Bennet Secures Provisions to Boost American AI Capabilities and Small Business Innovation in Final Defense Bill

Yearly Defense Bill Also Includes Bennet-Backed Provision to Rename Military Bases Honoring the Confederacy

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, announced that three of his measures to strengthen national security and defense were included in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the Senate.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the NDAA on Tuesday. It now heads to the president’s desk.

“From strengthening our nation’s artificial intelligence capabilities to driving small business innovation in emerging technologies, the provisions we secured in the annual defense bill will help our military respond to the ever-changing national security challenges facing our nation,” said Bennet. “The bill will also require the Department of Defense to finally rename U.S. military bases and assets that celebrate those who fought to defend slavery and the Confederacy. I applaud members of the House and Senate for working in a bipartisan way to pass this critical legislation.”

The final bill includes the following Bennet-led measures:

  • Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Incentives for Onboarding Small Businesses (Sec. 279): Small businesses in Colorado now receiving research funding from the Department of Defense (DoD) face challenges transitioning to contracts. This provision directs DoD to report options to transition more small businesses successfully from temporary contracts to full contracts. It also directs DoD to report on its progress in standardizing procedures and contracts for small businesses. Bennet developed this provision in collaboration with the Small Business Technology Council, which has many members in Colorado.
  • Strengthening AI Capabilities at DoD (Sec. 231): This provision, which Bennet introduced with U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), directs DoD to consider assigning personnel to the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center – the hub for artificial intelligence (AI) at DoD – in a way that better integrates the emerging technology across the force and improves innovation and AI adoption throughout DoD. 
  • Setting Global AI Standards (Sec. 231): This Portman-Bennet provision directs DoD to take steps toward setting standards for the development and implementation of AI in the defense industrial base and seeks to ensure the U.S. defense industry does not fall behind as China aims to set global standards.  

Bennet-backed measures in the final bill include:

  • Renaming Military Installations and Assets that Honor the Confederacy: Introduced by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), this provision requires the renaming of military installations and assets that honor the Confederacy within three years. In June, Bennet joined his colleagues in introducing similar standalone legislation. In November, Bennet pushed Armed Services committee leadership to retain the bipartisan, bicameral measure in the final FY21 NDAA. 
  • Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions and Benefits: Introduced by U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), this provision provides a presumption of service-connection for Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism for veterans exposed to certain herbicide agents while serving in Vietnam. Under a presumption of service-connection, specific conditions diagnosed in certain veterans are presumed to have been caused by their military service and therefore health care benefits and disability compensation may be awarded by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Bennet has continuously called for action to deliver Agent Orange benefits to affected veterans, joining his colleagues in condemning the Trump Administration for stonewalling critical benefits in November 2019 and February of this year.
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Study: Introduced by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), this provision increases the authorized funding for the five-year nationwide study on the human health implications of PFAS contamination in drinking water and other sources of water from $10 million to $15 million and enables DoD to transfer funds to ATSDR. 
  • Promoting U.S. Leadership in 5G Technologies: Introduced by U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), this provision supports U.S. innovation in the race for 5G, authorizing funding to invest in alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE. The provision, which is based on Bennet’s Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act with Warner, Burr, and others, aims to reassert U.S. and allied leadership by encouraging competition with Huawei that capitalizes on U.S. software advantages in order to accelerate development of an open-architecture model (known as O-RAN) that would allow for alternative vendors to enter the market for specific network components, rather than having to compete with Huawei end-to-end. 

The final bill authorizes the following military construction in Colorado:

  • $88 million for the Consolidated Space Operations Facility at Schriever Air Force Base (AFB). 
  • $15 million for a National Guard Readiness Center at Peterson AFB.
  • $15.6 million for a Special Operations Forces Tactical Equipment Maintenance Facility at Fort Carson.
  • $28 million for a physical fitness facility at Fort Carson.