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Friday , August 17 2018
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Op-Ed: Hurd on the Hill – Restoring Our Parks

You may have heard that there’s a place in far West Texas where the night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone. This isn’t simply folklore and is actually located right here in the 23rd District of Texas.

I have the distinct honor of representing in Congress a total of eight national parks and historic sites, including Big Bend National Park described above, and our San Antonio Missions. It is a top priority of mine to make sure our parks remain beautiful and accessible for South and West Texas families to enjoy for generations to come.

Unfortunately, our parks are in dire need of repairs. In fact, last year in Texas alone, the National Park Service faced over $167 million in backlogged maintenance projects, including repairs to roads, visitor facilities, trails and other park structures.

In many of these cases, buildings are crumbling, roads are inaccessible, trails are overgrown and sewer systems are at risk of failing – dramatically impacting the natural environment and visitor experience. To make matters worse, nearly 75 percent of deferred maintenance projects in Texas are in our TX-23 parks and historic sites, at a whopping cost of:

  • $100,421,335 at Big Bend National Park;
  • $6,937,728 at San Antonio Missions National Historic Park;
  • $7,031,046 at Amistad National Recreational Area in Del Rio;
  • $2,810,717 at Fort Davis National Historic Site; and,
  • $6,411,208 at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the town Salt Flat in West Texas.

You don’t have to be a math major to realize that’s a lot of backlog and a big problem. I wholeheartedly believe that we have a responsibility to care for our national parks and historic sites so they are available for future generations of park goers to enjoy. That’s why I joined forces with my colleagues in the House and Senate on both sides of the political aisle to introduce the Restore Our Parks & Public Lands Act.

This bipartisan proposal represents the merging of several approaches, including my similar bill, the National Park Service Legacy Act, to reduce this backlog so we can fix our parks once and for all. This bill helps to jump start our overdue maintenance projects by directing existing federal funding to a newly established restoration fund, which will allow the National Park Service to invest in needed repairs.

The only way we can solve big problems in Congress is by working together, and this bill further exemplifies a team effort. I’ll continue to be a champion of our parks and work in a bipartisan manner to find solutions to the biggest problems facing our nation.

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A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Op-Ed: Hurd on the Hill: Preventing the Summer Slide

When I was in grade school, at least one teacher always had a sign in the classroom that said “reading is fundamental.” This is as true now as it was then. Learning how to read is a fundamental skill that can determine the course of one’s life. But you don’t have to take my word for it – the statistics speak for themselves.

According to the Children’s Literacy Foundation, students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely than proficient readers to drop out of high school. As you might imagine, those at the lowest literacy levels have a higher rate of unemployment and earn lower wages than average. In addition, a staggering 75 percent of state prison inmates did not complete high school or can be classified as low literate.

Beyond the obvious social devastation, low literacy costs the U.S. at least $225 billion every single year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.

To make matters worse, the problem is cyclical. Children that have parents with low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. Reading is fundamental for folks to earn an education, find a job and make a life for themselves.

Fortunately, if you are reading this, you’re likely not among the nearly 20% of adults in Texas who are at the lowest literacy level. However, you have an important role to play to ensure that our kids don’t slip into the summer slide, a nationwide trend showing that many students start the new academic year with lower reading skills than at the beginning of summer break.

In fact, a 2017 Brookings study found that on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning. The decline varies between subjects and ages, but the extent of loss is far greater among lower income students.

Overall, the summer slide can perpetuate years of unnecessary hardship for the next generation of Americans.

Together, it’s our job to change this trend so that every student in South and West Texas has a chance for success. That’s why I’m challenging parents and teachers from San Antonio to El Paso to encourage students to take on the TX-23 Summer Reading Surge and read five books this summer before school starts back up in the fall.

There are plenty of ways to keep kids on track with their reading while enjoying a nice summer with your family. For example, our public libraries offer invaluable resources for learning at all ages. Especially in this summer heat, our kids can travel around the world, to space, and to any land they can imagine just by turning a page.

