Revenue loss and the rapid transition to remote operations have been among the top governmental challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. In response to these ongoing issues, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 includes $350 billion to offset decreased revenue for state, local, territorial and tribal governments.
These federal dollars can in many cases support government and district investments in technology to aid in emergency response and recovery. As noted in this recent GovLoop post, these funds may also open a window for governments to invest in technology that can help close equity and access gaps.
Former Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser wrote in How Not to Screw Up Your Government’s Stimulus Windfall, “…making those overdue investments in technology and cybersecurity is another way to save costs down the road while simultaneously better serving your constituents.”
In areas of public administration, civic services, K-12 education, public safety and other functions, governments that have invested in technology during the pandemic have used it to:
- Enable remote work
- Keep operations running
- Engage constituencies
- Build operational efficiencies
Based on their experiences during COVID-19, agencies are increasingly recognizing the importance of taking these remote capabilities and digital workflows into the post-COVID-19-pandemic landscape. According to eRepublic, local governments are including citizen engagement, process automation and infrastructure modernization among their top 2021 priorities.
Here are some ideas to consider when moving these tech uses into a post-pandemic (but not crisis-free) future:
Whether enabling hybrid or remote work models, eliminating paper workflows or creating remote community and employee digital access, technology kept communities connected during the pandemic. Future government technology strategies should capitalize on the quick adoption of these digital processes and include:
- Employee self-service including virtual timesheets and digital documents
- Remote public meetings including scheduling, agendas and minutes
- Online fee payments as well as online permitting and licensing applications to help constituents complete vital tasks remotely
- Online portals for vendor invoicing and payment
- Data and insights for easy access to key performance indicators and simplified reporting
- Online incident reporting for non-emergency inquiries and complaints
- Online resident access portals through which residents can pay utility bills or conduct other business with government at their convenience
- Notification systems through which important information can be shared with the community via social channels, mobile apps, email and phone
Increasing community access and operational efficiency includes allowing business management and licensing processes to operate in the cloud. Tech solutions that responded to social distancing and remote work will continue to benefit the community development ecosystem. Important solutions for the future include:
- Electronic reviews and approvals so permit approval, plan submittal and review processes can be executed fully online
- Citizen self-service portals that allow users to pay invoices and fees, perform permitting and licensing tasks, inspections and more, 24/7/365
- Incident reporting software for community members to make non-emergency inquiries and complaints, then follow progress on their requests
- Asset management software that intuitively tracks assets from procurement to retirement, plus all maintenance in between, and offers insight to all internal and external stakeholders
- Mobile city apps that increase civic engagement and help streamline workflows remotely
The ARPA includes $122 billion for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) programs designed to help safely reopen schools and support activity to maintain continuity of operations. In the past year, schools throughout the country leveraged technology to support evolving in-person, remote and hybrid learning approaches and manage student transportation. Moving forward, districts can continue to benefit from:
- Digital solutions such as automated workflows, virtual timesheets and online content management
- Cloud-based solutions to facilitate online meeting management, vendor self-service and enhanced data analytics for better insight and smarter decisions
- Advanced school transportation software and mobile apps to optimize routing, facilitate contact tracing and keep guardians informed about route changes or delays
- Absence and substitute management software to simplify absence tracking, fill jobs quickly and integrate substitute lists with existing payroll systems
- Modern student information systems that provide enterprise-wide views, enable remote connectivity and keep parents, students and educators informed
The ARPA includes significant funds for public safety agencies to cover areas that may have been financially impacted during the pandemic. The Act specifically includes $100 million for Assistance to Firefighter Grants, $200 million for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants and $100 million for Emergency Management Performance Grants. To help agencies respond safely and be better prepared for any emergency or incident, public safety leaders should consider the following investments:
- Fully integrated Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) solutions for real-time access to incident information, enabling improved response times, smarter route-planning and better decision-making around response tactics
- Mobile apps to provide real-time CAD data in transit and on the scene for increased situational awareness for telecommunicators, law and fire first responders and command staff
- Electronic citations that reduce touch points during traffic stops and provide data that can improve driver and community safety
- Cloud-based analytics tools that provide real-time data insight and access from any location to inform more successful policy and resource allocation
- Integrated systems for secure data sharing between public safety and courts to limit visits to police stations and courthouses and seamlessly connect workflows from citations to booking to courts and corrections
Technology has kept communities connected and operating during the pandemic. As we move toward recovery, the ARPA provides a unique window of opportunity. Jurisdictions can use new funding to solidify the modernization and strength of their tech infrastructures. These important investments can help jurisdictions successfully meet current challenges as well as succeed in future growth.
Frequently-asked questions regarding ARPA funding, guidelines, timing and more can be found on the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties websites, in their COVID-19 resource hubs.
Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected] And to read more from our Spring 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.
Meredith Trimble is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies; Associate Editor of the Federal Election Commission’s FEC Record; and Director of Education for the CT Office of State Ethics. In her current role as a Content Manager, Editorial with Tyler Technologies, Inc., she writes content to help empower those who serve the public. Her current focus is to help facilitate data-enabled organizations and create connections between governments and those they serve.