ESTABLISHING SAFEGUARDS FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Josh Hawley (R-MO), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, convened a hearing titled “Oversight of AI: Legislating on Artificial Intelligence.” The Subcommittee’s third AI-focused hearing featured witness testimony from Microsoft Vice Chair and President Brad Smith, NVIDIA Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President William Daly, and Boston University School of Law Professor Woodrow Hartzog.
Blumenthal discussed the bipartisan legislative framework he announced last week with Hawley, calling it, “a blueprint for a path forward to achieve legislation.”
“Our interest is in legislation, and this hearing, along with the two previous ones, have to be seen as a means to that end. We are very result-oriented,” said Blumenthal. “There is a deep appetite, indeed a hunger, for rules and guardrails. Basic safeguards for businesses and consumers, for people in general, from the panoply of potential perils. But there is also a desire to make use of the tremendous potential benefits.”
The bipartisan framework lays out specific principles for upcoming legislative efforts, including establishing an independent oversight body and licensing regime; ensuring legal accountability for harms such as privacy breaches, civil rights violations, and other actions that may endanger the public; defending national security; promoting transparency; and protecting consumers and kids.
Blumenthal called for, “Regulation that permits and encourages innovation and new businesses, technology, and entrepreneurship. And at the same time, provides those guardrails, enforceable safeguards that can encourage trust and confidence in this growing technology…It should be regulation that encourages the best in American free enterprise, but at the same time provides the kind of protections that we do in other areas of our economic activity.”
After encouraging feedback on the framework from colleagues, industry leaders, and others, Blumenthal stressed the need for action and said he hopes to present legislation by the end of the year.
“We need to learn from our experience with social media that if we let this horse get out of the barn, it will be even more difficult to contain than social media. And we are seeing that on social media, the harms it portends right now as we speak,” said Blumenthal.
EXAMINING INFLUENCE EFFORTS BY THE SAUDI INVESTMENT FUND
— Blumenthal, Chair of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), issued a subpoena to the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary, USSA International LLC, for documents related to PIF’s takeover of American golf and other investments throughout the United States.
“The Saudi’s Public Investment Fund cannot have it both ways: if it wants to engage with the United States commercially, it must be subject to United States law and oversight,” Blumenthal said. “That oversight includes this Subcommittee’s inquiry.”
The subpoena and a memorandum from Blumenthal to members of the Subcommittee outlining the importance of this information and previous unsuccessful efforts to obtain it voluntarily are both available here.
Blumenthal also convened PSI’s second hearing on Saudi Arabia’s influence campaign, which examined what is currently known about the PIF’s investments and influence efforts in the United States, how other countries may pursue similar strategies, and why further inquiry into PIF’s engagement with United States entities is necessary.
In the last several years, the Public Investment Fund – the Saudi Arabian government’s sovereign wealth fund – has dramatically increased its involvement in U.S. businesses and cultural institutions, including establishing the New York-based subsidiary subpoenaed this week. A review of PIF’s public filings show that its public U.S. holdings have increased from approximately $2.5 billion in 2018 to over $35 billion today.
In July, Blumenthal chaired a hearing examining the planned agreement between the PGA Tour and PIF regarding the future of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf and professional golf in the United States. Since then, Blumenthal has continued to seek information and documents regarding PIF’s growing investments in the United States. In July, Blumenthal wrote Yasir al-Rumayyan, Governor of PIF, renewing a June 21 invitation to testify before the Subcommittee in connection with an inquiry into the planned agreement between PIF and the PGA Tour, and requesting information and documents regarding PIF’s growing investments in the United States.
In August, Blumenthal responded to claims by representatives of Governor al-Rumayyan wrongly asserting that Governor al-Rumayyan’s government position prevents him from testifying about his involvement in PIF’s extensive U.S. business investments. In a letter to Governor al-Rumayyann, Blumenthal again renewed his request for testimony and documents in connection with an inquiry into PIF’s growing financial interests in the United States.
Blumenthal also sent separate letters to McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Teneo, and M. Klein & Company. All four entities have reportedly advised Saudi Arabia on PIF’s targeted investments in sports and on the Saudi’s larger strategic vision for PIF’s engagement with the United States.
SEEKING RECORDS ON SAUDI ARABIA’S ROLE IN 9/11 ATTACKS
— Ahead of the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and as part of an ongoing inquiry into Saudi Arabia’s attempts to influence United States, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) asked the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to provide the complete, unredacted records of Saudi Arabia’s role in the attacks and requested a full explanation of any ongoing need for classification of any portions of these records.
In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray, PSI Chair Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ranking Member Ron Johnson (R-WI) noted that since an earlier request for these materials in July, “we have not received a single document or obtained an explanation for any of the hundreds of redactions that remain, despite the government’s recent declassification review.”
