New legislation introduced in the Senate today would authorize $100 million of Federal spending per year, for a period of seven years, to help state and local governments take quick action on fixing pressing IT problems.

The State and Local Digital Services Act sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., envisions a state and local government assistance model used at the Federal level by the General Services Administration’s 18F organization, and the Office of Management and Budget’s U.S. Digital Service, to solve IT problems quickly.

The $100 million of funding proposed by the bill would “fund tech strike teams at state and local governments, using modern design and development techniques that put users first and fix frustrating government websites,” the bill’s sponsors said. Outdated systems that need fixing, they said, may include those used for accessing health care, housing, and employment services.

The sponsors pointed to widely reported problems with state and local IT systems during the coronavirus pandemic and said the bill would help address those issues.

Individual grant sizes would range from $200,000 to $3 million.  In addition to the $100 million of grants authorized per year, the bill provides for another $20 million per year to fund IT improvement planning grants.

“People across the country shouldn’t have had to wait weeks to be approved for unemployment insurance, veterans shouldn’t have to grapple with a hard-to-use website to access housing programs, and someone who only has a smartphone shouldn’t be locked out of government services that still aren’t designed for mobile devices,” Sen. Wyden said.

“Governments should not outsource their mission,” he continued. “They need in-house technology experts to help with research, design, creation, and procurement of digital services. Our new legislation cuts through bureaucracy to deliver upgrades for users, and gets a running start at the huge job of upgrading state and local systems.”

“Anyone who has had to schedule a vaccine shot or file for unemployment in the past year knows that this pandemic has moved more and more of our government services online—and pushed many of them to the breaking point,” Sen. Murray said.

The new bill, she said, “would make commonsense, long-overdue investments to help to ensure online government services live up to modern needs and expectations by providing capacity for digital service teams that will save state and local governments money, improve their digital resources, attract top talent to government service, and make it easier for millions of people in Washington state and across the country to get services they need.”

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