pre-K through second grade will attend in-person four days a week.

• Grades 3 through 8 will attend in-person twice a week.

• Wednesdays will be used as a remote learning day for all students, giving time to deep clean schools and for teachers to plan.

Roanoke County Schools: First day of school pushed back to August 24th

• Parents can still choose to have their students receive 100% online instruction if desired.

• There will be reduced class sizes for the students in K-2 who attend school in person five days a week. School leaders said some areas of the school, such as libraries and cafeterias, have been converted into classroom spaces.

• Students in grades 3-12 will be split into two groups and will attend school in person two days a week spread out in classroom spaces.

Staunton Schools: First day pushed back from August 18th to August 25th

• Virtual-only learning for the first semester of the school year.

• The hybrid model will no longer be used and the plan for virtual learning can be found at the link below when a plan is published.

For a full list of public schools’ reopening plans, please click here.

COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker:
While vaccines typically take years to produce, the world’s leading scientists and researchers are hard at work to develop an effective vaccine at record speeds. There are currently more than 165 variations of a vaccine being developed – 32 of which are already in human trials. Of those 32, 8 are in Phase 3 meaning they are currently undergoing large-scale efficacy testing, and 2 have even been approved for early and limited use. The medical community is hopeful that we can have a large-scale vaccine approved by early next year. To learn more, click here.

Source: New York Times, Jonathan Corum, Denise Grady, Sui-Lee Wee and Carl Zimmer



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Legislative Update

Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – August 16, 2020

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This week, I was pleased to return to work in the Sixth District. Although negotiations on a potential coronavirus relief bill have slowed, I am hopeful that we can reach a bipartisan agreement that addresses the needs of the American people and provides aid to those who need it most. Additionally, as schools begin to reopen, I will continue to provide you with the most up-to-date information on local school openings.

Lobbying Disclosure Reform Act
To promote greater transparency within the lobbying industry, I joined my colleague Dean Phillips (MN-03) in introducing H.R. 8022, the Lobbying Disclosure Reform Act. At the core of this bipartisan bill is the public’s right to knowledge of ongoing lobbying efforts. Americans are dissatisfied with the way things get done in Washington and updating the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) with these common-sense provisions is a strong step to modernizing our lobbying laws and placing more power in the hands of the people rather than the lobbyists.

This legislation is the second in a series of bipartisan reform bills that I have introduced with my colleagues aimed at continuing to improve government to better serve all Americans, especially those within Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District. For further information on this initiative, please click here.

Schools Reopening
As your representative, I aim to provide you with the most up-to-date information on local school openings. As we near the beginning of the school year, school districts across the Commonwealth are releasing information about their plans for this upcoming term. This information is current as of August 14, 2020, but may change as warranted.

For a full list of public school’s reopening plans, please click here.

COVID-19 Relief
As you know, recently the President issued Executive Order’s aimed at addressing some economic hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. It was the hope that this would also bring both the Administration and Congress back to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, it appears that there is currently little interest in doing so. I understand, due to issues related to COVID-19, there are those within the Sixth District who are in need and I urge you to contact my District offices if we can help you with a question or problem with a Federal agency or any pandemic related issues. They can be reached at:

Harrisonburg: (540) 432-2391
Staunton: (540) 885-3861
Roanoke: (540) 857-2672
Lynchburg: (434) 845-8306

Additionally, you may find the COVID-19 section of my website of interest. It is full of useful information and additional resources and can be found at cline.house.gov/covid-19.

VJ Day
This week marked the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, the precursor to the end of WWII. On August 14, 1945, President Harry S. Truman announced that Japan had surrendered in a press conference at the White House: “This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbor. This is the day when Fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would.” We must never forget the immense sacrifice of those that fought in the Far East and the Pacific. Their fortitude and heroism ended the world’s deadliest war and forever changed the course of history.


Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Congressman. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for the latest updates.

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Legislative Update

Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – August 9, 2020

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While I am home in the Sixth District and not in Washington, DC, know that I am always working on behalf of you. This week, House and Senate Leadership, along with the Administration, discussed an additional COVID-19 relief bill. As potential legislation develops, I will continue to monitor these ongoing negotiations. Further, to help fight red-tape and burdensome regulations, I introduced bipartisan legislation on Friday aimed at saving taxpayers potentially billions of dollars. There was also some excitement here in the District between the naming of a new Superintendent of Shenandoah National Park and the opening of a new emergency call center in Roanoke. And until the time that I am called back to Washington to further address the coronavirus, I look forward to spending time traveling our beautiful District and seeing the folks who I am privileged to represent.

