TechNet President and CEO Linda Moore wrote the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on Aug. 12 to raise concerns with the current draft of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

TechNet, a bipartisan industry group representing innovation economy companies, explained that because “technology is increasingly vital to a strong national defense – and with cyber threats growing each day – we want to ensure our men and women in uniform have access to the most cutting-edge technologies available to defend the American people.”

Moore further explained that the NDAA needs to “continue to make significant investments in research and development of cutting-edge innovations such as artificial intelligence, 5G, and quantum computing, among others,” and that “achieving superiority in these emerging technologies is essential for U.S. national and economic security – and the U.S. tech sector has a vital role to play.”

In terms of how Congress should approach the NDAA, TechNet urged the legislators to design legislation that “recognizes that cyberspace is growing ever more contested as our adversaries’ technological capabilities have advanced” and said that the nation’s approach to cybersecurity “must focus on deterrence, modernization, and resilience. To this end, we support efforts by lawmakers to strengthen U.S. cyber capabilities and invest more in cyber research.”

Despite the letter’s recognition of the “all the work done this far” on the legislation, it did raise four issues with the two drafts of the legislation – two issues with the Senate bill and two issues with the House bill:

  • “S. 1790, Title II, Subtitle B, Section 212: Establishing secure 5G networks for warfighters and providing funding to start this effort at two Air Force installations. We have concerns about existing R&D provisions related to 5G, which would allow [the Department of Defense (DoD)] to work on and manage non-federal spectrum that the private sector has already invested billions of dollars in developing.  Granting this new authority to DoD would mark a significant policy shift by the federal government given that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has traditionally overseen and managed non-federal spectrum.  To be clear, we support measures to encourage the U.S. military to utilize 5G technologies but are concerned by this proposed power shift and its implications.
  • 1790, Title V, Subtitle F, Section 577: Improving employment opportunities for military spouses by making it easier for them to transport their occupational licenses when they move and extending the authority for the service branches to reimburse licensure and certification costs arising from a permanent change of station. We welcome this policy in light of innovations in online platforms that help facilitate work opportunities for these individuals.  It should be included in the final conference report.
  • R. 2500, Title V, Subtitle E, Section 550K: We urge conferees to remove language that was added during the floor debate as an amendment by Representative Katie Porter, D-Calif. This language would expand coverage of the Military Lending Act (MLA) to all veterans and military surviving spouses. We are concerned that this proposal is not workable from a technology standpoint or enforceable because a viable database for these groups to reference does not exist.
  • R. 2500, Title XVI, Subtitle B, Section 1615: Preserving language authorizing an increase of $5.2 million above the administration’s request for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency to acquire advanced cyber threat detection sensors, hunt and response mechanisms, and commercial cyber threat intelligence to ensure Defense Industrial Base networks remain protected from nation-state adversaries.”

In addition to TechNet’s concerns, Moore offered support for objects that have already passed as part of the Senate’s NDAA:

  • “Title VIII, Subtitle A, Section 801: Preserving the Senate-passed NDAA’s pilot program on intellectual property evaluation for acquisition programs.
  • Title VIII, Subtitle E, Section 852: Preserving the Senate-passed NDAA’s establishment of special pathways for rapid acquisition of software applications and upgrades.
  • Title X, Subtitle E, Section 1035: Directing development and implementation of a policy for transitioning data and applications in support of the DoD’s cloud strategy.
  • Title XLII, Section 4201: Preserving the Senate-passed NDAA’s increase of $57.5 million above the administration’s request for cyber basic and applied research. Preserving the Senate-passed NDAA’s funding authorization for the Defense Digital Service to support the modernization of DOD IT systems
  • Title XLVII, Section 4701: Preserving the Senate-passed NDAA’s increases of approximately $50 million above the administration’s request for advanced manufacturing, materials, and printed circuit boards.
  • Preserving the Senate-passed NDAA’s efforts encouraging the development and deployment of DoD AI systems in support of national security, including funding for Defense Innovation Unit AI research (Title XLII, Section 4201), extending the National Security Commission on AI (Title X, Subtitle E, Section 1042), and expanding AI research by the Department across several areas.
  • Funding for science and technology efforts to implement the National Defense Strategy, especially in the areas of AI, 5G, quantum computing, cybersecurity, and university research.
  • Developing a cyber roadmap for DoD’s science and technology activities.”

The letter also expressed support for parts of the House bill:

  • “Title II, Subtitle B, Section 230: Requires the DOD to assess the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce for organizations within it and identify the types and quantities of STEM jobs needed to support future mission work to ensure the military does not experience a knowledge or readiness gap.?
  • Title II, Subtitle B, Section 230B: Improves coordination between the federal government, industry, and academia to ensure global superiority of the U.S. in quantum information science necessary for meeting national security requirements.
  • Title II, Subtitle C, Section 243: Directs the DOD and Air Force to establish a Quantum Information Science Innovation Center and authorizes $10 million for that purpose.”

Moore concluded by encouraging lawmakers to work with TechNet and its member companies to “ensure the tech industry can remain a valuable partner in providing cutting-edge technologies to our service men and women.”

The letter further requested that the lawmakers ensure that the final NDAA “includes strong intellectual property protections and furthers DOD’s ability to leverage all existing commercial technologies and best practices in order to effectively meet mission needs and put taxpayer dollars to the most effective use.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.