The business community heard about data, education, and an array of other topics.
Congressman Rob Wittman discussed them on September 30.
Wittman was one of the speakers in a Congressional Series the Prince William Chamber of Commerce hosted at its headquarters in Manassas.
He represents residents of the 1st district, which includes Prince William County.
Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton spoke about the Rural Crescent and the National Rifle Association (NRA) at the chamber last month. Trade and transportation were a couple of topics Congressman Gerry Connolly talked about on October 8.
The video can be found here:
Below, is the video transcription.
Lyle Dukes: It’s good to have everybody here, and the congressman here. I’m excited about this morning. I’m Bishop Lyle Dukes. I’m the current chair of the Prince William Chamber. Again, we want to welcome you to, we call it, a round table discussion with Congressman Wittman. We are going to just jump to our conversation. I’m going to ask Gary Jones from the Fauquier Bank come. He’s going to introduce the congressman.
Gary Jones: At this time, we’re going to introduce him. He was first elected to serve the first congressional district in Virginia in December of ’07. He was reelected for his sixth full term to the House in November of ’18. For more than 20 years, he has served in several levels of government, from Montross Town Council to United States Congress. Rob won his first campaign for public office in 1986, when he was elected to the Montross Town Council, where he served for 10 years, four of them as mayor. In ’95, he was elected to the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors, and was elected its chairman in ’03. In 2005, voters in the 99th legislative district elected Rob to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he served until he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in ’07.
Gary Jones: In Congress, Rob serves on the House Armed Services Committee, and the Committee on Natural Resources, where he is well positioned to represent the needs of Virginia’s first district. He has quickly earned a reputation for being an advocate for our men and women in uniform, and for being a champion of the Chesapeake Bay. On the Armed Services Committee, he serves as the ranking member of Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. In addition, as cochair of the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus, he is a staunch advocate for the robust naval fleet and a healthy domestic shipbuilding industry.
Gary Jones: Rob has served as chairman of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Board of Visitors since 2010. As a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Rob brings his professional expertise in water quality, fisheries, and other natural resource issues. He is a champion of the Chesapeake Bay for its environmental and economic attributes, and has introduced legislation that would increase the accountability and effectiveness of cleaning up the bay. He serves as co-chair of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Caucus, which brings bay issues into focus for members of Congress.
Gary Jones: Prior to his election to Congress, Rob spent 20 years working in state government, most recently as field director for the Virginia Health Department Division of Shellfish Sanitation. Earlier, he worked for many years as an environmental health specialist for local departments in Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula regions. He owns a PhD in public policy administration from VCU, a master of public health degree in health policy administration from University of North Carolina, and a bachelor of science degree from Virginia Tech, so Rob?
Rob Wittman: Gary, thank you. Folks, I want to get out from behind the podium, and just stand here before you. First of all, good morning.
Audience: Good morning.
Rob Wittman: Gosh, what an honor and privilege it is to be back here with the Chamber. I want to thank you all so much for the great job that you do in connecting different parts of our business community to decision-makers, and making sure that we hear and understand the thoughts and ideas and concerns that you have, because it informs the decisions that we make.
Rob Wittman: What I wanted to do is talk about some of the issues that are before Congress now, beside from what you hear in the headlines each and every day. I think, as I talk to folks, obviously the element of impeachment is going to continue on, but what I hear from most folks is what are the other elements of business that the nation is getting done? What is Congress getting done? What is happening there that gets the nuts and bolts business of the nation done each and every day? There are a number of things that have to be done.
Rob Wittman: First of all, let me start out with what I think one of the most fundamental duties of Congress, and that is to get a budget done and get appropriations bills done. Those things need to be done on time, yes, yes, yes. CRs are not a way to operate, and anybody who has to deal with that understands how problematic continuing resolutions are. Here we are, unfortunately, again in another continuing resolution through November the 21st. We should have had all of this done prior to that time. We have all of this time ahead of time.
Rob Wittman: This year, we finally did reach a two-year budget deal. We should’ve stayed in Washington. You know, there’s this ridiculous archaic process called August Recess, where Congress goes home for five weeks. We know what we’re facing. We know we have to get these appropriations bills done, yet everyone goes home, and then we come back with 13 legislating days left, without any of the appropriations bills done, and then we’re back into a continuing resolution.
Rob Wittman: Now, the complicating factor this time is that now we have a November 21st deadline for appropriations bills to be done, before the expiration of this continuing resolution. I can tell you, with the amount of political division in Washington, it’ll be a challenge to try to get that done. The unfortunate part about the whole deliberations on impeachment is everything grinds to a screeching halt, and the only thing that consumes every bit of oxygen in Washington, unfortunately, is impeachment. Yet there are other things that need to be done, so I’m hopeful that we get these appropriations bills done. Hope is not a strategy, though, so I know that we have to do more than just that.
Rob Wittman: That’s why it’s incumbent upon the appropriators, the Appropriations Committee, to actually get this work done. The Senate’s been slow. The Senate is just finishing up their appropriations bills. They didn’t even start this in earnest until right up to the deadline, which is the end of the fiscal year of September 30, so it doesn’t make sense to me that we’re waiting there until the last minute. Those things absolutely have to be done.
Rob Wittman: Additionally is we have to get the National Defense Authorization Act done. That is the authorization for our nation’s military, and obviously for Virginia, for this area of Virginia, it’s critically important to get that done. I am one of the conferees. That means I’m on the conference committee, which are a group of House members, a group of Senate members that sit down and work out the differences between the House version of the bill and the Senate version of the bill, which is the way the process is supposed to work, and it’s working well, I believe.
Rob Wittman: We are going through those deliberations. We look to get that done, hopefully by the end of October. Again, that all depends on all the other moving parts that are going on there in Washington, but it’s hopeful we get that done by the end of October. That’s critical, too, because that lays out the path for our nation’s military, and for what happens with appropriated dollars that come into the nation’s military. Anybody that does business with the military knows that not having an authorization, and working under a continuing resolution, creates a number of different challenges, so we want to make sure that those things get done. Those are the critical elements of business that Congress, I believe, is sworn to do, and I’m hopeful that’ll get done.
Rob Wittman: Other areas that I think are critically important, and things that we’ve done over the last four years now, continuing throughout the district is, first of all, our education system, specifically making sure that we have an education system that produces graduates that are ready for the jobs that are there today. Let me give you two numbers that I think ought to fully inform what happens at every level, federal level, state level, local level. As we speak today, 46% of college graduates are not working in the area in which they received their degree. That creates an imbalance there, so we have sometimes, in some areas, an oversupply of degrees and an undersupply of jobs. Then what happens in that situation? How do those individuals find employment?
