The United States is under attack. Every day, foreign actors across the globe, and especially in Russia and China, are working to break through our cyber defenses, hack our systems, and cause chaos in our most critical infrastructure. We are often successful in keeping them out, but unfortunately their success rate is climbing.
Just one month later, JBS Meat processing was hacked by foreign actors. Again, supply chains were disrupted, and again, people across the country felt the effects as all JBS’s American beef plants were forced to shut until the company paid an $11 million ransom to the hackers.
On May 7, attackers based in Russia completed a successful ransomware attack against the Colonial Pipeline. California residents did not suffer any immediate consequences, but it was very different on the East Coast. On the first day of the hack, I passed a gas station on my way to the U.S. Capitol that had a line of cars which stretched down the block and around the corner as panicked people waited for gasoline. The next day, I passed the same gas station, but there was no line. Instead, there was a sign on each pump that read “Sorry- out of gas.” This is a sight I hadn’t seen since the 1970’s, and it occurred because of a single hack that disrupted a single pipeline for a single week.
As a computer scientist myself, I find these attacks extremely alarming. The United States is falling behind countries such as Russia and China in not just our cyber defenses, but also in our ability to produce the highly skilled computer science professionals necessary to build those defenses. According to a report from Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, in 2007 Chinese universities surpassed U.S. institutions in the production of STEM PhDs, and by 2025 their yearly graduates will nearly double those by American universities.
Over the past several months I have been working in Congress towards this end, and my first three bills to pass the U.S. House of Representatives are all aimed at actively strengthening our computer science workforce to ensure the future of our economy, the strength of our technology industry, and the security of our nation.
As the United States continues to confront the rising threat of cyberattacks from foreign adversaries, we must reverse this negative education trend and support the cultivation of our STEM workforce to ensure we have the best talent to defend our nation’s infrastructure. It is also critical that we enable this workforce to support our critical industries and our federal government. The United States must develop a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy to protect our critical infrastructure and stop these global adversaries.
My Fellowship and Traineeships for Early-Career AI Researchers Act and my Next Generation Computing Research and Development Act both aim at helping current and future generations of American computer scientists lead the way in finding new answers to key problems through cutting edge artificial intelligence research and beyond-exascale computing. Not only will this help address major national security vulnerabilities, but it could also help to predict weather patterns, prevent wildfires, and strengthen our energy grid.
It is also critical that we ensure our federal government can utilize this workforce to protect our nation and our critical industries from cyber-attack. I was alarmed to discover that other than pure research, the federal government does not currently have occupational pathways that allow government civilians to focus on computer science fields such as software development, data science or artificial intelligence. This is a major problem that affects the federal government’s ability to hire and retain superior computer science talent.
To address this problem, I introduced the Federal Career Opportunities in Computer Science Work Act to establish computer science-specific career fields within the federal government employment structure. I was proud to see my bill pass the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support last week. If we seek to address the serious gaps in America’s abilities to protect from and respond to cyber-attacks, we must ensure that our government has access to America’s top computer science talent.
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