How Cities and Counties Are Prioritizing American Rescue Plan Funds

While many local governments continue to gather information and explore potential investments, some have taken steps to launch or advance initiatives made possible with fiscal recovery funds. Some examples the ICMA report includes are:

Household relief funds are helping improve low-income homes. Kenmore, Washington is a nonentitlement unit with a population of 23,000 anticipating $6 million in federal recovery funds. Officials plan to address the negative economic impacts of the pandemic and will also dedicate $1 million toward direct assistance to low-income households at 30% or below the area median income.

Varying approaches to regional broadband. In the Lake Cities region of Texas, four smaller municipalities (Corinth, population 22,000; Hickory Creek, population 4,600; Lake Dallas, population 8,000; and Shady Shores, population 2,800) have been working together to establish a middle mile/government service fiber ring, and have issued a request for a proposal for a public-private partnership, extending connections to their residents and businesses.

Investing in community resiliency. Davenport, Iowa, with a population of 102,000, received a $40 million direct allocation, and plans on utilizing public feedback and a city council prioritization process. The council approved a plan that included investments in flood migration, housing for vulnerable residents, youth-oriented programming, park and public space improvements and other infrastructure projects.

In some states, officials are using the money to help the travel and hospitality industries rebound from the economic downturn brought by the pandemic.

Other states and localities still are considering how to use their funds while some small towns are not accepting the cash because they say they either don’t need it or don’t want the burden of reporting to the federal government how they are using it.

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The pandemic taught some cities to help small businesses more

The City of Wichita, Kansas announced the launch of a new small-business portal, the latest such launch among local governments seeking to provide their residents with a level of heightened assistance that became more common during the pandemic.

Wichita’s new portal uses software from Qwally, a company that got an early boost from the Startup in Residence and CivStart business incubator programs. This new portal is designed to make it easier for businesses to do things like apply for licenses or become certified to work for the city. For the city, too, the platform offers a way to automate administrative work and more easily find small businesses that might qualify to sell their services to the local government.Now that things are getting back to normal, cities are embracing their role in small business support, realizing they need to do more and continue to deliver the services that they may have delivered under stress during the pandemic.

Wichita’s new portal uses “plain-language content” to streamline the application process for its Emerging Business Enterprise Certification program, which provides small businesses a shot at selling to the city.

In particular, some minority business-owners face an additional challenge in getting capital to bond their businesses, and that all businesses can use additional support to navigate cities’ “complex” certification programs. Modern digital services platforms like Qwally equip local governments with the means to aid small businesses.

In Mobile, Alabama, starting in 2018, the government doubled the number of women- and minority-owned businesses working with the city following an initiative to increase support for those groups. And in Kansas City, Missouri, a small-business office of just two staff members managed with the platform processed 4,000 requests within two months during the city’s peak renewal period this year.

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State and Local Governments: Time to Get Rid of Fax Machines

Faxes have mostly disappeared from the private sector, yet they have stubbornly remained a fixture for many government agencies. Given the apparent reluctance of many government agencies to fully relinquish their fax machines, state and localCIOs should set a firm date by which all agencies must stop using faxes.

It was in the 1980s that organizations widely adopted fax technology. Prior to that, in 1974, it took about six minutes to transmit a one-page document; a decade later, transmission time was cut down to less than 10 seconds. With relatively fast speeds, sending faxes became the go-to solution for transmitting documents.

Today, fax numbers are still featured prominently on many government websites, but in many cases, these digits do not serve any clear purpose — they are the vestigial limbs from an older, less-evolved form of the agency.

What is interesting about fax machines is that they are not hard to replace, so the excuses not to do so are extremely flimsy. The only real purpose of a fax machine is to send and receive paper documents. Switching from receiving documents by fax to receiving scanned documents by email presents almost no real change in workflow and certainly more people have access to email at home and work than fax machines.

While email is a logical stepping stone for eliminating fax machines, it is often possible to make significant improvements in workflow through other upgrades. Replacing faxes with web-based forms allows agencies to collect information more efficiently

It is past time for state and local governments to draw a line in the sand and commit to eliminating fax machines. Not only will this save money by eliminating printing expenses, telephone service fees, and maintenance costs, but it will also push agencies to further digitize their services and move toward web-based data collection, making it easier for individuals to submit information from their computers or mobile devices. Fax machines have served a valuable role over the past few decades, but the time has come to retire them to the dustbin of history.