Rob Wittman: Second of all is of the jobs in the future, from today on, the jobs in the future, about 60% of those jobs will not require a four-year degree, but they will require a certification or credential. To me, that is critical that we have, within that realm, a renewed emphasis on career and technical education. That, I think, is key. If you look at where we are today, look at our economy, looking at making sure we prepare our children for success, their path to success is going to be making sure that our school systems not just prepare them to score on a standardized test, but to make sure that they have the knowledge, skills, and abilities for the jobs that are out there. I think that that is absolutely critically important.
Rob Wittman: Great example is right here in Prince William County. If you look at what’s happening at Micron, massive expansion at Micron. It’s great. They’re building additional foundry capacity. Remember, Micron is the only producer of semiconductors in the entire United States, and they’re expanding here in Prince William County. Great news. I want to see them do even more. The neat thing about it is they’re working with the school system here, and many of their technicians there do not require a four-year degree, but they require enhanced education to make sure that they come there with the basic skills, and then they teach them how to work within that foundry.
Rob Wittman: They’ve done a great job with Prince William County schools, to make sure that graduates from Prince William County Schools are ready to go to work at Micron. The neat thing about it is you can go to Micron. You can start in one of those jobs. You can continue to gain skills, and Micron, then, will pay you to go back to school if you want to pursue a two-year degree or a four-year degree, so again, great segue to be able to get into that.
Rob Wittman: Another great economic opportunity… The expansion that’s taking place at Micron is specifically for the semiconductors, the microelectronics that will go into vehicles of the future. That’s going to be one of the largest expanding demands for semiconductors. We all know. I drive a little Toyota Corolla, and you would think a Corolla wouldn’t have a bunch of advanced technology in it, but I can tell you, when I put the cruise control on, it has an optic eye that looks ahead of me. If the vehicle gets too close to the vehicle in front of me, it applies the brakes.
Rob Wittman: If I’m driving down the road, and my tire touches the white line, the vehicle steers me back to the middle of the road. Now, when it first started that, it was a little bit spooky, as the vehicle kind of takes things over, but after a while I’ve gotten used to it. That’s just the beginning of what’s going to happen with our automobiles. Micron’s at the very, very forefront of that.
Rob Wittman: Another element that’s critical, that will be another expanding demand, is what’s called a trusted source of microelectronics. Trusted source means this. It means that the semiconductors that are in critical hardware for the United States, whether it’s the military, whether it’s communications, comes from a place that we trust will not have other technology in the chip or will have problems with the chip that could cause security issues for the United States. We all know that the largest producer today of communications technology are Chinese companies, Chinese companies like Huawei, Chinese companies like ZTE.
Rob Wittman: I can tell you this, folks. China is not our friend. The Chinese are ruthless and relentless. That hardware that goes into building these new 5G systems is not hardware that we want built in China. It is not going to be to our, we’ll call it, strategic or economic advantage to have that. We want those microelectronics, those semiconductors, produced here in the United States. We want those systems, that hardware, produced in the United States, for a variety of reasons. The economic reason is one of them, but I would say, at the top of the list, is a strategic reason to make sure that those systems are produced here in the United States. The good news is that we’re in the process of working to make sure that Micron is one of those trusted sources of producing those semiconductors for communications systems, for national security systems, to make sure that we preserve what is valuable to the United States.
Rob Wittman: Let me tell you one of the reasons that China is so interested in getting their hardware in communications systems around the world. Folks, the most valuable commodity today, tomorrow, next week, next year, next decade, next century is data. Everything that we do each and every day is data driven. When you pick up your cell phone, there are thousands of bits of data that go out every day. That information gets picked up, and it tells a story about each and every one of us, and it tells a very distinct story about each and every one of us, but it also tells a story about our businesses. It tells a story about our communities, and that information can be used in an advanced technology called artificial intelligence.
Rob Wittman: When you take all that data, and you put it together, it’s amazing then what that artificial intelligence can do with that data. Data becomes the element of not just commerce in the future, but of power in the future. That’s why the Chinese today are working with everything they have to vacuum up every single shred of data that they can get. They do that for a strategic reason, because they want to be able to get a strategic advantage over the United States, and thyroid want to be able to use it in a variety of different ways economically. They are looking to do that for their own economic and strategic means.
Rob Wittman: That’s why, first of all, we have to look at protecting data. We have to look at making sure we have systems that we control where data goes, how it’s utilized, who has it in their hands. Those things, I think, are critically important. That’s why a place like Micron is important, and that’s why having a education system that educates our students to be able to be the employees in the companies that produce the hardware, that also are able to take the data and use it in productive ways for operations here in the United States, are all critical.
Audience: Oops. I was going to say, is it you?
Rob Wittman: I’ll tell you what it is. This is a jacket that has a little protector in it for microchips, to make sure somebody can’t scan your phone or whatever, but it also does strange things with my phone when I have it in that pocket. I’m just saying, just goes to show you, and this is… I don’t think this is a Chinese phone, no.
Rob Wittman: Anyway, but it’s key that we have an education system that prepares our students for those jobs. It’s key, too, that those operations happen here in the United States. If we’re going to compete in the worldwide economy, those things are critical. An education system that focuses on CTE is key. Right next door to Micron, you have Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin produces all of the systems on board our submarines, our Virginia-class submarines, but also, the newest class of submarine, the Columbia-class, which will replace the Ohioclass.
Rob Wittman: The technicians there that are building those systems, those computer systems, that take all the data and determine if we have to, how to target an area with the weapons that are on board that submarine. The students that are building those computers are right here from Prince William. Right here in my high school. They go there, under an internship program, go there, and work, and produce some of the most advanced systems of the world. These are individuals that are high school graduates, but they developed the skills, the specialized skills, here in Prince William County. That is really the wave of the future. Then again, at Lockheed, if they decide to pursue a degree from there, they can do that, or they can have a tremendous opportunity, career-wise, with that. The same with a number of other businesses here. I can go down the list of businesses here that are connecting with the high school, to make sure they get these career and technical education graduates.
Rob Wittman: Let me talk about another thing, and then I want to go to your questions. As we talk about our school systems, and we talk about technology, and we talk about the things that are going to be the conduits of commerce in the future, one of the most critical elements of that is broadband, better known as high speed Internet. If we’re going to have that connectivity to make sure that our businesses are able to function, it needs to be across our communities, in every corner of the commonwealth.
Rob Wittman: I want to give credit to companies like NOVEC, who are looking at areas that are unserved, and using technology, using their infrastructure, using the system of poles that are out there, that carry power to your house, and using satellites, using satellite technology there, to make sure that people have connectivity to where they can access broadband. You would think, in a county like Prince William County, that every area would be served, but it’s not. There are areas in Prince William County that are not served. When you have an area that’s not served by high speed Internet, or by broadband, you have a business that either can’t start or can’t expand.
