The global spread of COVID-19 accelerated the United States into one of the worst public health crises in generations. Entire segments of public life have since closed, the lives of millions have been interrupted, and the way we work and do business has shifted to an online and digital environment faster than anyone believed possible.
Local, state, and federal governments, which are employers of millions of skilled workers and providers of essential services and operations, have also been forced to cope with this unprecedented change in little time. As they have had to rapidly adapt and increase their capacity to respond to the crisis, the ramifications of longstanding public sector challenges from well before the pandemic started – including antiquated IT infrastructure, inefficient paper based and manual processes, and cybersecurity threats – have become even more exposed.
Reports of governments’ continued reliance on decades old programming and systems, attempts to adapt paper-based systems to work from home, and agencies’ falling back on fax machines and other antiquated technologies are complicating the complex response effort. This is an unfortunate consequence of a decades-long failure by governments at all levels to invest in the technology infrastructure, tools, and workforce needed to deliver modern and secure citizen services. The resulting inefficiencies, limited adaptability, and comparatively poor resiliency have all had a profound and constraining effect on government’s ability to provide services to the public at a time when they are most needed. Making the situation even more difficult, the speedy transition to remote work necessary to keep governments functioning is allowing malicious actors to both take advantage of existing but not fully mitigated vulnerabilities and exploit new ones created by alternative work arrangements.
Robust national investment in tools that better enable and improve resilient mission delivery is paramount in order to ensure that governments and their employees at all levels throughout the United States can perform at the levels we need now and function more efficiently and effectively once this emergency abates. Future federal COVID-19 relief and recovery measures must provide support and funding to federal, state, and local governments in areas including:
- IT infrastructure to enable, secure, and ensure continuity of remote work and operations;
- Technology and business process modernization so that we can transform and modernize labor intensive processes while increasing operational resiliency and scalability;
- Adoption of secure cloud computing tools;
- Increased delivery of digital services to citizens; and
- Policies and processes necessary for seamless work from home and distributed operations.
At the same time, the U.S. Congress and the federal government need to ensure commensurate investments in cybersecurity that expand and improve secure remote connectivity and access, leverage secure cloud capabilities, accelerate modernization of critical cybersecurity protocols, and improve training and readiness of IT executives and professionals who serve within and work alongside government.
Fortunately, Congress is equipped to rapidly and effectively direct resources to where investment is most needed. The U.S. Technology Modernization Fund has shown considerable promise at helping to support IT modernization, faster and better service delivery, system and data security, and tech spending efficiency. In addition, targeted appropriations to individual agencies’ technology infrastructure, a renewed emphasis on IT innovation, security, and investment for the future will help to more rapidly equip the federal government to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Further, greater partnership and support between the federal government and states can help governments at all levels with their emergency and future IT needs.
As leaders in the technology space representing some of the world’s most innovative companies, many of whom have long been trusted partners of all levels of American government, ITI continues to call on U.S. leaders to commit to making wise investments in resiliency and flexibility today that will also yield greater efficiency and improved public service benefits in the future.