As the United States responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tech industry is providing communities with services, tools, and resources to ease the widespread and deep impacts of the virus. When the pandemic led to extended school closures and work-from-home orders, teachers and students turned to distance learning and employers turned to remote work. In response, technology companies immediately made the necessary products and tools available to those in need. As researchers search for new treatments to combat the coronavirus, technology companies are providing supercomputing power to forecast the spread and speeding up experiments that would otherwise take months or years to complete. In an effort to get critical aid to small businesses as quickly as possible, technology companies with alternative online lending platforms are providing fast and accessible means to get much-needed working capital into the hands of small businesses. In nearly every aspect of our “new normal,” technology products, services, devices, and platforms are making our daily lives a little less distant from life before the pandemic.
We support U.S. policymakers as they continue to identify additional needs to get the United States through this emergency. To that end, we encourage them to consider key opportunities that will be particularly impactful in responding to the crisis, while also improving resilience in the future:
- Improving the ability to telework and engage in distance learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically highlighted the digital divide that limits the ability of individuals and families without access to broadband or the necessary technology to work or learn from home. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act took helpful steps to address this challenge, but there is more to do. Working together, the U.S. Congress, industry, and communities should look to expand broadband infrastructure – which can be supported through funding or tax incentives – and increase resources for schools to provide students with learning devices, for health care providers to utilize telehealth, and for small businesses to secure equipment, software, platforms, and cybersecurity solutions needed for telework and business continuity. Doing so will increase efficiency and enable employees to work more effectively from home during times of emergency.
- Modernizing IT at all levels of government. As federal, state, and local governments have been forced to cope with unprecedented circumstances, the impacts of antiquated IT infrastructure, inefficient paper-based and manual processes, and cybersecurity threats, among others, were increased dramatically by the rapid transformation of government work. Governments at all levels have not invested in the technology infrastructure, tools, and workforce needed to deliver modern and secure citizen services. The resulting inefficiencies, limited adaptability, and comparatively poor resiliency, in addition to malicious actors attempting to take advantage of vulnerabilities, have all had a profound and constraining effect on government’s ability to provide services to the public at a time when they are needed most. Future federal relief and recovery measures must support investments in IT infrastructure, technology and business process modernization, expand adoption of secure cloud computing tools, increase digital services delivery, improve and expand telework and distributed operations, and take robust steps to harden against cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
- Preserving jobs and providing for employees’ well-being. The CARES Act took bold steps to help employers maintain their payrolls. As businesses and their channel partners confront extended closures and projects continue to be placed on hold, it is critical to provide resources to help companies stay afloat and keep their employees until the country can return to the workplace. When that happens, resources to help monitor employee health to prevent outbreaks in the workplace will be critical to keeping businesses open and employees on the job, as well as to maintaining public health. This crisis has also caused further uncertainty for valuable employees who have to navigate our outdated immigration system. Employers and employees alike are dealing with unexpected issues such as visa overstays due to unprecedented restrictions on international travel. The U.S. Congress and the Trump Administration need to find reasonable solutions that keep the United States competitive in terms of our overall workforce.
- Increasing liquidity and preventing unintended consequences. In its most recent relief package, the U.S. Congress recognized the need to provide liquidity and ensure businesses have sufficient working capital to stay afloat during this unprecedented time. There are additional options policymakers can deploy to provide more liquidity to help companies that quickly went from ‘business as usual’ to a sudden halt in income, including further flexibility for tax payments, pension contributions, and certain fees, which would provide short-term cash flow without an overall loss of revenue. Additionally, there are provisions in the tax code that have the potential to create unintended consequences for companies that are already struggling. These effects should be examined and addressed. Finally, revocation or deferral of tariffs imposed under Section 301 would immediately result in savings – even if temporary in the case of deferral – by eliminating the additional cost of up to 25 percent imposed on U.S. businesses and consumers over the last 18 months.
The response to COVID-19 will leave a lasting impact on our lives, society, and the economy. But taking a collaborative, comprehensive, and forward-thinking approach now will help ensure that we mitigate the long-term effects of this pandemic and create a stronger resilience toward future crises. The technology sector is committed to this paramount effort and will continue to dedicate our resources and expertise to ensure everyone sees through to the other side.