Rob Wittman: You also have parents and students that don’t have access, so when they take home that tablet computer from school, and the teacher has given them an assignment, and they have connectivity at school, but when they go home, they don’t, what happens? Mom or Dad have to put them in the minivan, and they have to travel down to a place where there’s WiFi, so they travel to the library or to the local McDonald’s, or wherever, to do homework. You go to the parking lot in some of these places, and you look, and families are in the minivan, as their child does homework, unacceptable. Let me tell you. Connectivity is better in some third world countries than it is here in the United States. We can do better, and we must do better. I think that’s key.
Rob Wittman: Another element that’s key is how do we bring down the cost of health care? How do we increase access to health care? One of the most exciting ways that I’ve been working on, even to my days back in the General Assembly, is telemedicine, to be able to use high speed Internet to connect patients with doctors, and they don’t need to go to the doctor. The doctor can see them at a distance. They can go to a facility, or what they can do is use, again, technology today. Folks have a Fitbit.
Rob Wittman: What does a Fitbit do? It monitors your heart rate. It monitors your vitals. Guess what? You can have that programmed to a doctor’s office, to where, if your heart rate is doing something strange, guess what? You get a little text or an email, and doctor’s office says, “Give us a call. We want to have a conversation with you,” or, “Go to our facility. There’s something going on here that we want to make sure we get out in front of,” or that patient needs to go and have a diagnosis, but can’t get through the traffic, so they can go to a nurse or a nurse practitioner, where that nurse or nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant, takes their vitals, and then confers with the doctor through a screen at a remote location, could be a specialist or otherwise, to take care of their condition.
Rob Wittman: Think about the number of additional patients that doctors could see. Think about the additional access. Think about bringing down costs, where we can do more with the number of providers that we have. Those things are all incredibly important, but the conduit, the critical conduit for that, is broadband. Those are the things we’ve been working on. We have a broadband taskforce we’ve been working on in the district, where we bring together folks in the governor’s office, and we’ve been working hand-in-hand with the governor’s staff. Eric Feinman is the director of the governor’s broadband effort. The legislature has put additional dollars in. We were able to get $600 million in the budget last year, the federal budget.
Rob Wittman: Now that sound great, but I want to put it in perspective. The cost of completely building out the broadband system in the United States is going to be about $80 billion. The good news, though, is that the dollars that we’re bringing together at the state level and local levels we’re combining with investments from private providers and accelerating how this effort is built out. We’re focusing on what’s called middle mile strategies, which is essentially the fiberoptic in the ground that connects areas, because this is all going to be a fabric of connections. The last mile is going to be wireless, fixed wireless, so it will be an antenna there that’ll send a high frequency signal to your home, and then there’ll be repeater antennas that’ll send it to other homes, or it’ll be satellite, where you put it on there, and you repeat or you connect from a satellite receiver to multiple locations that are then transmitted through high frequency radio waves.
Rob Wittman: Those things are critical, and that’s the way we’re going to build out the system and get to some of these more remote areas, where it’s just not feasible to run a fiberoptic to people’s doors. We’re getting those things done. We’ve had great success and, as I said, Prince William County’s been in the lead to connect our school systems with businesses, with decision-makers.
Rob Wittman: We brought down the deputy secretary of education from the federal level, the governor’s director of career and technical education within the department of education, brought them to Northern Virginia Community College, and at their new Workforce Training Center, and it was great to have them there, and to lay out a plan about what we’re going to do to make sure we’re enhancing career and technical education.
Rob Wittman: Prince William County’s been at the forefront on addressing what I think are critical issues. They’re critical issues for our economy. They’re critical issues for the future of our communities, for our students, and for our commonwealth, so it’s been a real honor to be part of that, and I appreciate what each and every one of you in this room do, and look forward to your continued feedback to us, as what we can do to make sure we enable each and every one of you, as members of the business community, to make sure we are providing the path for success for you, for the community, and for the commonwealth. With that, let me go to your questions, thoughts, ideas, and concerns, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Yes.
Speaker 5: Yes, could you give us the flavor of how life is different for you, going from the majority and a subcommittee chairman to the minority from an organizational/operational standpoint in the House?
Rob Wittman: Sure, well, I believe being a legislator is about relationships, and going back to my days of Town Council Board of Supervisors, it’s all about establishing relationships to get things done, and it’s a little more difficult in the minority, because the majority controls which bills go before committee, which bills go to the House floor, but the basics of legislating are still the same. You still have to communicate with folks. You still have to advocate for your legislation. You still have to be able to find 218 folks, no matter who they are. It doesn’t matter whether they’re democrat or republican, you have to find 218 in the House, and you have to find 60 in the Senate to say yes, to be able to get things done.
Rob Wittman: I was very pleased. We had a very good week last week. I was able to get three of my bills out of the Natural Resources Committee, and they all passed unanimously, so it just goes to show, if you put the work in, you can get things done. It is a little more difficult, because there are different things that you have to navigate when you’re not in the majority, but again, it boils down to making sure that you are focused on the legislation and finding as many folks as possible to get those things through.
Speaker 6: What can we do to help the contractors, government contractors, who are not getting paid during that time? I mean, it could be financially devastating.
Rob Wittman: That’s a great point. You know, Senator Kaine, Senator Warner, and myself put a bill in to make sure that, in the aftermath of the last shutdown, that contractors got paid. Unfortunately, it got pulled out in the final budget agreement, but I think it’s critical because, as you said, things that get forgotten is the work that you are not paid to do, that you never get those dollars back. When government reopens, you’re still expected to get that work done, yet you’re having to keep people on the payroll and essentially pay them. The agencies tell you to stop work. Can’t do anything else.
Rob Wittman: What we’re trying to find is a path forward. What I’m doing on the House side, and what Senator Warner and Senator Kaine are doing on the Senate side is to really work in concert. Several things, I think, have to happen. First of all is, it is so illogical during a shutdown as to how things unfold.
Rob Wittman: Think about this. You have a federal workforce, where some people are determined to be essential, and some people are determined to be nonessential. I get a big question when that happens. People say, “Well, why do we have nonessential employees?” How many businesses here have nonessential employees? I mean, it’s ridiculously idiotic to even have that label.
Rob Wittman: Here’s what I’ve said is that, first of all, all our employees are essential. Second of all is when you have a shutdown, it should be about Congress getting the job done, not about stopping government from getting the job done. I have a bill in that says this: If there is a shutdown, just like with a CR, we will take dollars in the salary categories and set that aside, so salaries will continue. People will continue to go to work, essential and nonessential, and get the job done. What will be reversed is the illogical element, and that is during a shutdown, some federal employees have to go to work and, by the way, they’re not paid while they’re going to work. They’re being told, “You’ve got to show up and go to work.” They’re not being paid.