COVID-19 Relief:
In the midst of House and Senate Leadership negotiations regarding an additional COVID-19 relief bill, the President took Executive Action this week to help those in need. In his order, the President provided $400 per-week supplemental unemployment payments to out of work Americans, extended student loan relief, and afforded protections to those facing evictions. The order also directed the Treasury Department to allow employers to defer payment of the employee portion of certain payroll taxes through the end of 2020. This action follows the recently introduced Health, Economic Assistance Liability Protection & Schools Act, or HEALS Act in the Senate.

Among its provisions, this legislation seeks to address several underlying issues still affecting our Nation during the coronavirus pandemic. As millions of Americans continue to face financial hardship, this legislation would provide a second round of direct Emergency Impact Payments to individuals to help them through these difficult times. Further, the bill continues enhanced unemployment benefits established under the CARES Act but lowers the rate slightly to help encourage folks whose places of business are reopening to go back to work, which will ensure the long-term viability of our economy and the financial stability of American families.

The HEALS Act also provides $105 billion in education funding to ensure our schools can open safely in the fall. Additionally, the bill extends the Paycheck Protection Program, which has allocated nearly $612 million to businesses right here in Virginia’s Sixth District and is currently supporting 70,000 jobs in our area. And finally, it affords liability protections to businesses, hospitals, and schools, which is vital as our country continues its phased reopening process. While House and Senate Leadership and the Administration continue negations on a final package, I am hopeful that bipartisanship will prevail and that a targeted relief bill is voted upon soon on the Floor. With that said, before passing another piece of coronavirus-related legislation, we must be mindful that there is still at least $500 billion that has not yet been spent from previous relief bills.

Representative Ben Cline said that he hopes to pass a bipartisan COVID-19 aid bill that will give aid to those in need, small businesses, and schools.

SMART Government Act:
The size and scope of the Federal bureaucracy often leads to waste at the expense of the American taxpayer. That is why my colleague, Congressman Dean Phillips (D-MN), and I have teamed up to introduce a series of reform bills over the course of the next few weeks.

This week, we introduced the bipartisan SMART Government Act aimed at promoting efficient technology use by Federal agencies. This legislation would implement a three-pronged approach to establish better governance and oversight regarding Federal technology practices. First, the bill would work to consolidate the more than 12,000 government data centers to not only save Federal dollars but to promote transparency within these facilities. Additionally, it would require Federal agencies to properly track and report their software assets to eliminate unnecessary redundancies in purchasing.

And finally, this legislation would mandate that documents transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration are done so electronically to ensure the government is better equipped to access its data and respond to individual requests in a timely manner. The Federal government invests more than $90 billion annually in information technology, and these measures are needed because, at this time, the Federal bureaucracy lacks the necessary oversight measures to protect against waste.

Blue Hills E-911 Communications Center Facility:
This week, I was pleased to attend the ribbon-cutting of Roanoke’s new 31,000-square-foot Emergency Communications Center. The building will house both Roanoke’s Emergency 911 Center and Virginia 811. Combined, these two entities field more than 1.5 million calls from area citizens each year. The new facility will not only benefit day-to-day operations, but it will also prove beneficial for handling major events and multi-jurisdictional incidents. This public-private partnership was born of a mutual need for better space to dispatch professionals in response to incoming calls. This project will undoubtedly help both organizations best serve our community.

Shenandoah National Park:
Shenandoah National Park not only provides tremendous outdoor recreation to Sixth District residents but also serves as a tourist destination and economic driver for our region. I am excited by the announcement of Patrick Kenney as the new Superintendent, and his experience as the Deputy Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park will serve him well.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Congressman. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for the latest updates.

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Reps. Cline and Phillips introduce bipartisan bill to promote efficient technology use by federal agencies

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Congressmen Ben Cline (VA-06) and Dean Phillips (MN-03) introduced H.R. 7949 – the SMART Government Act. This legislation would implement a three-pronged approach to establish better governance and oversight regarding Federal technology practices.

H.R. 7949 would:
1. Work to consolidate the more than 12,000 government data centers, which would not only save federal dollars but would promote transparency within these facilities.
2. Require Federal agencies to properly track and report their software assets to eliminate unnecessary redundancies in purchasing.

3. Mandate that documents transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration are done so electronically to ensure the government is better equipped to access its data and respond to individual requests in a timely manner.

Rep. Cline said, “The Federal government invests more than $90 billion annually in information technology yet lacks the necessary oversight measures to protect against waste. The SMART Government Act is a first step in working to promote a system of technological use that is more accountable to and efficient for the U.S. tax-payer.”

Rep. Phillips said, “We didn’t leave the Stone Age because we ran out of rocks – we found a better way of doing things. Congress is an 18th-century institution operating in a 21st-century world. In order to meet the needs of the American people, and save the taxpayer money, we have to update and innovate. The SMART Government Act will modernize our government and put us on the path towards being more efficient and responsive to our constituent’s needs.”

This legislation is the first in a series of bipartisan government reform bills that Congressmen Cline and Phillips intend to introduce together over the next several weeks.

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