Unanimously, the U.S. House of Representatives this week passed a bipartisan bill sponsored by a Virginia congresswoman to help provide surplus computers to military veterans, students and seniors in need. Under a 1949 law controlling government surplus, that’s now impossible.
U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s legislation was co-sponsored by two fellow congressional representatives from Virginia, U.S. Reps. Rob Wittman, R-1st, and Elaine Luria, D-2nd, as well as U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, a Democrat from New Hampshire. It was most recently introduced in May 2021, and it was first introduced in July 2020.
The Computers for Veterans and Students Act would get the federal computers to nonprofit refurbishers that repair and distribute them. The bill would require each refurbisher to provide training programs in the use of the technology.
“More jobs and hiring processes are moving online. But for the millions of U.S. households without a computer, this transition means access to fewer opportunities and even more difficulties in getting ahead,” Spanberger said in a statement. “As veterans transition to the civilian workforce and look for new opportunities, a computer can be the difference between landing the job or remaining on the hunt.
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Several nonprofit groups that help veterans and students support the legislation. They include Tech For Troops, a Virginia-based organization staffed and operated by vets. In 2021, it recycled and refurbished more than 112,000 pounds of gear.
“As a veteran myself, it means so much to be able to help and give back to fellow veterans who need it most,” Mark Casper, president and CEO of Tech For Troops, said Tuesday. “I am also personally honored and excited that Rep. Spanberger supports Tech For Troops in our mission.”
In 2021, Wittman said it was an honor to introduce the legislation. He called it “a prime example of innovative nonprofits working hand-in-hand with the government to provide effective solutions for our nation’s veterans.”
Last year, Spanberger said that she, Wittman and Luria aimed to fix a problem causing waste and inefficiency in the General Service Administration’s Federal Surplus Personal Property Program. Many people who get government computers from it don’t have the money or ability to refurbish the equipment so it can be used, she said.
The program was created under the post-World War II Federal Property and Administrative Services Act, when no one could have imagined the 21st century’s computer technology.
The program leaves the federal government without the authority to transfer repairable equipment to third-party computer refurbishers, Spanberger said.
“The Computers for Veterans and Students Act will help Virginians in need connect with the world and bridge the digital divide that has only grown since the pandemic,” Luria, D-2nd, said then. “Getting technology in the hands of veterans, students, persons with disabilities, low-income individuals or seniors can be life-changing, and many communities in Coastal Virginia could benefit from this bipartisan legislation.”
The three Virginia lawmakers had offered their bill in the past session of Congress, but the clock ran out as legislators spent month after month dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.
The bill would ensure nonprofits and those they help can receive computers with less hassle and cost, which would particularly help students and veterans, Spanberger said last year. It abides by the intent of the federal surplus-equipment program by requiring vendors to be verified by the government.
Surplus government computers’ drives are wiped clean to safeguard security, but that means all their operating programs must be re-installed to make them usable.
Once refurbished, government computers—which are often pretty up to date—can be used by veterans for daily tasks, including searching for and apply for jobs as they transition to civilian life, Spanberger said.