Rob Wittman: Now, we do make sure they get paid afterwards, but think about this, they get paid, and the nonessential employees that didn’t have to go to work also get paid, so there’s a lot of animosity that gets created in the workplace, when some get paid and some don’t, but everybody during that time has to go to work. Then, in the end, everybody gets a paycheck. That’s not fair.
Rob Wittman: What I’ve looked at is to say, how do we stop that, because during a shutdown, you have some employees that aren’t going to work, some that do. Members of Congress do not go to work. Now, we keep our offices open, and I continue to go to work, but you’re not required to, so some members don’t. They just close down their offices, and guess who continues to get paid? Members of Congress. It’s critical, critically stupid.
Rob Wittman: What I’ve done is to say, “Let’s reverse the roles. Let’s do this.” My bill says, members of Congress have to go to work until the shutdown ceases. Members of Congress do not get a paycheck until the government shutdown ceases. Senator Warner and Senator Kaine, on their side, are saying, during a shutdown we’re going to set aside money, to make sure federal employees and contractors continue to get paid, while the work of the nation continues to get done, because it needs to get done.
Rob Wittman: Then, if Congress wants to go back and forth, then they can do it, as long as they don’t get a paycheck. That way, we are minimizing the harmful impact of these shutdowns. I think that’s one way to do it, and to get Congress’s attention. I can tell you this. I believe that if you withhold members of Congress’s paychecks, I think you’ll see an awful lot of bipartisanship right now.
Speaker 6: Yes, yes, yeah, that sounds… Thinking about this coming Thanksgiving, we’re going to have turkey, so I’m going to have a picture of a turkey.
Rob Wittman: That’s right. That’s right. Well, I hope that things get done. Now the one concern that I have is a long-term CR that could be put in place, and that’s going to be tremendously harmful to our military. As you know, long-term CRs are not good for contractors either, because it puts things in suspended animation, and people are afraid to push money out the door, especially for any type of new project, so if you have just received an award for a job, and you’re facing a CR, sometimes what happens is that money just gets held back. The problem is the agencies continue to go to you and say, “You need to be ready to do the work,” and then your challenge is how to keep my employees on that I need to do the work, whenever the green light comes on and says go ahead and get it done.
Rob Wittman: We’ve had a lot of conversations with the Veterans Administration about having a veteran business mentoring program, to make sure that when veterans are making the transition from active duty to the business community, that they know what do you do? I mean, a lot of them have great ideas, but they don’t have the nuts and bolts about how to put together a business plan, how to pursue financing, how to go and make a proposal to a bank, and banks lend in certain ways, and in certain ways they don’t, so if you need money for inventory, that’s different than needing money to build a building or rent a building.
Rob Wittman: I think that, as they look at all those elements, veterans need to know those, the differences there. A mentoring program, or at least a Business 101, so they know how to write a business plan, how to get those things done, is key. We’ve been working with the VA to make sure that veterans have that, that one-stop shop. I’d like for them to be able to go to one place and say, okay, how do I get all these different questions answered, and how do I make sure that I’m prepared when I jump in and I put that sign out there and say my business is open? How do I make sure that I’m prepared for success.
Rob Wittman: Then another thing, too, is for those veterans and for other companies that want to be able to serve veterans, I always encourage them, and the VA, I think, does a good job of this in making sure that companies look about how they can access being able to recruit veterans. Many times, businesses will go, well listen, I want to hire veterans. I’ve put this out there to say that I’m focused on wanting to hire veterans, but there’s sometimes a difficulty in reaching or being able to communicate with veterans to say, hey, here are the jobs that we have. Here’s where we’d like to put you in our business, and here’s where we think your skills will fit for our business. Another thing we have to do, too, is to make sure there’s a better connection with businesses and jobs for veterans out there, also.
Speaker 6: Yeah, that sounds like a great… Our company is… We’re small, but this year we’re doing a veteran’s calendar that will come out in 2020, and a portion of that is going to go to support a veteran’s retreat in Haymarket. The other portion of it… We’re going to raise a minimum, a minimum of $20,000, and the other portion of it will go to grants for veteran-owned companies. I guess, the demonstration is for me, as a small business, what can I do? I can’t do big things, but I can do something small.
Rob Wittman: Sure. Well, I think any business that wants to help can look at how do we get out there and recruit veterans, and then, to be part of a mentoring group. I know Chambers and others do a lot of business mentoring. I think what we can do to help is to bring the VA in and talk about what are the things that maybe the Chamber can do, as they’re trying to mentor veteran-owned businesses. A lot of them, as you know, have to struggle with navigating all the different elements about how they pursue business, especially small, veteran-owned, or small, disabled veteran-owned businesses to be able to navigate that. I think, helping in those ways can be significant for folks.
Speaker 6: Thank you so much.
Rob Wittman: Sure, thanks. Gary?
Gary Jones: Kind of comment, and then I have a question not related whatsoever.
Rob Wittman: Sure.
Gary Jones: Talking about CRs and government shutdown, I think one thing that would be really important for the federal government to consider is the SBA, Small Business Administration. Aside from just veteran-owned businesses, I mean, when we get into a recession, there are tens of thousands of non-veteranowned businesses that are affected on a monthly basis across the country. The economic impact is really severe on employees. It’d be nice, not just from a banking perspective, to see you guys carve out, but really for the business community to understand those that are involved in the SBA process who need a type of financing, that that isn’t halted, as well, for months at a time.
Gary Jones: Totally shifting gears though, but as the ranking member on a
Speaker 6: I’m sorry, what was that last statement you said? That is a what? Did you say culprit?
Gary Jones: Not culprit, no.
Speaker 6: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear the last
Gary Jones: It’s just important that they understand, to try to keep the SBA process moving forward, and not frozen in time.
Speaker 6: Oh, okay.
Gary Jones: So you’ve got South China, say in 2013, the Chinese started dredging and creating islands. We did nothing. The world did nothing. It was clear what they were going to do with it. Nothing has happened. They’ve completely militarized those islands now. The Philippines, the [inaudible 00:33:31] basically ruled in favor of the Philippines in ’16, has done nothing.
Gary Jones: Outside of freedom of navigation, occasionally, where we’ll send some ships through, the importance of that region to the world, where a third of economic traffic goes through those waters on an annual basis, what is being done, anything? You don’t hear. It’s rare you ever see any other country’s Navy ships go through that. It doesn’t seem to be anything, whether regional or worldwide, to do that. It’s just kind of, hey, they’re going to do what they’re going to do. We’ll send a ship through every once in a while, but at some point, they may not…
Rob Wittman: Yeah, well, the Chinese want to push everybody else out of the South China Sea, whether it is the Spratly Islands, which are off of the Philippines, including Scarborough Reef, which is where they went in there and started to drill for energy in a territory that didn’t belong to them, that belonged to the Philippines. As you said, the world court ruled against China. China doesn’t pay any attention to that ruling.
