Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp has been chosen to lead state efforts to rebuild public infrastructures along the Gulf Coast where Hurricane Harvey left the greatest damage in its wake -- a mission he said he is ready to serve.
During a press conference in Austin on Thursday morning, Gov. Greg Abbott said there were many factors that made Sharp the right man for the job -- from his history as a resident and elected official serving the Gulf Coast region to his time serving as state comptroller and, importantly, his ability to "cut through red tape."
"I have a simple charge for Commissioner Sharp: That is to rebuild Texas ahead of schedule, under budget and with a friendly smile of constant consumer service," Abbott said.
Sharp will serve as commissioner of the Governor's Commission to Rebuild Texas, an effort designed to bring together resources and information from local, state and federal officials and help facilitate the recovery process of local communities in the region.
Over the course of the coming months and years, the commission is expected to be in direct contact with local officials to ensure the help they are receiving is exactly what they need.
"We want to make sure every county, city and school district will get everything their citizens deserve and do it as efficiently as possible," Sharp said. "We are aware this money is coming from taxpayers from around the country. We will treat this money as if it were our own."
He said it is also the commission's hope to be able to "provide a one-stop shop for access to state and federal resources, and to ensure local officials are armed with information crucial for decision-making" by embedding information clearinghouse teams in each affected county.
Sharp said the commission will stay away from any possibility of duplicating or interfering with other ongoing efforts and instead focus specifically on the restoration of public infrastructure.
"One of the guiding principles will be to future-proof what is being rebuilt so as to mitigate future risks as much as possible," Sharp said. "...With [Abbott's] leadership and collaboration with local officials, we will rebuild an even better Texas Gulf Coast."
Officials also announced A&M System Chief Financial Officer Billy Hamilton -- a longtime collaborator with Sharp -- will be involved in assisting in the execution of Sharp and Abbott's plans.
Sharp added that he is also "committed to bringing the resources of the Texas A&M University System alongside this team to provide all the support needed."
According to official documents, the commission will begin its work by deploying an assistance center of subject matter experts who are able to assist local officials in navigating the detailed and often complex systems used to administer aid in a recovery effort of this size.
Next, officials said the county-level information clearinghouse teams -- largely comprised of A&M System Extension staff members already in place -- will be formed to keep local officials informed of any new information or resources available.
A response team, designed to "maintain a direct line of communication" with the governor's office, will be put in place to "ensure that state agencies receive information in real-time and can respond quickly and decisively to address issues that arise at the local level."
The team will also be expected to ensure information being distributed throughout the commission is both accurate and consistent, and to draw on the knowledge of experts to identify and recommend new ways to protect infrastructure against future destructive events such as Harvey.
With operations based out of the A&M System offices in College Station, Sharp is expected to continue his role as chancellor.
Abbott, Sharp and other state and local officials involved with the commission will be visiting Houston and Victoria today and Beaumont on Saturday after making stops in Corpus Christi and Richmond on Thursday.
Alongside the commission's announcement, the U.S. Senate approved $15.25 billion in funding to assist with the Texas recovery effort.
In a statement, Abbott said the support the state has received from the federal government has been reassuring.
"The response by the federal government has been swift and effective, and the passage of a bill allocating an initial down payment for recovery and rebuilding is a continuation of their assurances to stand firm with Texas," Abbott said. "I thank the U.S. Senate and members of both parties for working to secure funding to help Texas rebuild from Hurricane Harvey."
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