Kansas Common Sense
Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thank you for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.
Pressing OPM Director for Answers about Data Breach Impacting Millions
On Tuesday, I pressed Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Katherine Archuleta for answers in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee about the recently-revealed data breach at OPM that impacted millions of current and former federal employees. I requested that the subcommittee hold this hearing because cyber criminals were successful in obtaining the highly-sensitive personal information of millions of federal employees, including Social Security numbers, security clearance records, financial and pension information, and other sensitive data that poses a threat not only to these employees, but also to our national security. While the OPM Director would only acknowledge 4 million records were stolen, an internal memo revealed this week shows that as many as 18-32 million individuals may be impacted by this breach.
At the hearing, I questioned OPM Assistant Inspector General (IG) Michael Esser about OPM’s dismal track record for managing information technology and security. Mr. Esser testified that for eight straight annual audits since Fiscal Year 2007, OPM had been warned about its Information Technology (IT) security. In its latest audit in November 2014, the IG offered 29 recommendations covering a wide variety of IT security issues. To date, just 3 of those 29 recommendations have been implemented. Most shocking, the IG testified that 11 of the 47 OPM IT systems were operating without a valid authorization and were vulnerable to attack. Of those 11 systems, 5 were under the purview of the Chief Information Officer – the individual responsible for technology at OPM.
During the hearing, I also questioned OPM Director Archuleta about how the agency reacted following news of three separate attacks last year, which Director Archuleta revealed during my questioning. In March of 2014, OPM detected adversarial activity on its own network. Then in June 2014, a company involved in background checks for the government, U.S. Instigations Services (USIS), suffered a breached impacting as many as 26,000 federal employee records including security clearance information. After a new contractor, KeyPoint Government Solutions, was hired to provide this service, they too suffered a breach incident in August 2014, where hackers were to obtain over 48,000 security clearance records. It was later revealed those stolen credentials were used to penetrate the OPM network. Director Archuleta was unable to articulate any action the agency took to better protect personal information after the 2014 breaches other than an IT modernization plan developed by the agency 20 months ago. This is unacceptable.
Following the hearing on Tuesday, I spoke on the Senate floor speech and called on OPM to provide full information to Americans about what was done to prevent the massive data breach. In my role as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee for Consumer Protection and Data Security, I will continue to press OPM for answers and work with my colleagues to require greater IT security at OPM as we consider the agency’s budget. To view a video of my questioning Director Archuleta, click here. To view my full floor speech, click here.
Speaking on Toxic Exposure at the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee
This week, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing regarding pending health care legislation, including two bills that I sponsor. The first bill is the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, which would strengthen the guidelines for prescribing opioids and improve pain management services at VA facilities. This follows from disturbing reports of VA hospitals around the nation over-prescribing pain-killers and other addictive medications. Our legislation is named after Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakiski, who tragically lost his life due to mixed drug toxicity at the Tomah, Wisconsin VA Medical Center. It is my hope that this legislation will help make certain our veterans suffering from mental and behavioral health conditions receive the quality care they deserve rather than just increasing the quantity of their prescriptions.
Another bill addressed at this hearing was the Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015, which is overwhelming supported by various Veteran Service Organizations including the Vietnam Veterans of America, AMVETS, The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Rolling Thunder, Inc. This legislation would establish a center at a current VA hospital for research into health conditions faced by descendants of veterans who were exposed to hazardous substances during their service to our nation – such as Agent Orange in Vietnam, neurotoxins during the first Gulf War, burn pits and chemical weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other chemicals or toxins. The evidence of these invisible wounds of war afflicting the children and grandchildren of service members exposed to hazardous substances is growing, and research is warranted to collect data and study this critical issue facing military families.