Rob Wittman: The Paracel Islands, which are off of Vietnam, they also are in the Paracels, establishing military or militarized islands in those areas. All of that runs out of Hainan Island, which is the large island that’s right off of Japan in the South China Sea. What we are doing is not just the Freedom of Navigation operations, which means we put a ship in there. The Chinese get all spun up, and they surround our ship and hassle it, but we think the most important thing to do is to make sure that we are cultivating partners in that region, specifically the Philippines. President Duterte runs hot and cold, as far as his relationship with the United States, but I was just talking with State Department and Navy leaders the other day about what we’re doing there.
Rob Wittman: There’s an older facility the U.S. used to be based out of, called Subic Bay. It’s deteriorating. We gave it to the Philippines. It’s actually a pretty good facility. They have allowed it to go into a state of disrepair. What we are working on is a relationship with the Philippines, so several things can happen. One is that we do things to improve that facility, so we can, not base ships out of there, but have ships visit there. If we can have some of our ships there that’ll help the Philippines patrol their areas, have some presence there, and then also help them build their Navy… They have thousands of miles of shoreline, hundreds of islands there, some… actually thousands of islands there that they have to patrol. It’s a very, very difficult place to patrol.
Rob Wittman: We have some older ships that are in mothballs up in Philadelphia. They’re our old frigate ships, still very good ships. What we’re looking at is selling them to different governments. We’ll take them and fix them up and sell them to different governments. They’re still pretty good ships. The Philippines is one of those governments on the list to have a ship for them to be able to help patrol their areas, to give some presence there to let the Chinese know they’re going to be on issue. It’s not just the Chinese doing the economic development, but it’s Chinese fishing vessels coming in and fishing in international waters, many times illegally.
Rob Wittman: Secondly, too, is our relationship with Vietnam. The communist party of Vietnam and the communist party of China, there’s still a relationship there, but the governments between Vietnam and China do not get along very well. There’s a great opportunity there for the United States. We’re building that relationship with Vietnam to make sure that they understand that China’s not always going to be their friend, and what the Chinese are doing in the Paracel Islands is actually against Vietnam’s interests. We are working on building that relationship, both an economic relationship… The key for Vietnam is to get a trade agreement. If we can empower Vietnam economically, they are at the same place that South Korea was 25 years ago.
Rob Wittman: Trade agreements that South Korea pursued allowed their economy to boom. We think the same thing is potentially there in Vietnam. The key for that, and the key for us to be able to put pressure on the Chinese, is a strategic agreement with the Philippines, and then an economic trade agreement with Vietnam. I think doing those things greatly enhances our ability in that region to influence.
Rob Wittman: Another area that’s critical, it’s not right in Southeast Asia, but affects that area, is instead of calling that area the Pacific region, it’s actually the Indo-Pacific region, because India is a big player in that region. China’s specifically trying to isolate India. We’ve had some great… I’ve gone over there and visited several times. I’ve had some great meetings with President Modi, and they want a stronger economic relationship with the United States. Now, they’ll never be an ally, a formal ally, but they can be a strong partner.
Rob Wittman: They are rebuilding their Navy. We are rebuilding our Navy. They want to have similar joint agreements, as far as how they operate in the regions where we jointly operate. Those are another great area of opportunity for us to push the Chinese out of the areas that they’re trying to operate. The Chinese aren’t only trying to enhance their operations in the South China Sea. They want to have a worldwide presence, so as you know, they’ve opened up a number of Navy facilities around… In Karachi, they’ve opened up a naval facility, which really puts the Indians on edge, and the same there in Africa at Djibouti. They’ve opened up a port actually right across from where the United States facility is there in Djibouti.
Rob Wittman: They want to have a worldwide presence. They’re doing naval operations in the North Atlantic. What we’ve got to be able to do is to make sure that we counter the things that they do. We don’t have enough ships, resources, and the wherewithal to do it by ourselves. The way we counter the Chinese is to have trade agreements, economic relationships with these other countries, and then strategic relationships. They don’t necessarily have to be a formal ally, like NATO, but to have an agreement to say we’re going to jointly operate with India. We have an agreement like that, and with Japan and others. If we do more of that, then we can counter the effort that China’s trying to put forward to push us out, or not just us, but everybody else, out of these areas.
Gary Jones: Interesting.
Speaker 7: Got a question for you.
Rob Wittman: Yes, yes, sure.
Speaker 7: [inaudible 00:39:48] talked about telecoms a little bit earlier, and I was curious what you see the role of government, especially as you see a movement towards more 5G reliability, in terms of systems, where do you see the role, I guess, of the government in that conversation?
Rob Wittman: Well, I think there’s several roles. One is on the regulatory side, to make sure the frequencies that have to be there for 5G are readily available. I’ve talked with Chairman Pai. Ajit Pai is the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, very forward thinking about how do we make sure, at auctions, that those frequencies are available across the board to companies.
Rob Wittman: He came here to the first district. We had a nice town hall meeting. One of things we emphasized with him is our smaller ISPs. Our Internet service providers, have high quality spectrum, but the FCC sometimes wants to take that spectrum back and re-auction it off, so a spectrum that would be available to anyone to use, now they want to take it back and sell it at auction.
Rob Wittman: Listen, I understand. They raise a whole lot of money at auction for those frequencies, but if you take those high-quality frequencies away from smaller companies that provide Internet service, and give them the not so good frequencies that don’t have distance, that can’t penetrate trees, which is the big impediment of those signals, can’t overcome geography, then they won’t be able to sell a quality product to consumers, and consumers won’t buy from them, so what happens to the small ISPs? They go out of business. We want to make sure that, from a regulatory standpoint, that the frequencies are available.
Rob Wittman: Another element, too, of 5G is the technology side. 5G has a couple of different limitations to it. First of all, giant capacity, so big, big, giant pipelines, so lots of what they call bandwidth. The problem is it doesn’t have much distance, so if you’re going to build out a 5G network, every couple of blocks, you have to put in a repeater, so it works more like an enhanced WiFi system than it really does a mobile wireless system, but there are other elements of frequency that you can use with the 5G technology that allow you to reach out farther.
Rob Wittman: The challenge is the single company in the world that produces that technology is the Chinese. They’re actually putting it in place in King George County. People love the quality of service, because it has lots of bandwidth and lots of distance. The problem is all of its Chinese hardware, and don’t think that Chinese hardware there in a communications system isn’t taking every single shred of data.
Rob Wittman: I tell businesses this, that every shred of data that you are now exchanging, don’t think that somehow or another… because the hardware is manufactured by the Chinese. Guess who comes in and repairs and maintains the hardware?
Audience: The Chinese companies, yeah.
