IT Modernization

Pandemic spotlights the promise and weakness of government tech

Shutterstock image 1658927440 By Deliris masks in office coronavirus covid19 

Although many federal, state and local government agencies were able to use technology to continue and adapt their operations and service delivery during the pandemic, experts are saying that more action is needed to maintain current activities and prepare for future crises.

Governments should not aim for "a return to the technology status quo before the pandemic," according to a new white paper by Microsoft and the Partnership for Public Service.

The pandemic has highlighted known vulnerabilities in government IT, such as outdated hardware and software and human resources weaknesses, the white paper stated. At the same time, well-managed technology can be an effective instrument for government operations and public service delivery.

Innovations might have come "out of necessity," said Katie Malague, the vice president of government effectiveness at the Partnership for Public Service. "But now we can take those lessons and apply them to a new normal."

The Dec. 8 report, Bit by Bit: How Governments Used Technology to Move the Mission forward during COVID-19, presents three case studies of how government agencies used technology to adapt and used these examples to offer recommendations for the future.

Denise Riedl, the Chief Innovation Officer for South Bend, Indiana, said on a panel discussion of the new report, that her team has seen increased demand for technology and digital services support since the beginning of the pandemic.

"There's been a cultural shift as a result of the externally forced change that COVID has brought upon the government," she said.

Her team quickly saw the need to train government officials on how to use technology effectively. As the pandemic took hold, the number of requests for assistance shot up, she said.

"Suddenly, the demand for technology, technical services, digital service support, digitizing processes skyrocketed … internally in city government," she said.

The Small Business Administration has initiated more digital first and digital only workflows during the pandemic, said Sanjay Gupta, Chief Technology Officer in the Small Business Administration.

"We can do the work, we have done the work and we can continue to do digital only workflows," he said.

"I haven't signed physical a piece of paper since March 13," said Christopher Fall, director of the Office of Science in the Department of Energy. "That's a big change, and I'd say a welcome change."

Preparation and technological modernization prior to the onset of the pandemic differentiated levels of success among government offices and agencies, panelists said.

Local governments differed in terms of their readiness in the areas of communication, technology and their own internal culture, said Amanda Renteria, chief executive officer at Code for America. Part of that readiness includes knowledge about what communities would be difficult to reach for service delivery, and how systems could be set up to serve communities equitably, she said.

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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