Exposure to chemical weapons have been a part of warfare since World War I and continue to this day. We must not allow toxic exposures and the impact they have on our nation’s heroes to be ignored. In fact, a recent NPR report regarding World War II veterans explains their decades of struggle to receive care from the VA for illnesses resulting from exposure to mustard gas and other toxic agents they were subjected to during experimental tests. Unfortunately, the VA has not lived up to its promise to thousands of these World War II veterans by not providing the health care benefits they deserve. Increasing research to address treatment for exposure-related illnesses is an important step toward making certain our veterans get the quality care they have earned. I am proud to support the military families who would benefit from this bill and the research it would accomplish. Click here to watch my remarks in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Senate Appropriations Committee Prioritizes Medical Research
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted to approve a Fiscal Year 2016 Labor-Health-Education appropriations bill containing $153.2 billion in funding. This amount is $3.6 billion less than FY 2015 levels, in order to stay within the discretionary budget caps set forth in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Given these constraints, I am pleased my Appropriations Committee colleagues and I were successful in including in this bill a more than $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – our nation’s medical research agency. This amount is around $1.95 billion above the President’s FY16 budget request for NIH and more than $880 million above number contained in the House bill. The boost is a significant step in putting NIH back on a sound path of predictable and sustained growth. It demonstrates to our nation's best and brightest researchers, scientists and students that Congress supports their work and will make certain they have the resources needed to carry out their important research.
NIH-supported research saves and improves lives, lowers overall health care costs, and is an economic engine that strengthens American global competitiveness. As a founding member of the Senate NIH Caucus, I believe that by investing in medical research, we are investing in our future. Strong, consistent support for the NIH will benefit our children and our country for generations to come, and I think that is something both parties agree on.
Modifying Truck Length Law for Hauling Custom Harvesting Equipment
Also on Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee continued its work to restore regular order this Congress by amending and passing the fiscal year 2016 Transportation, House and Urban Development Appropriations bill. Included in the legislation is an amendment I offered to allow the Kansas Legislature to modify its truck length laws for hauling custom harvesting equipment through Kansas. This narrow exemption will bring Kansas law in line with our neighboring states, improving safety and efficiency in the movement of equipment critical to getting grain and food to market. During harvest season, time is of the essence and this provision will strengthen the Kansas agricultural economy without adding a dime to the national debt. I was pleased to see my amendment pass by a voice vote. Click here to learn more.
Senate Finance Committee Approves Important Rural Health Bills
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare, approved several health care bills. Included in this legislative package were the following two important rural health bills of which I am an original cosponsor:
- S. 1461 is legislation to continue prohibiting the federal government from enforcing its unreasonable supervision regulations for outpatient therapeutic services on Critical Access Hospitals and other small rural hospitals in 2015. This bill would continue the prohibition signed into law last year covering 2014. I was the original author of this legislation, which was passed by Congress and signed into law last year. Click here to read more about this legislation. I continue to advocate for passage of the Protecting Access to Rural Therapy Services (PARTS) Act (S. 257) – bipartisan legislation I introduced to permanently address this outpatient therapy supervision issue. In the meantime, I am working to continue delaying enforcement of these problematic regulations so hospitals are able to provide important therapy services to patients in rural areas.
- The Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Extension Act (S. 607) would extend for five years the Rural Community Hospital (RCH) Demonstration Program. The RCH demonstration enables certain rural hospitals to test the feasibility of a Medicare reimbursement tailored for rural health care delivery. Currently 23 small rural hospitals, including four Kansas hospitals, participate in the demonstration. Click here to read more about this bill.
With committee approval of these bills, I urge them to soon be brought before the Senate for a vote.
Trade Promotion Authority Passes Senate
This week, the Senate voted to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). Trade positively impacts almost everyone and every industry in Kansas – farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, small businesses and workers – which is why I have long-supported TPA over my time representing Kansas in both the Senate and House of Representatives. In fact, every member of the Kansas delegation voted in favor of TPA’s passage and the legislation is supported by the Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Livestock Association and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. TPA does not give President Obama any unilateral power – TPA requires any future trade agreement to be reviewed and voted on by Congress in a transparent fashion before it goes into effect. This legislation does not open the door to illegal immigration or government control of Americans’ 2nd Amendment rights. If it did, the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Elizabeth Warren and other liberal Democrats wouldn’t have voted against it – they would have embraced it. TPA is not the same as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which I plan to evaluate on its own merits once publicly available for review in several months. If the Obama Administration negotiates a bad deal that does not respect the rule of law, I will aggressively oppose and vote against TPP.