Rob Wittman: Yeah, the Chinese companies, so anyway, so that’s another element where we have to have that. I think making sure the frequency is freed up, and making sure that we look strategically at who produces the hardware for that. 5G can reach rural areas if we allow the frequencies, the lower frequencies that go longer distances, that still have enough of the higher band there to give you the pipeline, and then we have the hardware there to do that. I think those are the critical elements, so regulatory side, the frequencies, and on the production side, hardware, to make sure that it’s not Chinese produced.
Speaker 7: Mm-hmm (affirmative), thank you.
Rob Wittman: Sure, sure. Yes.
Speaker 8: Hi Congressman.
Rob Wittman: Hey.
Speaker 8: I worked the poll of my precinct last election 14 straight hours, and I think you won 75% of it, because you felt that being fiscally responsible is very important. Some of your esteemed colleagues, not so much, so we have a national debt that could be getting to crisis levels. How do we get a handle on that?
Rob Wittman: That’s a great question. We are right now at about $22 trillion of debt. That is approaching 100% of our GDP. Economists will tell you, once you go past 100% of GDP, it does impact the private economy. As we speak today, we pay about $390 billion a year just in interest on the national debt, unbelievable. I have a hard time wrapping my head around a trillion dollars, but the best representation I’ve heard is this. If you represent a million dollars in the stack of thousand dollar bills, your stacks about six inches high. If you represent the $22 trillion of debt that our nation has today, your stack of thousand dollar bills is 67 miles high.
Rob Wittman: That’s what we’re talking about, and unfortunately, it’s not going to be us. It’s going to be our children and our children’s children. Money that’s being spent today is money that’s going to, at some point, have to be paid back by somebody in the future. If it’s not paid back, for those folks that think somehow you don’t have to pay it back, or you can just keep paying interest, that’s, that’s
Speaker 6: Insanity.
Rob Wittman: Well, it is, and it’s not achievable. You can’t continue to do that, because every day there’s a treasury auction, and the United States sells its debt. You heard about the inversion. Some other countries, actually, in trying to sell their debt say, “You have to pay us, in order for us to be able to get that money.” That’s not going to work either.
Rob Wittman: What we have to look at is how do we structure the system, as you said, where we have a federal budgeting system where the math works, where you’re not spending more than what’s coming in the door? You’ve got to talk about both sides of the balance sheet. You have to talk about the spending side, which I think there’s a lot of things that we can do there, and everything has to be on the table, without endangering, without endangering… Let me emphasize this, without endangering the money that individuals have put into the Social Security and Medicare system. It is your money. It is your money. We have a responsibility to manage it, so when you need it, when you go to get it, when you come to retirement time, it’s there.
Rob Wittman: I talked to a group of young professionals not long ago in Williamsburg, all 35 years of age and under, and I asked them by a show of hands, and I said, “How many people in this room expect to get a Social Security benefit when you retire?” Not a single person in that room raised their hand. Yet, when I asked them about the solutions to the problem, they said, “Here’s the deal. We don’t mind continuing to pay in some to the system, because we understand it’s going to reach a deficit, and we want to make sure that people have the dollars they need for their retirement, but don’t keep taking our money and putting it into a system that we know there’s not going to be a penny there when it comes time for us to retire. Give us another set of choices, or re-manage the system, or do something to make sure the longevity of the system is put forward.”
Rob Wittman: It’s a simple math problem. Again, people are living longer. Remember, too, Social Security premiums are capped at $120,000 of income, so once you make over $120,000 of income, you pay zero in Social Security withholding. Yet, when you look at the averaging for your Social Security benefit, the averaging doesn’t take into account the cap on the premiums that go in. Make it a simple math problem. You have to manage Social Security as a defined contribution program, not as a defined benefit program, because in a defined benefit program, you’re relying on other people paying in to pay for people collecting today. That math problem doesn’t continue to work.
Rob Wittman: In 1932, Social Security was put in place. There were 30 people paying in for every one person collecting benefit. Life expectancy was 68 years of age. You were eligible for Social Security at 65. Today, as we speak, there are two people paying in for every one person collecting a benefit. Life expectancy is 78 years of age. Eligibility is either 65 or 66-1/2, depending on your age. It’s purely a matter of math, and it’s not me that’s saying this. The trustees that are charged with managing Medicare and Social Security talk about Congress has got to do something. The longer Congress waits, the more difficult the solutions become. That has to be part of the balance sheet and to be able to address that.
Rob Wittman: I think that there are ways, ways that you can do that. I want to make sure, too, that we consider the structure about how we look at continuing to borrow money. I mean, think about this. We have a number of people here from banks. Think about this. If you had a customer come into your bank and say, “By the way, I want to borrow money, and I can’t pay you back any principal. All I can do is to pay you the interest,” you’d say, “Sorry, you don’t qualify.”
Rob Wittman: Let’s say, perchance, that you did make that loan and said, “We’ll go ahead and make that loan, and we’ll go ahead and let you just pay the interest on it.” Think about this. When that customer comes back in your bank and goes, “Hey, by the way, I can’t pay the interest. Can you lend me some money to pay the interest?”
Gary Jones: [crosstalk 00:48:28].
Rob Wittman: It’s just beyond imagination. Yet, that’s how our federal government works. In any realm, this banking, it just could never work that way. We’ve got to get the federal government back to being able to operate just as a business does, and focus on the math. Focus on the math. You can get, I believe, the politics out of it. Anytime anybody wants to talk about managing, not doing away, but managing the autopilot spending programs of Social Security and Medicare, automatically folks say, “You want to push grandma over the cliff. You want to take away benefits from folks, to scare them.” That’s not the case, not the case, at all, but we have to be able to have an adult conversation about all those things, because it’s simply and straightforward a question of financial management.
Rob Wittman: If we don’t do that, we will get to a point where it’s unsustainable. At some point, at some point, people will not continue to buy U.S. Treasury issues. They buy it, because the United States is still the best place you can put your money. There’s still a yield on those treasuries, even though sometimes it’s fairly low, but if we get to a point where people say, “I just don’t believe the United States can or will pay those dollars back,” what happens then?
Rob Wittman: I know it’s something… We do have treasury auctions where not everything is sold, and the Fed will jump in and cover that. I’d like to see the Fed audited, so we can understand
Audience: Good luck.
Rob Wittman: How are the different elements of what happens there affecting the system that we have today, so we understand that, so we know? Because my concern is that if you’re creating long-term imbalances there, by the things that you’re doing within those treasury auctions, there can be a problem. We’ve seen, if those things come to a head, and they come to a head pretty quickly, the outcome is not a good one, so I think there are a lot of things that we can do there. Yes, sir.
Todd: I’m curious. We’ve got a spat of elections coming up here.
Rob Wittman: Yes, yes.
Todd: To the point of the deficit, let’s say that there is a big turnaround, and those that are elected feel that the tax change should be reversed to try to bring down the businesses, stock market, whoever. We hate uncertainty.
