Defense cuts, cybersecurity and IoT: Five Senate NDAA amendments to know

The Senate added 62 bipartisan amendments to the bill and will debate six more.

The Senate is planning to vote on its version of the 2021 defense authorization bill in the near future. This year’s package authorizes $741 billion for the military.

The Senate Armed Services Committee added 62 bipartisan amendments to the bill on its way to the floor. Six more amendments will be debated and voted on as possible additions to the bill.

Federal News Network sifted through the dozens of amendments to highlight the ones that matter most to you.

Studying cyber exploitation

Members of the armed services are often targets for cyber scams. Last year, the Defense Department even put out a press release to tell service members and their families to watch out for fake girlfriends, impersonation schemes and other tricks.

However, scams can also be a means of getting national security intelligence too.

An amendment from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) requires the Defense Department to conduct an intelligence assessment of the threat from foreign governments and non-state actors on exploiting service members and their families online.

It requires a case-study analysis of three occurrences of exploitation against service members and their families. Sasse also wants recommendations for policy changes to reduce vulnerability.

Cleaner audits

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to find out exactly what is going on inside the Pentagon. DoD has never been successfully audited, and it is far away from being fiscally responsible enough to do it. For the past two years it has audited itself and, to no surprise, failed those audits.

Sanders’ amendment would give the DoD components and military services a little more of a reason to keep their receipts. His amendment requires the DoD comptroller to issue guidance that would incentivize different agencies and services for audit achievements. Sanders leaves it up to DoD to decide what might motivate each agency the most, and gives the Pentagon 90 days to come up with a plan.

The Internet of Things

The military is trying to connect its weapons systems, and every other gadget and gizmo it owns, together through networks as much as possible. To do that it needs to make sure the bandwidth needed for the Internet of Things (IoT) is free and available.

Sen. Deb Fischer’s (R-Neb.) amendment would create a working group of federal stakeholders to identify regulations and challenges that could inhibit the deployment of IoT.

The group would also look at policies and programs to encourage coordination within the government, make recommendations on improving that coordination and find ways to keep IoT networks secure.

As a second matter, the Federal Communications Commission would look at the spectrum needs DoD will require for IoT and seek public comment on the current and future spectrum necessities.

CISA strength

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency keeps an eye on the nation’s communications resiliency.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) thinks it might need more authority to do that. His amendment would require a comprehensive review of CISA to look at its missions and how additional budget resources could support the national risk management mission, public and private sector cybersecurity, public-private integration and situational awareness of cybersecurity.

The amendment asks for an assessment of whether existing personnel are matched to cyber threats and if they have the resources to hunt threats, perform risk assessments and respond to cyber incidents.

One less step for contractors

Defense contractors may have a little bit less red tape to cut through when using areas where sensitive information is handled. An amendment from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) tells DoD to issue new guidance directing government agencies to allow contractors to process, store, use and discuss “sensitive compartmented information” in areas designated for it without getting further approval from individual agencies or installations.

Bonus amendment:

This amendment isn’t in the bill, but it is one of the six that will be debated and voted on. Another amendment by Sanders would cut the defense budget by 10% and reinvest that money into areas of high poverty through grants. The more than $70 billion would be used to hire teachers, make housing more affordable, and build community health centers and sustainable energy projects.

Don’t expect the amendment to pass, but there should be some interesting debate on how the government spends its money, especially during the coronavirus crisis.

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