What are you and your family reading this summer? I want to know. I encourage you to post your summer reading list on social media with the hashtag #SummerReadingSurge and be sure to follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube at @HurdontheHill.

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PERMALINK

 A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Hurd on the Hill: Energy Security is National Security

Folks in the 23rd District know well that West Texas energy fuels our economy. In fact, the Texas portion of the Permian Basin alone provides more than 444,000 jobs, contributes more than $60.2 billion to the Gross State Product of Texas and generates $113.6 billion in economic output for local communities.

What’s equally as important is that energy security is national security. Many folks don’t realize the hardworking Texans getting in their trucks each morning to work on nearby rigs or at refineries are doing much more than earning a paycheck – they are playing an important role protecting our nation from threats abroad. Here’s why:

Due to the discovery of significant reserves across the United States, including the Permian Basin, the nation has ramped up domestic oil production. In doing so, we have reduced our dependence on other oil producing nations while concurrently securing and improving our economy.

Countries across the globe are now looking to the United States to supply energy, ultimately diminishing the influence of other countries, such as Russia, on the industry. It is exciting that TX-23 is ground zero for North American energy dominance and so many hardworking Texans have a hand in our foreign policy by simply doing their jobs.

Recently, I spent a week in West Texas with employers, constituents and energy stakeholders to see their contributions firsthand in the Delaware Basin, a portion of the Permian Basin that spans across Culberson, Jeff Davis, Loving, Pecos, Reeves, Ward and Winkler Counties.  I started my trip in Orla where I visited a new natural gas processing plant. With more than $250 million invested to ensure the safe and responsible development of this facility, more jobs for the hardworking folks in TX-23 are on the way.

In addition to hosting an energy roundtable in Fort Stockton, a town hall in Monahans and visiting facilities in Balmorhea and Pecos, I toured the site of a new refinery outside of Fort Stockton.

This will be the first project of its kind built in the United States in 47 years. The refinery operator chose Fort Stockton because of the available land, access to natural resources and the South Orient-Texas Pacifico railroad that travels to Mexico through the border town of Presidio.

My office worked with Texas Department of Transportation to secure grant funding to begin fixing an ailing rail line and the Presidio rail bridge that previously burned in a fire.  It is particularly rewarding to see this private-sector investment in our community that will help grow jobs in the area and improve the economy.

The United States is a global powerhouse due to so many Texans who support the energy industry right here in our backyard. West Texas energy fuels our economy, fosters thousands of local jobs and allows us to bolster our national security by relying less on other oil-producing countries for natural resources. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues in our nation’s capital to create pro-growth policies to ensure South and West Texas continues to thrive.

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A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Hurd On The Hill: Creating 21st Century Solutions to our Digital Challenges

No one wants to hear about another hack. As our society becomes more and more reliant on constantly emerging technologies from smart phones to smart cities, we have not been able to keep our digital information secure while harnessing these innovations.

Cybersecurity is no longer only about protecting your social security or bank numbers – it’s about keeping our electricity on and our economy functioning. Nearly every aspect of our lives nowadays depends on technology, which means they are also all vulnerable to hacks.

I came to Congress to find solutions and fix problems, which is why I’m excited to team up with private sector leaders to develop real solutions as a tri-chair of the Aspen Cyber Strategy Group. This group brings together experts and thought leaders across industry sectors to keep up to date on the latest malicious cyber threats and trends.

It can be hard to fully grasp the severity of our current situation. However, the reality is that although the concept of a cyberattack can seem distant and elusive, cyberattacks are very real and impact all of us, our businesses and our economy.

For example, this past year alone, companies lost over $1.2 billion from malware attacks. This is money that could’ve gone into investments like hiring or new equipment purchases.  Due to hacks, in 2017 alone, personal information was compromised for 198 million voters, three billion Yahoo account users and 145 million civilians due to the infamous Equifax breach, among others.  These hacks will continue to occur until we find and implement concrete, tangible solutions.