“Your failure to respond to our letter only adds to our concerns about the U.S. government’s longstanding refusal to provide full transparency to the American public, and particularly for the families of 9/11 victims, about Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks,” the senators wrote.
EXAMINING THE COAST GUARD’S LACK OF TRANSPARENCY ON SEXUAL ASSAULT INVESTIGATIONS
— Blumenthal, Chair of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), and Ranking Member Ron Johnson (R-WI) opened an inquiry into the Coast Guard Academy’s mishandling of sexual assault investigations and its failure to disclose the results of its sexual assault investigation to Congress or the public.
In a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan, the senators also shared their concerns that “the leaders who oversaw or perhaps created the environment where misconduct occurred and did nothing must be held accountable. It is unclear whether those responsible have continued their careers in the Coast Guard, received higher positions of authority, or left service and escaped accountability all together.”
PROTECTING THE NATION’S FOOD SUPPLY & PREVENTING OUTBREAKS OF FOODBORNE ILLNESS
— Blumenthal and U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) wrote to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a review of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) efforts to address and prevent foodborne illness outbreaks. While the FDA has finalized nine major rules to help implement the Food Safety Modernization Act since it was signed into law in 2011, the senators expressed the importance of ensuring the agency helps farmers, food manufacturers, importers, and others prevent contamination from production to sale.
“We remain concerned that FDA’s oversight of our nation’s food supply continues to be inadequate to protect Americans from preventable foodborne illness outbreaks,” Blumenthal and Durbin wrote to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. “It is clear from recent events, like the infant formula crisis, there are serious deficiencies that have prevented the agency from acting quickly to address food safety issues.”
In addition to the infant formula crisis, Blumenthal and Durbin described the danger that contamination and foodborne illnesses pose to the public. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year nearly 1 in 6 Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die as a result of foodborne illness. The senators also cited an independent investigation by the Reagan-Udall Foundation which highlighted issues with the FDA’s, “organizational culture, leadership structure, access to resources, and regulatory authorities.”
Given these concerns, Blumenthal and Durbin requested the GAO undertake a review of the FDA’s efforts to effectively implement the Food Safety Modernization Act and reduce the prevalence of foodborne illnesses.
“All of us have an interest in ensuring the food we eat is as safe as possible, and we are committed to working to ensure all Americans have access to safe and accessible food supplies,” the senators wrote. “More than a decade after FSMA was enacted, it is important to ensure FDA has the resources and authority necessary to carry out its vital mission of protecting our nation’s food supply.”
BASING THE NEW C-130J AIRCRAFTS AT BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE
— Blumenthal reacted to the news that the U.S. Air Force selected Connecticut’s 103rd Airlift Wing based at Bradley Air National Guard Base as one of four units to receive a squadron of eight C-130J aircraft. The new aircraft will replace the unit’s current inventory of C-130H aircraft.
The decision comes after years of advocacy by the Connecticut Congressional Delegation, Connecticut’s Adjutant General Major, General Evon, and Governor Ned Lamont, as well as over $100 million of Congressional investments over the past decade to improve the infrastructure at Bradley Air National Guard Base. The 32 new aircraft that will be stationed at the four bases were added by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2022 and 2023 budgets.
“This fantastic news for Connecticut is a testament to the world class Bradley Air National Guard Base. This top notch facility, which is a national model for other Air National Guard Bases, will be a perfect home for the C-130J. With this recognition, Connecticut continues its proud history of supporting our military as it executes crucial missions and ensures our national security,” said Blumenthal.
RESTORING & PRESERVING LONG ISLAND SOUND
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in introducing the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Reauthorization Act. The Long Island Sound borders Connecticut and New York, with more than 20 million people living within 50 miles of the Sound’s beaches. Decades of high levels of pollution, dumping of dredged materials, and releases of untreated sewage have put the Sound’s wildlife population, fisheries, water quality, and surrounding communities at risk. The economic viability of the Sound, which contributes around $9.4 billion annually to the regional economy, is dependent on activities, like sport and commercial fishing, boating, recreation, and tourism. The current law is set to expire in 2023 and this bill would reauthorize a total of $65 million annually for water quality and shore restoration programs.
“Major investments in the Long Island Sound are vital to restore and preserve this environmental treasure,” said Blumenthal. “The Sound’s water, habitat, and wildlife help determine our quality of life, and provide huge economic benefits to both Connecticut and New York shoreline communities.”
HELPING FARMERS IMPACTED BY FLOODING
— Blumenthal and Murphy joined U.S. Representatives John B. Larson (D-CT), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Jim Himes (D-CT), and Jahana Hayes (D-CT) in a letter to leadership of the U.S. Senate and House Appropriations Committees requesting additional funding in either a fiscal year 2024 spending bill or fiscal year 2023 emergency spending legislation to help New England famers recover from devastating crop damage and loss.
