This past year has been filled with many important policy debates, legislative accomplishments, and exciting new developments for Nebraska. I want to take a moment to highlight some of these events and reflect upon the year.
By far the most pressing issue facing our nation is the economy. We must continue to find ways to help businesses grow so they can create jobs. We also cannot address our economic challenges without addressing the nation's runaway debt. Our current $16 trillion debt has ballooned to such a serious situation where each taxpayer would owe $142,000 just to get us back to even. Congress must find a long-term solution to tackle our nation's debt and deficit. I remain committed to dealing with this problem in a bipartisan way during 2013.
Dealing with our nation's debt hasn't been the only challenge this year. Drought has plagued our state. I am pleased USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack responded swiftly to my calls for action on the drought. The dry conditions also sparked wildfires. In all, nearly 400,000 acres burned across Nebraska, displacing many and causing significant damage. I am thankful for all the volunteer firefighters and individuals who worked around the clock to help neighbors in need.
The drought added pressure to update our nation's farm policy and I was proud of the work done in the Senate to pass a fiscally responsible farm bill. As a member of the Senate Ag committee, I sought to ensure the bill strengthened our ag community and preserved important tools such as crop insurance. The House of Representatives has not passed its bill, but work is still being done to enact new farm policy.
This was also a big year for Offutt Air Force Base. The Department of Defense (DoD) announced a contract to begin construction for a new command and control facility for STRATCOM. I encouraged my colleagues to move the contract forward and I will continue to monitor its progress. DoD and STRATCOM also announced a new collaboration with the University of Nebraska to establish a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), one of only a select-few in the nation. This partnership presents new opportunities in defense-related research.
One of the great honors I have in the Senate is to be a member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. It's important we ensure our service members receive the support they deserve, which is why I was pleased to introduce, the HIRE at Home Act, included in the defense authorization bill. This measure streamlines job certification for soldiers returning home from war. Too often, it is difficult for our veterans to receive state certifications to do the same job in the private sector that they did while overseas and this legislation helps alleviate this problem. I also championed several measures to better coordinate services for our veterans.
Sometimes what we stop in Washington is as important as what we start with new legislation. I blew the whistle on many misguided EPA regulations, ranging from farm dust to aerial surveillance. I also helped convince the Department of Labor that it's okay for teenagers to work on farms.
We tackled many important issues this year, and I invite you to visit www.johanns.senate.gov for a full report. I also encourage you to stay connected; your insight is greatly valued and appreciated. Thank you again for the honor of allowing me to serve you in the United States Senate. It's a responsibility I take very seriously. Stephanie and I wish you a very happy New Year and hope to see you soon. God Bless.