Why local governments should secure CARES Act funding (and how they can)

Digital transformation moves slowly at the state and local levels, partly because it is not adequately funded or prioritized. The effects have been plain to see during the COVID-19 pandemic as unemployment offices, motor vehicle registries and local health departments have failed to keep up with the surge in requests. For many state and local agencies, technology infrastructure was considered a future expense, rather than a necessary investment. 

With the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the federal government is helping cities and counties address this investment gap. The bill earmarked $150 billion for states and local governments responding to immediate pandemic-related needs of residents, including advancing lagging digital transformation efforts. The funding can help them replace outdated hardware and software with systems that are more resilient, scalable and secure in key areas such as:

Modern, cloud-based apps and infrastructure. The pandemic has made many local governments realize that their legacy systems were not built with modern needs in mind. They are not equipped to scale with demand or designed to enable business as usual from remote locations. Local governments can address both issues with modern, cloud-based solutions. A modern infrastructure, for example, is software-defined, virtualized and decentralized. This gives governments the flexibility, scalability and operational efficiency required to address residents’ needs in real-time, from anywhere.

Digital-first for the workforce and residents. When offices were forced to close, many local governments were unable to conduct business without physical access to legacy systems, holding up everything from building permits to license renewals and access to land records. Digital workspaces can allow for a more flexible and remote workforce, and citizen-facing web applications can enable residents to access critical services and documents online and use contactless payments for items like parking tickets and renewal fees.

Security for all. Data and modern applications live in increasingly sprawling and distributed IT environments, and network users are no longer neatly contained behind perimeter firewalls. A recent survey by VMware Carbon Black found that cyberattacks and breaches have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic due to employees working from home and COVID-related malware. Since state and local governments are tasked with securing sensitive resident data and must ensure the proper protocols, cybersecurity efforts must now encompass more than just core infrastructure and extend protection to the cloud, user identity and a variety of devices. While IT infrastructure upgrades can streamline services and reduce costs, they must also minimize the inherent risk of cybercrime.  

While the opportunities for state and local governments are obvious, accessing CARES Act funding has proved challenging for some. Based on my conversations with state and local officials across the country, most mid-sized cities are taking the right steps to speed up their digital transformations with help from the CARES Act. But many smaller cities are being left out, either because they do not know what resources are available to them or how to apply for such benefits.

The Treasury Department released guidance to assist local governments in determining which expenses qualify for the Coronavirus Relief Fund, but cities and counties must keep three things in mind:

  • Expenses must be deemed necessary due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. IT investments that address resident needs and enable cities to provide key services apply.
  • Expenses must not have been included in a city’s most recently approved budget. In other words, expenses must be for net-new expenditures that were not previously planned.
  • Local governments must move quickly to secure CARES Act funding. Expenses to the Coronavirus Relief Fund must be incurred by Dec. 30, 2020.

Cities and counties that need help can consult with IT organizations to determine which investments will have the most impact. These partners can also help agencies implement new infrastructure quickly to address the shortfalls of legacy systems and meet the needs of residents.

Digital transformation is a necessary investment for state and local governments, but it has been held back for too long by limited budgets and competing priorities. During the pandemic, we have seen how outdated IT infrastructure can wreak havoc on states, counties and municipalities and affect their ability to provide services. State and local governments should invest in their futures now before another opportunity passes. 

About the Author

Doug Harvey is head of U.S. state and local governments and education for VMware.


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