“July’s historic flooding in the Northeast caused widespread damage across New England. The significant wind and rainfall from the heavy storms caused substantial harm to the region’s agricultural industry, destroying over 3,000 acres and causing sales losses of over $26 million in Connecticut and more than 2,700 acres and $15 million in Massachusetts. In Vermont, floods are estimated to have impacted up to 50% of all farmland in the state. For many farmers, the entirety of their crops will be lost this season,” the lawmakers wrote.
“To make matters worse, many of the farmers affected are poorly protected by existing USDA programs risk management programs. The small- and mid- size nature of many of these businesses make them a poor fit for the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) or Federal Crop Insurance,” the lawmakers continued, “Beyond program design, these farms do not have the resources to dedicate towards the often-burdensome requirements to maintain enrollment, especially with a uniquely diverse crop production.”
The lawmakers concluded: “There is precedent for Congress providing increased disaster assistance to farmers through annual spending bills and we believe such aid is again warranted. We strongly urge the committee to include this funding in any spending legislation that advances this year.”
TAKING ACTION AGAINST TELEMARKETING SCAMS THAT CLAIM TO RAISE MONEY FOR CHARITABLE & POLITICAL CAUSES
— Blumenthal announced a new oversight and legislative effort to combat telemarketing calls, online scams, and other fraudulent schemes that use charitable and political causes for private enrichment. In letters to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Blumenthal identified possible steps for legislation and sought agency feedback on additional measures to crackdown on telemarketers and scammers who evade federal and state scrutiny by hiding under the cover of Political Action Committees (PACs) and nonprofit organizations.
“These entities purported to raise money for political causes, veterans, firefighters, and cancer patients but spent most or all of their donations on fundraising, benefitting their ringleaders and the telemarketing companies they collaborated with,” Blumenthal wrote to the agencies.
In his letters, Blumenthal cited a recent New York Times investigation which found that while a telemarketing network raised $89 million in political donations for different causes, it only spent 1 percent on actual campaign activities and contributions. By updating FEC transparency requirements and exploring legislation and other recommendations, Blumenthal said, “Reforms should ensure that scammers cannot simply partner with knowns PACs to circumvent the law, and that PACs are accountable for the telemarketers and consultants they work with.” A similar scam was recently highlighted by the HBO series, “The Telemarketers.”
Blumenthal also raised the need for legislative changes to allow the FTC to enforce consumer protection statutes against nonprofits that enable or benefit from fraud or violating telemarketing rules, update rules and penalties for telecom providers and call centers who transmit illegal robocalls, and remove barriers the prevent the enforcement of wire fraud statutes, transparency requirements, and other laws.
“In order to ensure our laws are robust and vigorously enforced, I am engaged in an oversight and legislative effort to ensure that agencies have sufficient legal tools and resources to stop these deceptive telemarketing schemes,” wrote Blumenthal.
“As new technologies continue to make scams and robocalls easier, charity and PAC scams are likely to escalate, especially as we approach the upcoming Presidential elections. I therefore urge your agency to use every tool available to fight scam PACs, charity fraud, and other telemarketing scams that prey on Americans’ generosity and political passions,” Blumenthal concluded.
ADDRESSING AMERICA’S GUN VIOLENCE EPIDEMIC
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and 65 lawmakers in a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him to take further executive action to combat gun violence and limit the sale of assault weapons.
“We commend the important steps your Administration has recently taken on this issue, including steps to expand the scope of dealers required to conduct background checks, increase public access to information about dealers who violate the law, and more,” wrote the lawmakers. “Nevertheless, the American people expect the federal government to use every possible tool to reduce gun violence. Congress must act — and it is an ongoing tragedy that Republican leadership refuses to do so. We also believe you can exercise your executive authority to take additional action to address gun violence without congressional action.”
In March 2023, President Biden issued an expansive executive order to address gun violence, which included directing the Secretary of Defense to develop and implement principles to further public safety practices through Department of Defense (DoD) acquisition of firearms and directing the Attorney General to publicly release information about dealers who have violated federal firearm laws, among other provisions. Still, 2023 is on track to be the deadliest year for mass shootings in recent American history, with almost 500 mass shootings since the beginning of the year.
“The epidemic of gun violence demands that you use the full power of the executive branch,” the lawmakers continued. “With Republicans in Congress blocking further legislative action to reduce gun violence, we urge you to leverage the full scope of your executive authority on this issue.”
PREVENTING RECRUITMENT DELAYS & PRIVACY VIOLATIONS IN THE MILITARY’S ELECTRONIC HEALTH RECORD SYSTEM
— Blumenthal and Warren, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, expressing concerns about the implementation of the contract the Department of Defense (DoD) awarded to Leidos Partnership for Defense Health (Leidos) for the Military Health System (MHS) Genesis electronic health record system, after reports that the use of MHS Genesis may be contributing to delays in military recruiting, creating barriers to accessing benefits information, and invading the privacy of service members and military recruits.