TPA gives the U.S. trade representatives, including in the next Administration, the flexibility necessary to negotiate trade agreements that will increase export opportunities for the food grown and goods manufactured in our state. Kansas exported $12 billion worth of goods last year, directly supporting over 70,000 jobs in our state. Not all trade agreements are positive – I’ll fight vigorously against ones that are not good for Kansans – but overall free and fair trade with other nations that respects the rule of law is good for our state.
Increasing Energy Security with Master Limited Partnerships
This week, I joined Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, Congressman Ted Poe of Texas, and Congressman Mike Thompson of California in reintroducing legislation that will expand eligibility for American energy interests to structure as master limited partnerships (MLPs). The Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act (MLP Parity Act), S. 1656 and H.R. 2883, will allow the renewable energy sector to utilize the advantageous tax structure of MLPs currently utilized by oil and gas interests for project development. MLPs in essence combine the business development advantages of a corporation with the tax advantages of a partnership to facilitate easier access to capital markets. MLPs have been largely responsible for the growth in our country’s energy infrastructure. In order to grow our economy and increase our energy security, sound economic tools like the MLP should be expanded to include additional domestic energy sources. Allowing emerging technologies in the renewable energy sector to access this structure, American investors can drive development and commercialization as we seek opportunities to make our country more energy independent. This legislation simply builds on a successful model, and I look forward to working with my Senate and House colleagues on policies that will drive innovation, create American jobs, and grow our economy.
Introducing Safe and Efficient Trailer Delivery Act
On Friday, I joined Senator Pat Roberts and Senator Joe Donnelly in introducing S. 1692, the Safe and Efficient Trailer Delivery Act. This bipartisan legislation will allow two light or medium duty trailers to be towed at the same time – provided the trailers are empty, being delivered to a retailer for sale, and subject to existing size and weight limits. Under current law, trailer manufacturers are treated differently than car, truck or boat manufacturers in that they must deliver the vast majority of their products one at a time, which is expensive and inefficient for Kansas small businesses, and increases congestion on our highways. By recognizing the unique safety issues of light and medium duty trailers, this common sense legislation will allow trailer manufacturers in Kansas to deliver their products more easily at a reduced cost to consumers, while making our highways safer. Click here to learn more.
I joined thousands of Kansas country music fans at Country Stampede over the weekend including Coach Bill Snyder. Now in its twentieth year, this annual event is a four-day country music festival that hosts live performances from country’s biggest stars. I also had the opportunity to introduce award-winning country music star and judge of The Voice, Blake Shelton.
It was an honor to be joined on stage by Chairman of K-State’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War Mike McDermott and Manhattan Broadcasting President Rich Wartell. Both Mike and Rich served as infantry soldiers in the Vietnam War.
