Complex maze with cloud in background

No quick fix for state legacy IT problems

When record numbers of laid-off workers filed for unemployment benefits and other social services in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, serious weaknesses in legacy technology systems at the state level were exposed.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers had been urging House leaders to include funding for states to modernize their technology infrastructure with an eye to a cloud-first approach, shared services that deliver functionality to cities and towns and some oversight of state technology plans as a condition of receiving funding.

However, the House’s latest COVID-19 relief bill, dubbed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, did not include a proposed bipartisan measure designed to give states funds to upgrade legacy technology systems.

Nevertheless, lawmakers have become increasingly concerned with how states deliver social services and how recipients can access benefits.

A “deal colleague” letter drafted by Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.) and signed by  Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas) prior to the release of the HEROES Act, pointed to a key problem that has already been observed with tens of millions of Americans seeking unemployment benefits within a very short timeframe. "Outdated digital infrastructure means that services don’t scale, so rapid relief is unavailable to large numbers in times of crisis," the lawmakers stated.

This isn't the first time lawmakers have suggested a tech modernization response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) have offered a $500 million unemployment systems support bill that included IT modernization. Last month, five technology trade groups wrote to legislative leaders suggesting an injection of new funds for federal, state and local IT to modernize legacy systems.

In the meantime, states are getting some help from the major tech players. Rhode Island is working with Amazon Web Services to replace its legacy systems and deploy a cloud-based contact center solution to help it field more calls from recently unemployed workers applying for benefits.

Todd Schroeder, director of public-sector digital strategy for Google Cloud, said his company is using artificial intelligence and cloud to help New York and Illinois, among others, update their legacy systems and websites and automate the claim-filing process, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Texas Workforce Commission is working with Accenture to improve customer service in response to the overwhelming workload associated pandemic response.

Portions of this article were first posted on FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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