That’s why I’ve agreed to lead the initiative and the government cannot do it alone. The new group will facilitate robust conversation between 35 CEOs, lawmakers and academics on how to best address today’s cybersecurity challenges.

For us to truly find a fix to our systemic cybersecurity challenges, the public and private sectors need to work together, and more importantly, the public needs to know that without action their safety and personal information may be at risk. By utilizing experts from the public and private sectors, we will be able to develop tangible, implementable cybersecurity recommendations.

Emerging technology is an exciting thing. It allows us to travel faster, live longer, and communicate more efficiently. At the same time, innovation creates new threats, and we must do a better job protecting ourselves and our systems. This year I’m looking forward to working with policy makers, business owners and cyber experts to turn our security recommendations into action.

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A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Hurd on the Hill: Cybersecurity Awareness Month

October marks Cybersecurity Awareness Month, an opportunity to recognize the increasing importance of digital security and to share best practices for keeping our digital information safe.

As we continue to become more dependent on computers, automation and digital data storage, every aspect of our lives – from personal banking information to private health records to our credit records – is vulnerable to hacks.

Government, private-sector and individuals have a long way to go to implement basic cyber hygiene, but the first step towards achieving this goal is having an awareness of the problem. While October is devoted to spreading cyber awareness, we have to protect our systems all year long.

One of the things that make major hacks so frustrating is that many could have been prevented with simple cyber hygiene basics like installing regular software updates and utilizing a complex login password (something other than ‘password’ or ‘12345678’).

For individuals, the easiest way to protect your digital information is by having different, strong passwords for each platform – using numbers, letters and special characters. It seems simple, but it is alarming how many folks have their personal information compromised due to failure to implement this easy step.

As a graduate of Texas A&M University in Computer Science, a former cybersecurity entrepreneur and current Chair of the House IT Subcommittee, one of my highest policy priorities in Congress is defending our digital infrastructure.

As a Chairman I’ve been able to explore ways to better protect our digital infrastructure and I continue to work with my colleagues across the aisle to advocate for policy solutions that drive innovation.  One of these solutions is our Smart Government bill called the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act. This major IT Reform package is designed to strengthen information security by accelerating the federal government’s transition to modern technology like cloud computing.

The federal government spends $90 billion a year on purchasing technology and software and 75% of this money is spent on maintaining old, outdated systems. Our government needs to be able to introduce cutting-edge technology into their networks to improve operational efficiency and decrease cost. The MGT Act does just that, and I am proud that it has passed in both the House and the Senate, and is merely days away from becoming law.

My next initiative is championing the development of a Cyber National Guard. The premise behind this idea is relatively simple: If a student wants to pursue a college degree in computer science, the U.S. Government will pay for it, but they have to agree to work for the federal government for a number of years after they graduate.

Once they complete their term of service in the government and have moved onto the private-sector, they will still rotate back into the federal government for the proverbial two weeks per year in a capacity that would closely resemble that of a reservist.

A Cyber National Guard would ensure a pipeline of quality talent into the federal government and maintain our world leadership in the digital realm by ensuring a regular exchange of talent between the public and private sectors.

The security that Americans enjoy today will not last if we don’t continue to discover the latest ground-breaking technology, engineer the most advanced weaponry and protect our cyber infrastructure from attacks.

The United States must continue to invest in cutting-edge research, encourage private-sector technology development and educate future generations of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.  And the importance of cybersecurity cannot be overstated.

Hurd on the Hill: National Disability Awareness Month

Since October is National Disability Awareness Month, it gives us the opportunity to celebrate the contributions made to the fabric of our society by our fellow Americans with disabilities.

It’s important to highlight people like my constituent and Helotes neighbor Stefanie Cowley who through persistence and dogged tenacity has made life better for so many people.

Stefanie’s life changed forever in 2007 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease with unknown causes in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of a person’s nerves. Over the next four years, she struggled to find medical treatment options in the United States and her condition worsened.