Recent reporting has indicated that senior recruiting officials have raised concerns that the use of MHS Genesis during this process is “making medical screenings longer” and “has added an element of complexity to the accessions process for initial entry applicants”, contributing to unnecessary delays of recruits’ enlistment processes. In some cases, MHS Genesis is delaying the enlistment of individuals with long-healed or manageable injuries. For example, one recruiter reported that a healthy applicant had to wait two extra months to process her application because she had sprained her wrist when she was a child.
“These concerns have also been independently verified. The DoD Inspector General (IG) found that challenges associated with MHS Genesis led to ‘delays in medical waiver processing times ranging from 9 to 40 days’ for the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps. U.S. Army Recruiting Command analysis found that ‘it could take up to 70 days or longer for the necessary consultations required to determine a waiver.’ Although the services overcame these longer review times by prioritizing active duty waiver reviews and reassigning personnel, it is not clear if this is a sustainable solution for the total force,” the senators wrote.
PROTECTING VETERANS FILING BENEFIT CLAIMS
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), John Boozman (R-AR), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and U.S. Representatives Chris Pappas (D-NH) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), original sponsors of the Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding (GUARD) VA Benefits Act, are calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to enforce all existing protections for veterans filing initial claims for disability benefits and request additional tools they need to hold bad actors accountable for scamming veterans.
“With the PACT Act providing the largest expansion of veterans’ benefits in decades, veterans are increasingly becoming the targets of predatory, quasi-legal claims consultants,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “The Department must exercise every enforcement tool at its disposal and request those it needs to better protect veterans from bad actors looking to take advantage of them.”
Current law prohibits individuals and businesses from assisting a veteran in the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of a VA claim unless they are accredited through VA. Additionally, under current law, fees for assistance may only be charged after VA makes a decision on an initial claim and all fees can only be calculated based on a veteran’s retroactive benefits. However, VA and other federal agencies are limited in their ability to enforce the law because criminal penalties were eliminated from the statute nearly 20 years ago. For the past few years, VA has asked for reinstatement of criminal penalties, and the lawmakers’ GUARD VA Benefits Act would reinstate those criminal penalties for unaccredited claim representatives charging veterans unauthorized fees while helping file their VA claims.
The lawmakers continued, “Our mission is to protect veterans and ensure they are not paying unqualified individuals to receive their benefits. As co-sponsors of the GUARD VA Benefits Act to reinstate criminal penalties, we believe VA must enforce the law and protect veterans from unaccredited individuals looking at veterans as a payday. Veterans shouldn’t have to turn to outside consultants to work through the initial claims process.”
WARNING ABOUT PREDATORY FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in a letter to the President of the University of Idaho (UI) urging the school to reconsider its decision to acquire the University of Phoenix (Phoenix), a nefarious for-profit college with a history of preying on veterans, low-income students, and students of color.
The senators discussed a number of Phoenix’s predatory practices, including illegal recruiting of military service members, misleading advertisements, and hiring executives who led other defunct for-profit colleges. In their letter, the senators warn UI that Phoenix could use the acquisition as a way to pass Phoenix’s liability for its wrongdoings to UI, leaving UI financially responsible for borrower defense discharge payments to students wronged by Phoenix.
“Given Phoenix’s long record of poor student outcomes, deception of veterans, and entanglements in federal investigations and enforcement actions, we urge you to reconsider the implications of acquiring Phoenix, which could cause great harm to students and taxpayers not only in Idaho but also across the country,” the senators wrote.
CRACKING DOWN ON CRYPTO MONEY LAUNDERING
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and other colleagues in cosponsoring the bipartisan Digital Asset Anti-Money Laundering Act. The bill would mitigate the illicit finance risks that crypto poses by closing loopholes and bringing the digital asset ecosystem into greater compliance with the anti-money laundering and counterterrorism frameworks that govern much of the financial system.
“This measure will close loopholes to prevent money laundering, human and drug trafficking, and other terrorist activities facilitated through crypto,” said Blumenthal. “Holding crypto platforms to the same standards and regulations as financial institutions is common sense. Wrongdoers must be prevented from conducting criminal activity and evading law enforcement through digital assets.”
— Blumenthal attended an event recognizing Beth Hall for becoming the leader of Laurelton Hall.
“Congratulations to Beth Coyne on becoming head of school at Laurelton Hall. She’s an extraordinary educator! Her leadership marks a new exciting chapter for this magnificent girls school, whose graduates contribute so much through community service & fulfill its values & ideals.”
— Blumenthal visited the Bethlehem Fair.
“Muggy, sweltering summer’s end weather—but the Bethlehem Fair is always a treat. Thanks for all the hard work that makes it possible.”