Congressional Roundup: Rounds seeks solutions for classified document mess

By: - May 21, 2023 6:00 am
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Sept. 28, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images)

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Sept. 28, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images)

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, is a cosponsor of a new bill proposing solutions to high-profile problems with the handling of classified information.

The sponsor of the bill is Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia. Four Democrats, three Republicans, including Rounds, and an independent are cosponsors.

Rounds said in a news release the bill would “increase accountability and oversight of the classification system, limit over-classification and direct federal agencies to justify security clearance requirements,” all with a goal of modernizing decades-old practices.

More Congressional Roundup

This is the latest installment in a series of periodic updates on the activities of South Dakota’s congressional delegation. Other recent installments:

“We place our national security at risk by adhering to a classification system rooted in the Cold War,” Rounds said.

He also said there’s a need to “rebuild trust between the government and the American people.” He did not provide examples, but classified documents have been found in the private homes of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and other high-ranking officials. Additionally, a Massachusetts National Guard member was arrested recently for allegedly sharing sensitive material in an online chat room.

The Sensible Classification Act of 2023 would:

  • Place classification authority with the president, vice president, head of an agency or a person delegated by an executive order, and specify how the authority is delegated and the training required to receive it.
  • Promote efficient declassification for records under the Freedom of Information Act or Mandatory Declassification Review.
  • Require training to promote sensible classification.
  • Alter the Public Interest Declassification Board by allowing for additional staff and permitting members to serve until a successor is appointed.
  • Direct the federal government to develop a technology solution for classification and declassification.
  • Direct federal agencies to conduct a study on the necessity, number and types of security clearances.

Assisting families of veterans with ALS

Rounds joined another bipartisan group of senators to reintroduce the Justice for ALS Veterans Act. It would help direct benefits to surviving spouses of veterans who died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Under current law, some veterans diagnosed with ALS do not survive the eight years the VA requires before their loved ones receive full benefits, Rounds’ office said in a news release. The bill would extend increased VA benefits to the surviving spouses of veterans who die from service-connected ALS, regardless of how long the veteran had the disease prior to death. 

Higher ed help for veterans

Rounds and Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii reintroduced the Student Veterans Transparency and Protection Act. The bill would improve veterans’ access to information about higher education and protect benefits for veterans who’ve been victimized by “predatory institutions,” they said.

The bill would give the Department of Veterans Affairs authority to reinstate benefits that a veteran paid to a higher-education institution that came under a civil enforcement action. 

It would also require the online GI Bill Comparison Tool to provide veterans with financial and student outcome information for all eligible institutions, and require VA education counselors to be trained on the tool.

“Through timely data publication, this tool will help veterans and service members steer clear of predatory institutions and select the best programs available,” Rounds said.

The bill is supported by numerous veterans’ organizations. 


Protection for Wounded Knee site

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., introduced a bill to preserve a section of land where hundreds of Native Americans were massacred by the U.S. Army.

“The Wounded Knee Massacre is a stain on our nation’s history,” Johnson said in a news release.

The Oglala and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes acquired land last year at the massacre site on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The tribes also signed a covenant to protect the land as a memorial and sacred site without development.

Johnson’s bill is The Wounded Knee Massacre Memorial and Sacred Site Act. His office said it would place the land in “restricted fee status.” That differs from other forms of tribal land ownership, including “trust status,” in which the federal government holds land in trust for tribes. Restricted fee status puts ownership directly in tribal hands with a restriction against selling or transferring the land.

The massacre occurred on Dec. 29, 1890, when U.S. soldiers tried to disarm a camp of about 350 Miniconjou Lakota people. Soldiers struggled with a man who refused to give up his gun, according to some accounts, and the gun fired into the sky. Chaotic shooting ensued. Fewer than 40 soldiers died, but the number of Native American deaths has been estimated at 200 or 300 or more, depending on the source.

Food and beverage names

Johnson and Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, joined a bipartisan group of senators and representatives in backing a bill they said would protect American food products from unfair trade practices by foreign countries.

The bill is the Safeguarding American Value-Added Exports (SAVE) Act. A news release from the lawmakers referenced common food and drink names such as parmesan, chateau and bologna, which are connected to geographic locations in Europe. The European Union “has begun using economic and political influence to implement unfair trade practices under the guise of protecting geographic indicators,” the lawmakers said. Those unfair trade practices have the potential to block U.S. agricultural products from international sale, they said.

The SAVE Act would amend federal law to include and define a list of common names for ag commodities, food products and terms used in marketing and packaging of products. The bill would also direct the secretary of agriculture and the U.S. trade representative to negotiate with foreign trading partners to defend the right to use common names for ag commodities.


Affordable housing

Thune and his Republican colleague Sen. Jerry Moran, of Kansas, reintroduced legislation they said would address a shortage of affordable housing by amending a 1930s-era labor law. 

That law is the Davis-Bacon Act. It requires construction contractors involved in certain federally funded or federally assisted construction contracts to pay their workers at least the prevailing wages of the vicinity in which the project is located. 

Thune and Moran said the Davis-Bacon Act can disincentivize the construction of affordable housing due to the costs and administrative burdens it imposes on construction contractors. The U.S. Department of Labor sets prevailing wage rates by reviewing voluntary survey data from construction contractors, which Thune and Moran said can be inaccurate or inconsistent. 

Among other changes, the Housing Supply Expansion Act would alter the way wage rates are calculated and create a working group to propose modernizations of the Davis-Bacon Act.

The bill is supported by the National Association of Home Builders and the Mortgage Bankers Association.

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