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Committee Approves Graves’ Effort To Boost Cyber Defense and Veterans’ Services
Graves led effort to increase NATO cooperation against cyberattacks, increase IT security at State Department, Pro bono legal services and $1.3 billion in VA telehealth marked for America’s veterans

Washington, July 9, 2020 -

Today the full U.S. House Committee on Appropriations passed a number of funding bills that included provisions drafted and championed by Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-14). The provisions, detailed below, are part of Rep. Graves’ ongoing work this appropriations cycle to boost our nation’s cyber and telecommunications security. Today’s legislation also included specific language, supported by Rep. Graves, to boost telehealth capabilities for U.S. veterans as our nation continues to face the coronavirus pandemic.

Excerpts from Rep. Graves’ remarks during today’s markup of the FY21 State and Foreign Operations funding bill can be seen below.

“Over the last few months, we all have seen firsthand how important secure networks and reliable telecommunications systems are to our daily lives, and we now understand the role that we play in ensuring that our allies stay cyber-secure as well.

I appreciate this Committee for recognizing the importance cybersecurity plays, not only here at home within our own government, but also on a global scale.

This means, as included in this Manager’s Amendment, that we should be working with our NATO allies to ensure a standard response for cybersecurity attacks. We should start asking the questions about what actions might trigger an Article 5 response in the future.

It also means ensuring our State Department has updated cyber standards and full view of their IT assets to better protect against possible threats and malicious actors.”

Reporting on NATO standards and protocols for countering cybersecurity incidents

  • In the event of a cyberattack, there are no known standards to signify when a unified ally response is triggered, or needed.
  • A joint report on these protocols by the Department of State and the Department of Defense would reinforce a collective approach to cyber defense, and increase the resilience of NATO and its allies.

Report text: The Committee notes that in July of 2016 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) recognized cyberspace as a domain of operations in which NATO must defend itself as it does in other operational domains. The Committee directs the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, to report to the Committee on Appropriations not later than 180 days after the enactment of the Act on common NATO standards and protocols for countering cybersecurity incidents.

Directing the Department of State to maintain an accurate list of Information Technology (IT) assets

  • As reported by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the number of cyber incidents – including data breaches - between 2006 and 2015 increased 1300 percent.
  • In FY18, the State Department Inspector General contracted with an independent accounting firm to audit the Department’s information security program. It was ranked among the worst in the federal government, and showed that the Department does not currently have the ability to detect rogue devices on their networks.
  • One of the specific issues noted by the firm was the State Department’s failure to maintain an accurate and complete IT systems inventory.
  • This puts them at a disadvantage when identifying how to best protect personnel and national security data.  

Report text: The Committee has concerns that the Department of State continues to be at risk and a top target for foreign government hackers. In order to prevent potential cyber intrusions by unauthorized devices connected to agency networks and to protect the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of State employees, the Committee directs the Department of State to maintain an accurate list of Information Technology (IT) assets. The Committee recognizes the importance of maintaining accurate IT lists and the implementation of basic cybersecurity standards, so that sensitive data is not compromised.

Boosting telehealth capabilities and access for U.S. veterans

  • During the coronavirus pandemic, telehealth visits by veterans using VA Video Connect have increased 1000 percent.
  • VA Video Connect allows Veterans and their caregivers to meet virtually with their VA care teams on any device with an internet connection.
  • While the pandemic continues to affect all Americans, it’s important to ensure medical services for our nation’s heroes are being provided in a timely, safe and convenient manner.

Report text:  The Committee provides $1,329,566,000 for VA telehealth services noting that the VA used $250,000,000 of the funds allocated to it by the CARES Act for telehealth expansion. Committee notes that telehealth increases access to VA services for underserved veterans and twice mentions veterans living in rural areas. Committee directs the VA to make a plan to increase awareness, access consumer satisfaction, effectiveness, and use of telehealth and report to Congress on the plan within 60 days of enactment. Committee directs the VA to make maternal fetal medicine a high priority of their telehealth program and to report to Congress on the development of MFM telehealth services.   

Providing pro-bono legal services to U.S. veterans

  • In July 2018, The University of Georgia School of Law opened The Veterans Legal Clinic. The clinic serves veterans and their dependents, helping them to obtain the benefits they’ve earned.
  • Additional funding will allow for future expansion of similar clinics, and allow for more collaboration to increase veterans’ care.
  • Pro-bono services will be made available to help ‘silent’ veterans, who may lack access to legal or other services; vulnerable veterans, who may face special barriers to obtaining or keeping benefits; and low income veterans.
  • Legal services will include helping clients with benefits from the Veterans Administration and the Social Security Administration.

Bill text: The Committee recognizes an unmet need for holistic programs that offer pro-bono legal services to Veterans and their dependents. The Committee acknowledges existing VA initiatives that guide Veterans during benefit-related interactions with administrative agencies and believes that public land-grant university law schools are suited to complement existing agency efforts in underserved areas.

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