I also introduced veteran volunteers with the Military Vetearn Project — a Topeka-based charity committed to the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and suicide prevention. They are doing important work to make certain that when men and women return home they have the support they need. Thanks to Jeff and Marla Copper for arranging the details of my visit. (Photo credit: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Country Stampede)
Kansans in the Office
Kansas Cooperative Council
Leslie Kaufman of Topeka
Dave Spears of Valley Center
Jeana Hultquist of Wichita
Psychological Study of Social Issues Engagement Day
Laura Van Berkel of Lawrence
Anna Ladd of Shawnee
Drew Bennett of Emporia
Barbara Haynes of Emporia
Misty Opat of Manhattan
Air Medical Group Holdings
Tim Pickering of Wichita
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
Amy Beverlin-Coleman of Shawnee
Jessica Pfaltzgraff of Olathe
Pearl Hogan of Overland Park
American Nephrology Nurses’ Association
Jane Hafner of Fairway
Greater Kansas American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Barb Nelson of Lenexa
Jon Mares of Kansas City
Jared Auten of Lawrence
Citizens Climate Lobby
Lynate Pettengill of Lawrence
Tony Schmidt of Lawrence
Mark Shobe of Wichita
Austin Caridley of Wichita
Jessica Maldonado of Wichita
U.S. Presidential Scholar from Kansas
Clara Ma of Lenexa
Land O’ Lakes
Stan Stark of Haviland
Kansas Global Trade Services
Karyn Page of Wichita
Ronnie Leonard of Wichita
Theodore John Vlamis of Wichita
Malissa Nesmith of Wichita
Brad Vieux of Wichita
Kansas Department of Commerce
Pat George of Topeka
Pew Charitable Trusts
Jesse Ander of Olathe
International Hearing Society
Lora Cruse of Wichita
Monty Cruse of Wichita
Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals
Jacque Feist of Dodge City
National Grain and Feed Association
Glen Hofbauer of Overland Park
Gary Beachner of Parsons
Health Industry Distributors Association
Dennis Clock of Winfield
CNH Industrial North America Plant Managers
Jeffery Bolander of Wichita
Fort Hays State University
Mirta Martin of Hays
Associated Builders and Contractors Heart of America Chapter
John Stolte of Overland Park
National Youth Leaders Conference
Natalie Burton of Shawnee
Andrew Jonietz of Olathe
Melissa Rosenthal of Leawood
Brian Boisvert of Wilson
Rhonda Goddard of Hays
Scott Bannister of Caldwell
Trenton Boaldin of Elkhart
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Paul Freeman of Mission Hills
Stephanie Freeman of Mission Hills
Paul Freeman of Mission Hills
Bobby Freeman of Mission Hills
Griffeth Family Farms
Robin Griffeth of Jewell
Kansas Music Educators Association
Martha Gabel of Olathe
Alissa Gomez of Wichita
Gretchen Bixler of Maize
Avian Bear of Overland Park
John Taylor of Wichita
Mike Quilling of Garden City
Steve Oare of Wichita
Patrick Martin of Louisburg
Alice Martin of Louisburg
Leo Martin of Louisburg
Rev. Jerry Thomas of Shawnee
Darlene Thomas of Shawnee
Kirsten Abel Ruch of Lawrence
Jen Mitchell of Lawrence
Henry Mitchell of Lawrence
Rowan Plinsky of Lawrence
Elizabeth Donaldson of Berryton
Kyle Norris of Baldwin City
Austin Newell of Baldwin City
Lacey Vesecky of Baldwin City
Kyleigh Leslie of Lawrence
Tucker Gabriela of Eudora
Aimee Nielson of Lawrence
David Hogard of Frontenac
Susan Hogard of Frontenac
Kaylee Hogard of Frontenac
Anna Hogard of Frontenac
Douglas Borchardt of Pittsburg
Dick McClure of Olathe
Debbie McClure of Olathe
Lynnaya McClure of Olathe
Kaleah McClure of Olathe
Sarayah McClure of Olathe
Michael Sechler of Overland Park
Kristin Sechler of Overland Park
Mikaela Sechler of Overland Park
Catherine Sechler of Overland Park
Bradley Fangman of Shawnee
Colette Fangman of Shawnee
Randy Ackerman of Garden City
Linda Ackerman of Garden City
Captain Smith of Overland Park
Christopher Smith of Overland Park
Cahner Smith of Overland Park
Cameryn Smith of Overland Park
Captain Smith Jr. of Overland Park
Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Thank you to the many Kansans who have been calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the issues our state and country face. I appreciate the words of Kansans, whether in the form of a form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.
Very truly yours,
Newsletter Sign-up Form
Note: Fields marked with an * are required.