Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. – long a prime mover in Congress for improving Federal IT operations – said at MeriTalk’s State Tech Vision virtual program on September 15 that he plans to push two key pieces of legislation this year that aim to help state and local governments improve their own IT capabilities.

The September 15 State Tech Vision conference – the first in a series planned by MeriTalk – remains available for on-demand viewing.

Rep. Connolly said he plans to introduce a House version of the State and Local Digital Service Act that was offered earlier this year in the Senate by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The bill would spend $100 million to fund “strike teams” at state and local governments to help them update and replace IT systems used to provide healthcare, housing, employment, and other government services. The program envisioned by the legislation is modeled on existing Federal-level U.S. Digital Service and 18F tech programs, and would aim to use modern design and development methods to improve state and local government websites that citizens use to obtain benefits.

The coming House bill, Rep. Connolly said, “seeks to provide guidance and funding for these tech savvy teams focused on delivering equitable and effective public services.”

The congressman also said he plans to reintroduce his Restore the Partnership Act, legislation he offered in 2019 that would reconstitute the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR), which had operated from 1959 to 1996.

The aim of the reconstituted ACIR would be to facilitate cooperation and accountability among Federal, state, local, and Tribal governments.

Rep. Connolly said at the State Tech Vision event that the legislation underscores “the importance of intergovernmental activities in responding effectively to national crises.”

“Currently no forum exists in which representatives from all three levels of government can easily communicate and collaborate,” he said. Speaking of his former service as the head of the Fairfax County, Va., government, Rep. Connolly said “I understand that state and local governments need a platform to talk meaningfully about the legislative process, administrative solutions, and the impact of Federal policies.”

“The forum will help state local governments navigate pressing into governmental issues, and facilitate a culture of collaboration, allowing them to share best practices and innovative ideas on issues including IT modernization and climate change to find new ways to fund the responsibilities the Federal government places on state and local government,” Rep. Connolly said.

Speaking more generally about state and local government IT needs during the pandemic era, Rep. Connolly said “it’s been a challenging year and a half, millions of Americans have faced illness, food and housing insecurity, and unemployment.”

“But it’s also reminded us as a country how dependent we are on government at every level,” he said. Even though Federal, state, and local governments provided unprecedented levels of economic relief, “many individuals and small businesses were left without important assistance because of a deficient IT infrastructure,” he said.

“When executed well, government IT modernization can ensure the efficient delivery of critical services, improve the government’s ability to make evidence-driven decisions, and save lives,” he said. “When executed poorly it can lead to outright failures in serving the American people when they need their government, the most.”

“Simply put, the fate of the world’s largest economy rises and falls with the ability of government IT systems at the Federal, state, and local levels to deliver during an emergency,” he said. Investments to improve those abilities, Rep. Connolly said, “are needed right now.”

Read More About
John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk SLG's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.