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The Time Is Right for Cities to Capitalize on IT Modernization

Government operations during the pandemic have demonstrated the power of digital services, and municipalities have a great opportunity to build.

In Newburgh, N.Y., officials modernized IT infrastructure to virtualize desktops and applications with VMware Horizon. As a result, Newburgh was prepared to work through the COVID-19 pandemic, and agencies looked at ways to adopt more digital solutions to facilitate remote work and boost citizen services.

Columbus, Ohio, also recently ­modernized its IT infrastructure, equipping its data centers with Dell EMC VxRail to virtualize compute and storage. Officials now think their city is poised for the future and capable of growing IT capacity as needed to deliver more for their residents.

Realizing its residents required more opportunities to get online at their convenience, Milwaukee established public Wi-Fi in 10 more city parks.

Each of these cities seized the moment to augment digital services for its citizens at a difficult time. The success they experienced underscores the power of this particular moment for IT modernization.

Cities Have an Unparalleled Opportunity to Modernize

With many citizens staying home in response to social distancing guidelines, recent months proved challenging for city governments that depend on tax revenue to operate. while city ­employees also had to maintain social distancing while scrambling to provide continuity of operations for citizen support.

Relief arrived in March with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, which allocated $65.1 billion in direct aid to U.S. municipalities

Other cities can follow these examples and strengthen government services — a prescribed expenditure of federal funds — through investments in IT infrastructure. The country has witnessed the power of expanded digital services in reaching local populations during the pandemic. With the recent boost in funding, municipalities have a rare opportunity to build upon the national modernization momentum.

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The Downside to State and Local Privacy Regulations

As more state and local governments look to protect data privacy, a couple of industry experts point out some of the challenges associated with these types of policies.

To fight back against cyber threats, state and local governments have started to implement tighter privacy regulations. But is this trend a good thing? Or do stricter rules present more challenges than they do solutions?

According to Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, one of the main issues with stricter privacy regulations is having no centralized rules for states to follow.

The biggest problem is states setting up a set of contradictory overlapping rules across the country, creating a serious cost on organizations and businesses that can abide by 50 state privacy laws, but different regulations across local jurisdictions.

Another concern relates to the distinction between government data collection and commercial data collection. Sometimes there is a notion that one law can apply to everything, but different data types involve different types of rights for individuals.

On the topic of governments collecting data, Castro emphasized the importance of knowing how data will be utilized in order to set appropriate privacy regulations.

For instance, a recently enacted Colorado bill has created personal data privacy rights in response to tech companies storing information about consumers. Colorado consumers will have the ability to opt out of having companies collect certain information — like which websites they’re visiting — and could decide whether to deny a company access to sensitive data like a health condition.

Another version of similar privacy legislation is Senate Bill 5062from Washington state. According to this bill, consumers will have the right to access, transfer, correct and delete data that companies hold on them.

Privacy efforts in Washington state highlighted the importance of seven privacy principles aimed at fostering trust between the public and state agencies: lawful, fair and responsible use; data minimization; purpose limitation; transparency and accountability; due diligence; individual participation; and security.

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Wi-Fi Expansion by City and State Governments Boosts Citizen Access to the Internet.

Generally, residents with broadband can bank and shop online, post on social media, and work and learn remotely without a second thought. But for many low-income residents (according to, the percentage of low-income U.S. adults who do not have home broadband service is 43%), high-speed internet is a necessity they can’t afford — and when COVID-19 hit, their needs for fast, reliable access became even greater.

Equipping students and residents with mobile hotspots may be helpful but is enough.

In Milwaukee, pandemic relief funds were used to target 10 city parks in underserved neighborhoods ­– where up to 25 percent of households don’t have internet access at home — for wireless access points, providing internet service in the areas most in need.

Free community Wi-Fi is nothing new. Over the past two decades, local governments have increased the availability of free wireless internet at city facilities, such as public libraries and convention centers, airports, downtown areas, parks and other public spaces.

Some invest in the wireless ­infrastructure; others partner with ­companies and nonprofits with a goal of providing residents and visitors a public service while free outdoor Wi-Fi ­will also boost economic development.

The need for free broadband access became more acute during the ­pandemicwith many local governments using Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to build free, public Wi-Fi hotspots.

