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Sen. Warner: Cyber threats are ‘only going to get worse’

Sen. Mark Warner speaks to business people at the Mason Enterprise Center in Leesburg Feb. 16.Times-Mirror/Trevor Baratko
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner was in Leesburg last week asking for help.

Doing his best Jerry Macguire, Warner asked a room full of business folks at the Mason Enterprise Center to "help him help them." The second-term Democrat wanted to know what he can do in the Senate to make life easier for budding entrepreneurs, inventors and CEOs.

George Mason University's Mason Enterprise Center in Leesburg is one of several regional business development incubators, offering assistance in things like government contracting, small business development and telework initiatives.

“There were confirmed concerns, particularly for small businesses about access to capital,” Warner said in an interview following the event.

On that front, the senator advocates for the private sector launching a cyber start-up fund to help new entrepreneurs. He sees himself as someone who could be a facilitator in organizing the fund. Additionally, Warner would like to see better workforce training and cyber education through public schools and community colleges.

Virginia currently has about 18,000 unfilled jobs in the cybersecurity sphere, according to the senator. Nationwide, there are about 200,000.

"I didn't know whether [audience members] were going to be interested in more the gig or the cyber stuff," Warner said. "It was clearly much more cyber-centric."

A wealthy businessman who made millions as an early investor of cellphone technology, Warner told the crowd there are three key areas he would invest in today if he was a young venture capitalist: cybersecurity; unmanned technology like drones and cars; and personal monitoring devices in health care.

“Cyber is a problem that's not going to go away,” Warner said. “Unfortunately, it's only going to get worse.”

Speaking on personal monitoring in health care, the senator said the health care system needs to be more proactive and innovative in monitoring, detecting and studying health conditions.

“Health care is still, as a sector of our economy, the most inefficient,” he said.

Warner continued to hit on what has become one of his favorite topics over the past year: the “gig” or “on-demand” economy created by companies like Uber and Airbnb.

“How do we think about re-inventing the social contract?” Warner said, noting that he's working with colleagues on how to define a safety net for workers in this new economy. “What we’re looking at now is, maybe we need to come up with a whole new set of benefits that travel with the person.”

“The last time the federal government looked at the contingent work force was 2005. That's about as useful as if it was 1895,” Warner said.

The massive amount of student loan debt – north of $1.2 trillion, according to Market Watch – were also noted during the discussion. Warner noted two pieces of legislation he's submitted in that arena: The Employer Participation in Repayment Act, which aims to help people with student debt by allowing employers to contribute up to $5,250 pre-tax to their employees federal or private student loans; and The Dynamic Student Loan Repayment Act, intended to make it easier for students to enroll in federal income-based loan repayment programs.

Both measure have been introduced and are pending consideration in the Finance Committee, on which Warner serves.

Susan Hensen, the Regional Manager for Mason Enterprise Center, called the event a “great listening session” for MEC.

“We know that small government contractors have a lot of needs, so we have really started to ramp up some programming around that, to help support them,” Hensen said. “We find people are always really excited to have the senator here. I feel like it makes business people feel important.”

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @TrevorBaratko.


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