After two weeks of combing through nearly 1,000 amendments, the Senate late on Thursday night finally passed its version of the behemoth fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – and it’s packed with Federal tech and cybersecurity provisions.

The upper chamber began debate on the NDAA on July 18. After tacking on 121 amendments to the legislation, lawmakers approved the bill on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 86-11, just before members of Congress began leaving town for their August recess.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced two separate manager’s packages made up of 99 uncontroversial amendments to the NDAA; both passed on July 27 with nearly 100 percent bipartisan support. Twenty-two other amendments were approved on the Senate floor after debate – and requiring 60 affirmative votes.

“The NDAA is a prime example of both sides coming together, crafting a strong, bipartisan defense bill that will strengthen America’s national security, take care of our service members, and keep the United States the leader in innovation for years to come,” Sen. Schumer said after the bill was approved on Thursday night.

Here’s a look at some of the bill’s major twists and turns on the tech and cybersecurity fronts.

Floor Debate saw Bipartisan Support for China Concern

During floor debate, the Senate passed one tech amendment to make “critical down payments on our effort to outcompete the Chinese government by limiting the flow of investment and advanced technology to China,” Sen. Schumer said.

The Senate overwhelmingly backed an amendment to the NDAA earlier this week that would require U.S. companies to notify Federal agencies of investments in Chinese technologies such as semiconductors and AI. The 100-member legislative body advanced the provision with a vote of 91-6.

The amendment is a version of the Outbound Investment Transparency Act, offered by Sens. Bob Casey, D-Penn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, to address the risks of U.S. investment going to foreign adversaries like China.

Sen. Cornyn said that adoption of the amendment to the NDAA on July 25 was “a step forward for our national security and a clear signal the United States is taking China’s aggression seriously.”

First Manager’s Package Highlights AI, UFOs

Sen. Schumer’s first manager’s package included several high-level cyber and tech amendments for the NDAA – which sets up $886 billion of spending for the Defense Department (DoD) and the Energy Department, as well as delivers a 5.2 percent pay raise to America’s servicemembers.

Through the NDAA, the lawmakers passed their first piece of legislation related to AI technologies, Sen. Schumer boasted. The amendment includes important aspects of data sharing with DoD, and increases oversight on AI’s use in financial services.

The legislation also requires DoD to create a bug bounty program for AI models used in defense operations as well as an assessment of the vulnerabilities in AI tools used for military operations.

Sens. Schumer and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., also included their amendment – Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) Disclosure Act of 2023 – in the first manager’s package, which aims to increase transparency around UAP, also known as UFOs, and further open scientific research.

The 64-page provision would direct $20 million to the National Archives and Records Administration to create a collection of records to be known as the UAP Records Collection, and direct every government office to identify which records would fall into the collection. The UAP Records Collection would carry the presumption of immediate disclosure, which means that a review board would have to provide reasoning for the documents to stay classified.

Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and James Risch, R-Idaho, introduced the State Department Authorization Act as an amendment to the NDAA, which would require the agency to provide enhanced cyber protections – such as training and services – to personnel whose personal email accounts and devices are deemed at high risk of cyberattack.

The bill also requires the establishment of a chief AI officer at the Department of State, while also strengthening the role of the agency’s chief information officer.

Finally, the provision would create a Cyberspace, Digital Connectivity and Related Technologies fund and a Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership, both aimed at helping foreign governments secure cyberspace.

Second Manager’s Package Highlights Crypto, IC

The second manager’s package is sprinkled with several tech and cyber provisions, including a major cryptocurrency provision that was approved through that amendment package, according to a press release from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

The amendment would help prevent the use of crypto assets in illicit financial transactions by requiring regulators to set examination standards for financial institutions engaged in crypto asset activities, and require the Treasury Department to give recommendations to Congress regarding crypto asset mixers and anonymity-enhancing crypto assets.

The Informing Consumers About Smart Devices Act also made its way onto the FY24 NDAA. That provision would require the Federal Trade Commission to create disclosure guidelines for products that have audio or visual recording components that are not clearly obvious – such as refrigerators, washers, dryers, or dishwashers.

Sen. Schumer’s package also includes a provision for the DoD to establish a Chief Digital and AI Governing Council to provide policy oversight to ensure the responsible, coordinated, and ethical employment of data and AI capabilities across the department.

On the cyber workforce front, the bill calls on the Secretary of Defense to support cyber education and workforce development at institutions of higher learning for current and future members of the military and civilian employees of the DoD.

There is also a provision that calls to strengthen the cybersecurity of the western hemisphere by partnering with ally countries and sharing best practices to mitigate cyber threats.

The Federal Data Enhancement Center Act also hitched on the Senate NDAA. The bill aims to boost the physical and digital security of Federal data centers against potential threats.

Another provision on the majority leader’s second manager’s package is Sen. Mark Warner’s, D-Va., 220-page Intelligence Authorization Act – which has several high-level goals for the intelligence community (IC).

First, the bill will direct the Election Assistance Commission to conduct penetration testing as part of the certification of voting system hardware and software.

The amendment also has some workforce gold, including a plan to recruit, train, and retain personnel with experience in emerging technologies, and ensuring employment of DoD Cyber and Digital Service Academy students within the IC.

Concerning China, the IC bill calls for an annual assessment of the country’s technological capabilities.

Finally, on the AI front, the amendment calls for policies from the Director of National Intelligence on the technology, as well as an assessment of the risks and threats relating to AI.

“This forward-looking defense bill will go a long way toward keeping the American people safe, deterring conflict, and confronting the national security threats we face,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I. – who introduced the NDAA on July 11 – said after the bill’s final passage.

“This bipartisan NDAA provides a historic level of support for our troops and their families, including the largest military pay raise in decades. It authorizes record-level investments in the people, platforms, and programs that our forces need to safeguard the nation and advance U.S. interests worldwide,” he continued. “The bill also accelerates the development of cutting-edge technologies like hypersonics and artificial intelligence to provide our forces with key advantages on the battlefield.”

What’s Next?

Senate passage of its NDAA bill sets up a clash with the House, which narrowly passed its own version of the annual defense bill along party lines earlier this month after pointed debates over several issues regarded as more “social” ones, including reproductive concerns.

Next, the two chambers will meet in a bicameral conference committee to iron out their differences and produce a compromise version of the annual NDAA. Both the House and Senate will need to approve that unified bill, and then send it along to President Biden for his approval.

Read More About
More Topics
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.