Relentlessly exploring all treatments, Stefanie eventually resorted to medical tourism and finally began to see progress with a stem cell treatment that was not yet available in Texas. Knowing it could help others just like her, Stefanie spent hours at the Texas State Legislature advocating for Charlie’s Law to allow stem cell therapy access for patients with certain chronic diseases and terminal illnesses, like MS. Thanks to Stefanie, the bill was signed into law in June this year, allowing thousands of suffering Texans to use their own stem cells as medicine.

As treatments and therapy improved her condition, Stefanie joined groups that fight for MS treatment and research, such as Team Wingman in Helotes, and Patients for Stem Cells, who fight for access to adult stem cell therapy. She not only became a voice for those with MS, but also an inspiration to her community.

For her tireless advocacy, Stefanie was recognized as the 2017 Advocate of the Year by San Antonio Independent Living Services.

Stefanie’s stem cell treatments became so successful that she could put her weight on her legs again and no longer needed a traditional wheelchair. The only problem was that she could not get a standing wheelchair approved by Medicare which would help her continue to build muscle in her legs and dramatically improve her quality of life.

Stefanie was familiar with my office and district staff because we had worked through some Medicare issues for her in the past, and she approached us for some help on this latest issue. We pinpointed why her previous Medicare applications for a standing wheelchair were getting denied by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and made the fix. She got her standing wheelchair within a week, and in the process, made it easier for people in similar situations to be successful.

I first met Stefanie during a town hall meeting in 2016. She educated me on the issue of stem cell treatments and the peculiarities of the existing law on this topic. Witnessing what she has been able to accomplish on behalf of the MS community in such a short period of time is truly inspiring.

Stefanie’s story of perseverance is an example to us all on how to fight for what is right. It’s an honor to have worked alongside her and to be able to call her a friend.

If you know someone like Stefanie who is fighting the federal bureaucracy and needs some help, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 210-921-3130.

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Author – A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Hurd on the Hill: Words Matter

When I was an undercover CIA officer, I served alongside real patriots. I got out of bed each day knowing that my colleagues and I were standing tall against those trying to harm America.

For almost a decade, I was the guy in the back alleys at four o’clock in the morning chasing terrorists in groups like al-Qaeda, and collecting intelligence on threats to our homeland. Unfortunately, that’s not the only job I’ve had where the life of my friends and colleagues were threatened.

On June 14, 2017, an individual attempted to assassinate several of my colleagues, including House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), during a practice for the annual Congressional Baseball Game when Members of Congress play against each other to raise money for charity. Despite the horrific shooting, people from across the political spectrum rebelled against fear and the game went on.

Thousands of people set their political views aside in solidarity for the victims, doubling the previous attendance record and raising over $1.5 million for charity.

The event reminded us that life is precious and that an attack on one of us is an attack on our institutions. My concern is that we will be unable to put aside our labels of Democrat or Republican and continue this spirit of cooperation the further we get from the incident. One of the founding principles of our great nation is free speech – or put alternatively, the ability to disagree. Through civil discourse and competition of ideas, we have created policies that have allowed Americans and America to prosper.

To put this into context, the same week that my friends were shot on the baseball field, the Chinese government was attempting to restrict their citizens from using social media platforms to express dissent. We cannot take our rights for granted. We need to use this right to free speech to show each other and the rest of the world that more unites us than divides us.

I’ve heard repeatedly while crisscrossing the 23rd Congressional District of Texas that people are worried that our country is on the wrong track. I understand why you all feel this way – I often feel the same after seeing the pointless partisan bickering in Congress. If we change the way we behave in the political arena, we can change the outcomes of the political process and create innovative solutions that ensure American prosperity.

Bipartisanship is a real thing, and the only way to ensure that everyone is heard. We can disagree without being disagreeable, and more importantly, we must work together to solve our nation’s major problems. If we want our country to be better, each one of us needs to be better. For us to be better, we need to change how we talk to one another, because words matter.

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A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

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