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Revenue loss and the rapid transition to remote operations have been among top governmental challenges during 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. These funds may also open a window for governments to invest in technology that can help close equity and access gaps.
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, local governments are increasingly recognizing the importance of taking pandemic-driven remote capabilities and digital workflows into the post-pandemic landscape. According to eRepublic, local governments are including citizen engagement, process automation, and infrastructure modernization among their top 2021 priorities.
Local government managers should consider the following more specific investments when moving their technology infrastructure into a post-pandemic (but not crisis-free) future. These investments may be covered under specific ARPA programs, such as local fiscal recovery for public administration and civic services technologies. Alternately, an influx of funding can free up other budget areas to attend to a digital infrastructure strategy that will support jurisdictions well into the future.
Future technology strategies should capitalize on the quick adoption of digital processes that enabled remote work, eliminated paper workflows, and kept communities connected and include:
- Employee self-service, including virtual time sheets 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 in response 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, particularly in the areas of recruitment and retention. To further help agencies respond safely and be better prepared for any emergency or incident, public safety leaders should consider using freed up resources for 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 kept local governments connected and operating during the pandemic. As we move toward recovery, the ARPA provides a unique window of opportunity. Managers should implement a strong vision for their jurisdictions, using new funding to solidify the modernization and strength of their tech infrastructures. These important investments can help cities successfully meet current challenges as well as succeed in future growth.
CTA: American Rescue Plan Act: Full Resources, including frequently asked questions and access guides, stories, podcasts, and more.