Rep. Will Hurd is on his way out. And the Texas Republican, one of few lawmakers on Capitol Hill with a tech background, is ready to talk.
“Now that I’m not running for re-election let me get a few things off my chest,” Hurd said Sept. 12.
Specifically, he wanted to talk about tech issues facing the federal government.
Speaking at the Dell Technologies Forum on Sept. 12, Hurd addressed a range of tech and cybersecurity issues frustrating the government: from artificial intelligence (AI) to the Internet of Things and cyber workforce training. The key to these problem is the security clearance process, he said, adding that “I never thought I’d have to work on such a basic issue as this.”
“You should be able to do a security clearance in a week,” said Hurd, deriding the months long process that can often deter cybersecurity professionals from joining government. “I think we can do it in three days. The way we would do that is by using technology like artificial intelligence."
The federal government has deployed a pilot AI program to evaluate clearances at the Pentagon, according to several reports. To evolve the AI capabilities of the United States, Hurd said the government should spend more time and money on the technology.
“First, we should increase the resources devoted to research and development. That’s an easy one,” Hurd said. “The government can also set an example and lead the way in adopting AI. This can save taxpayer dollars, tons of money and make government more efficient.”
Discussion of AI often triggers concerns over the ethics and how it’s used - so much so that Google canceled an AI contract with the Pentagon because of employee concerns over its use. Hurd said that unnecessary federal regulation and standards that inhibit AI development need to be removed.
“Instead, regulations should focus on addressing ethical, security, privacy concerns that were not covered in existing frameworks,” Hurd said.
But to develop the AI the government needs the right people. And it seems no technology discussion or panel is complete without a discussion of the cybersecurity workforce shortage that plagues both the private and public sector. Just earlier in the day, federal chief information officer Suzette Kent said that the government needed to search “more intensely” for people with technological skills as well as “scale our reskilling efforts." Hurd took it a step further.
“The crux of the problem is simple: we have to prepare our workforce for destruction that we haven’t seen since the last industrial revolution,” Hurd said. “And we have to train our kids for 21st century jobs that don’t exist today.”
Hurd said the government and private sector need to educate children with tech skills beginning in elementary school. At the college level, Hurd said that to win the technological arms race with China, the United States should offer Chinese students a visa at graduation from American universities.
“If China’s going to steal our technology, let’s steal their engineers,” Hurd said.
Improving federal cybersecurity
On the topic of cybersecurity threats posed by adversaries, Hurd warned that the government is facing an increased numbers of cyberattacks and there’s a “lack of a whole-of-government approach" to addressing the problem.
Hurd said Russia, China and North Korea are “determined” to sow discord - citing election interference, intellectual property theft, and raids on cryptocurrency exchanges and banks to fund their nuclear program. The Republican congressman said the government and industry must work together to defend themselves, but poked a hole in the typical language used when discussing that partnership.
“It has to be more than just information sharing,” Hurd said. “That’s not happening enough, but we have to establish a framework [on] operation collaboration that not only combines incident response, but mitigation and prevention as well.”
Lastly, Hurd said he’s focusing on cybersecurity threats posed by the Internet of Things. Hurd is working to pass a bipartisan bill that requires devices bought by the federal government to meet minimum security requirements. The bill is awaiting a floor vote in both the House and Senate.
“If you know there’s a vulnerability in a device, what’s your freaking plan before you introduce it into the network?” Hurd said. “It’s really simple. These are some basic things we should be doing.”
With 14 months until his replacement in Congress is chosen, Hurd has a stern warning about advancing technology and cybersecurity threats.
“The challenge that we face is not whether next generation technology is going to be transformative or disruptive, we’re going to have to deal and manage with this coming destruction,” Hurd said. “When we let it overwhelm an unprepared government, it leaves the United States and our allies unable to keep up with our adversaries.”
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.