Rob Wittman: Yes, yes, yes.
Todd: You know? It would just be nice to, as long as we know what the rules are, we could play by the rules.
Rob Wittman: We try, that’s right.
Todd: What do you see happening, if there were a significant change in the Senate, as there has been, with tax law, and some of those changes?
Rob Wittman: Well, listen. It’s always hard to predict what the nature of the body will be after the next election. I think that there are positive impacts of the most recent tax policy. Now, we can debate that back and forth. It’s still a matter of financial management for the United States, so I think you have to look at all of those different elements. You have to look, too, about what happens in what I call financial behavior, so if you do change the tax code, there’s always an outcome of how financial behaviors change, either sometimes in good ways or not so good ways.
Rob Wittman: Sometimes people move money away from where you’d like for it to be, and sometimes money gets moved into areas where you would like for it to be. It’s hard to predict what would actually be the outcome. It’s great to put out all these proposals about new tax here and new tax there. Certainly, on the presidential side, that’s happening, but both bodies still have to pass a bill that would go into place. Then, once that comes before the public, and the public has an understanding about what that would entail, the political dynamics of that change, change immensely.
Rob Wittman: What I would say is the proposals being put out there are a long, long, long, long way away from actually becoming reality. Then, once people know more about it, usually when the public speaks, most of the time, the Congress listens, and you’ll see, from that standpoint, I think, at least a more measured response in whatever gets put out there. I think, Todd, that’s what we’ve seen traditionally is… As I’ve said, the old adage goes, the executive branch proposes; the Congress disposes. So many times, these ideas and such that come up, it takes a lot to get through one body with a simple majority, and then get a 60-vote majority in the Senate to be able to get that done. It’s a good thing that things don’t go through at lightning speed.
Todd: That’s true. Thank you.
Rob Wittman: Yes, sir.
Mike: Representative Wittman, my name’s Mike [inaudible 00:53:01], and I’m with AARP. My wife is here [inaudible 00:53:05]. We’re part of the Fredericksburg area, and we’ve been to your office a couple times up on the Hill, and also in Fredericksburg. I just want to take the opportunity to thank you for the professionalism and the receptiveness of that Fredericksburg office. My question is, in this area, we have a lot of individuals that are hurting because of prescription drugs, the cost of prescription drugs.
Rob Wittman: Yes.
Mike: What initiatives are you putting in place to reduce the cost?
Rob Wittman: Sure, well, actually there are a number of them. We actually passed four, I think, really good bills out of committee, first this, to make sure that on pricing of pharmaceuticals, that we look at how they’re priced across the spectrum, not just in the United States but elsewhere, to make sure we equalize those prices. It’s called the Fair Drug Pricing Act. It’s really about the ability for the United States to push the pharmaceutical companies and how they ascribe costs to things like marketing and other things, what I think gets borne by the U.S. consumer and doesn’t get taken up by other consumers in other regions.
Rob Wittman: There’s no logical reason, to me, why pricing can’t be fair across the board. There’s no reason why the same, the exact same pharmaceutical in Europe or Canada is priced differently than in the United States. The same way with cancer drugs. We have an extraordinarily high cost on cancer drugs. We have to be able to bring that down. What we’re trying to do is to unify how cancer drug research is done, so that we don’t have to worry about a single company focusing on a very, very narrow spectrum of cancer drug, and then once they develop it and get approval for it, the prices are astronomical. If we were able to do the research and development across the spectrum and then allow all these different drug companies the ability to produce the drug, costs will come down.
Rob Wittman: I think there are a number of ways that we can do that. Transparency, too, in what insurers pay for pharmaceuticals is key. Another element, too, is the largest purchaser of pharmaceuticals in the United States is the United States Government. Both in the Medicare program and how Medicare recipients are able to purchase pharmaceuticals, we ought to, and this is a bipartisan thought about how you do this… Why doesn’t the federal government put this piece of business out there, and have the pharmaceutical companies bid on it and say give us your best bid, instead of individuals having to go to the marketplace and determine, well, which one of these companies is the best for me? I don’t think it always ends up, for everybody in general, at the best place, so I think that we can look at those elements to really be able to bring down pharmaceutical costs.
Mike: Thank you.
Rob Wittman: Sure, thank you. Yes, ma’am, hey.
Theresa: Theresa [inaudible 00:56:01].
Theresa: Prince William County’s been great, and you’ve been great with support for the data center industry. Listening to you talk about Huawei and 5G, how do you see that playing out in your world right now, like with the JEDI cloud and where DoD is heading? Do you see this as a risk, or is Congress talking about that as a risk to outsourcing data centers?
Rob Wittman: Well, we have been talking about it. There’s a lot of back and forth about that, as you know. The issue came up with Amazon and others about cloud computing. Cloud computing, I do think, has a significant role to play in how we manage data. Cloud computing, done properly, does provide a much higher level of security than what happens in a single mainframe computer system, where somebody… Eventually somebody can go enough times to find a pathway in, and then we have problems.
Rob Wittman: The key, with JEDI and others, is to make sure that we have continual security elements about what happens in that system. When you have the private data providers, the key is what are they doing? Many times, it’s not just the cloud perspective there, but it’s what are they doing to secure their data centers? We have a bunch of data centers here in Prince William County. Some of them are as protected as trying to go to the FBI headquarters. That goes to show the amount of thought that they’re putting in, in making sure that we’re protecting those areas.
Rob Wittman: I think, when you’re looking at cloud computing, there are things that you can do to make sure that those facilities are protected, the physical facilities. Even though data does move around, all one person has to do is to get to one facility, and it can create a problem, because we know of the interconnectivity out there in the cloud. Then, secondly, is to make sure, too, that there are continual upgrades in cloud computing, as to how data is managed, and then how data is accessed, because the folks out there, the nefarious folks that figure out, how do I make my way in here?
Rob Wittman: There are some… I can’t talk a lot about it, because we get the security briefs on that, but there are some pretty imaginative ways that others are thinking about to be able to get into the cloud, and not just to gather critical information there, but themselves to be kind of floating around in the cloud, and as they’re floating around, as you know, data’s going in five million different directions, is they have a little filter there, and they’re looking at it and saying, I want to catch specific little pieces of data.
Rob Wittman: While they may not, today, collect something that is significant, and while they may not next week, as they continue to collect this in that little net, have something that’s significant, but it may be next year or the year after or the year after, where they finally get enough little bits and pieces in their net, to where they can go, okay, now we see something going on. We have to be mindful of some of the things that are happening there, too, because let me tell you, our adversaries are pretty ingenious about thinking of ways to exploit what we do. The cloud is very, very powerful in being able to protect data, because it moves around so much, but people are thinking creatively, too, about how they can gather things that are critically important. It’s not a day-to-day security issue. It’s a long-term security issue. Yes.
Mark D’Antionio: Hi, good to see you again, by the way.
Rob Wittman: Yeah, good to see you again.
Mark D’Antionio: I want to first say, first, Mark D’Antonio, Northern Virginia Community College at the Woodbridge Campus. Thank you for visiting us and talking to our students in the past.
Mark D’Antionio: Hope to have you there again, soon. By the way, my wife says hi.
Rob Wittman: Tell her I said hello to her.
Mark D’Antionio: My campus is located by the Wegmans on the route one area. We’re in sort of a… We characterize it as an island of disadvantage. We have a lower income level there, and so our students are disproportionately dependent on student loans. My boss, Dr. Hill, he’s… We’re constantly having these meetings about that, and about how we can help students. Financial aid’s a complicated thing. I don’t know if there are any experts in this room. I’m certainly not one, but what I’m concerned about is will… Being all the things you spoke about, the South China Sea, the military, 5G, and all these other things that are very important and deserve expenditures by the U.S. Government, is the government going to be able to maintain its commitment to provide or guarantee loans for students, particularly students that go to schools like mine, where they’re not very… They’re very fortunate to meet a Congressman, and they’re very fortunate to get a chance to go in there and get started.
Mark D’Antionio: Of course, we’re a big feeder to George Mason and other schools, and it would impact them negatively, as well. Will we still be able to, or will the government still be able to meet its future commitments on that?
Rob Wittman: Mark, the answer is yes, we will. In fact, we’re looking at other ways, because we believe that, for students, many students, especially those that are looking to retrain or are trying to figure out, right after high school, what can they do to gain a certification or credential, that accessing Pell Grants is key. Today, as we speak, Pell Grants, which is the largest source of grants for students, is limited to somebody that’s pursuing a two-year degree or a four-year degree.
Rob Wittman: What we believe is that Pell Grants ought to be available to all students, including those that are coming back to take a couple of courses to get a certification or credential, or taking courses to enhance their job skills. We think that those things are very important. I have a bill in, called the PROPEL Act, that says that those students will have those dollars available.
Rob Wittman: If you’re a veteran, and you’re getting assistance under the 9/11 GI Bill, you can go and take a course that’s non-degree related. You can go and take a set of courses that get you a certification or credential. Why can’t you do that under a Pell Grant? You can’t currently. We want to make sure Pell grants cover all of those things. If we’re serious about career and technical education, we need to open up those grants to everyone.
Rob Wittman: Folks say, “Well, you know, going to the community college and taking a couple of courses to get a certification or a credential, you know it’s only three or four hundred dollars here or there.” If you are an individual that’s working from paycheck to paycheck, three or four hundred dollars for a course may as well be $10,000, because you just can’t afford it. You’re literally… Every penny of your paycheck is taken up each month.
Rob Wittman: If we really want to provide the opportunity, Pell Grants for students, as they are pursuing these certifications and credentials, and even additional coursework, just to be able to get a little bit of enhanced skills to where they can go into the job marketplace and get a better job, or advance in the business that they’re in, is key. Not just standing by the student loans that are there, we have to make sure that we allow Pell Grants to be available.
Rob Wittman: It really goes back, too, and the community colleges do a fantastic job of this, and that is making sure that, as a metric, we are looking at the course direction that our students are taking, and have them knowledgeable about how that results to opportunities in the job market. I think too much of the emphasis… My wife’s a schoolteacher. This is her 40th year of teaching school. Too much of our emphasis has been on standardized tests. If you look at the association between standardized test scores and employment availability, opportunity, and job paths in the future, the correlation between those two is almost zero.
Rob Wittman: Listen, it’s great to measure progress. I want to make sure that our students are learning, but the question is, are they learning the right things? Are we putting them on a path to where they’re going to be successful in life? Are they going to be successful in the jobs that they are going after? Community college does a great job in making sure that the coursework that’s available there is directly related to the demands in the job market. I think those are key, but that has to go all the way down, and I think it has to start in elementary school. I think that fourth and fifth grade is where we need to start the discussion between parents and their children about what’s the path forward?
Mark D’Antionio: Okay, thank you. Hope to have you on the campus again soon.
Rob Wittman: Mark, we’re looking forward to getting back soon, so we’ll do that.
Mark D’Antionio: All right, thanks.
Lyle Dukes: Okay, we’ll take one more question, or… okay?
Rob Wittman: Any other questions?
Speaker 13: Yeah, I’ve got one.
Speaker 13: What can we do to best help you? You’re always helping us. How can we extend a hand back your way?
Audience: Great question. Very good!
Rob Wittman: Meetings like this, where I get to come in and tell you what’s going on, and you give me your feedback, is tremendously important. I think the thing you can do to help us, too, is as you’re talking to people in the community, everybody out there either has an idea about what can be done to make our government operate better. I can tell you, there is no ownership of good ideas inside that 90 square miles of fantasy land we call Washington. They’re right out here with what you all deal with, so thoughts and ideas about things.
Rob Wittman: We do a lot. In fact, we put out an email almost every other day, in giving people updates on what’s happening in Washington. It’s not political, and we’re not going after anybody. We’re just talking about what’s happening, and we’re soliciting ideas from folks. We do a lot of survey work, so if you come across folks, please have them come to our official congressional office website and go there. They can subscribe to these weekly e-newsletters. We don’t share their information with anybody, but we put out a lot of really good information about what’s happening in Washington.
Rob Wittman: I would just encourage folks to go there. If you have people that have thoughts or ideas, have them contact our office. That, I think, is really the biggest help for us. The way I can best do my job is to listen to as many people as possible. I understand that when I make a decision, some people are going to disagree with it, but my obligation is to make sure I listen to everybody. I don’t care your political strifes, your ideology, who or where you are, even if it’s outside the first congressional district, my obligation is to do what’s best for the first district, for Virginia, and for our nation.
Rob Wittman: By the way, let me mention this, because Virginia is unique, in that our congressional delegation meets every month. Most other congressional delegations in the Capital can’t even get in the same room together. We meet every month. We sit down and talk about what we need to do for Virginia. That’s why, when bills go through, many times you’ll see that it’s members, republican and democrat, on our side, in the House, and it’s Senator Warner and Senator Kaine carrying companion legislation over on the Senate side. We always talk about what’s going on and what’s happening for Virginia.
Rob Wittman: Within that realm, I think things go extraordinarily well, but we’re always looking for ideas. We’re always looking for thoughts about what we can do and how we can do it better, and as much as we can in this highly partisan world, is to try to break through some of that partisan noise because, as I said, good thoughts and ideas about how to solve things doesn’t have a specific political ideology. It’s about what are we doing in the best interest of folks here in the commonwealth and back in the first district. I think that’s the way that you can best help us. Just keep the information flowing our way, so we can continue to do the best job that we possibly can.
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