The city of Milwaukee was among the first U.S. cities to offer free wireless internet in 2003 when it installed Wi-Fi at city libraries and two downtown parks. To expand access the city spent $100,000 on Cisco Aironet 1560 Series access points and two Cisco Catalyst 9800 Series wireless controllers to manage the APs, and another $100,000 for installation. The city deployed one AP per park and launched the Wi-Fi hotspots in eight parks.

To speed implementation, the city of Milwaukee strategically chose parks with city facilities nearby or across the street, allowing it to leverage existing network infrastructure and internet connections.

As part of its downtown revitalization effort, the rural town of Pulaski, Va., used CARES Act funds to install free Wi-Fi in its historic downtown in an effort to drive more customers to the small businesses located there.

Two months into the pandemic, Washington State’s Department of Commercelaunched a public-private initiative that now provides more than 600 free Wi-Fi “drive-in” hotspots to residents without broadband in their home. The state targeted rural areas with little or no broadband access, but also underserved and economically disadvantaged urban and suburban communities. Funding for the project came from private ­donations and government entities that offered to help, including libraries, school districts and the Washington State University system.

3 Tips for Managing Wi-Fi Networks

  1. Keep the networks separated: Milwaukee’s Information and Technology Management Division uses virtual LANs and firewalls to keep the public access Wi-Fi networks completely separate from the general internet and internal city systems, says Milwaukee CIO David Henke.
  2. Filter content: Milwaukee’s free public Wi-Fi is open and requires no password. To protect users, the city filters content and blocks residents from known malware and phishing sites, Henke says.
  3. Add redundancy: To improve reliability, the city of Milwaukee deployed two wireless controllers in ­high-availability mode, meaning if the main controller in the primary data center goes down, a backup controller in the secondary data center will keep public Wi-Fi up and running, Henke says.”


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How State and Local Agencies Can Better Protect Mobile Devices from Hackers

Any organization could be the target of cybercriminals, but government entities are particularly attractive because citizen and operational data is deemed valuable on the open market, and critical infrastructure systems have become prime targets for ransomware threats given their community-sustaining stature. Cyberattacks against state and local agencies were up 50% in 2020. Between 2017-2020, the average U.S. municipality paid $125,697 per ransomware event. It’s critical to be proactive and disciplined with cybersecurity, even if it requires a greater upfront investment.

Regulating Access and Reducing Risk

Cybersecurity best practices can be applied in a standardized way to keep connected devices from becoming easy points of entry.

A quarter of state and local government employees are authorized to use their smartphones and tablets to conduct official business. Yet, mobile devices are among the easiest ways for bad actors to gain intel and access systems given their public exposure and traditionally more relaxed use.

That is why every employee should be issued an agency-owned, enterprise-grade mobile computer or tablet if access to government email, information or operations systems is required outside a secure office setting.

Be Deliberate and Consistent Management

Once employees are equipped with agency-owned devices, there are several best practices that can be adopted by IT teams and employees to further reduce device vulnerabilities and proactively mitigate attacks on connected networks:

  • Control the user experience. Remove apps and turn off technology services that are not needed to conduct official business. Load communications apps that have been vetted, configured, and secured for government use, such as Zoom Gov or Microsoft 365 Government.
  • Be stricter with password policies. Compromised credentials are one of the most common culprits of hacking-related breaches. So, activate user interface passwords for all government-connected technologies and require users to change them often.
  • Track devices and activity. Enable activity logs and conduct frequent audits to detect bad behavior.
  • Monitor for out-of-touch devices. Develop a method to continuously monitor for devices that have appeared offline or out of sight for a prolonged period.
  • Consider remote management. Leverage a secure remote management system to quickly update settings for all devices, especially when IT teams or workers are off site.
  • Keep the circle small. Limit the number of employees brought in the loop on your security strategy and tactics to reduce the risk of information leaks.

Plan for New Technology Solutions and Their Retirement 

Not every mobile computer or tablet has the same security capabilities, even if they run the same operating system (i.e., Android) or fall into the same device class (i.e., rugged enterprise). It’s important to understand what it will take to protect new technology solutions – and the other devices and networks to which they’ll connect – before a formal solicitation or requisition is issued.

Rugged enterprise-grade mobile devices tested and certified for government use will likely be in service for several years, and both wireless connectivity and security needs will evolve.

Multiple network connections will need to be maintained.

Frequent patches and OS updates will be required to keep devices’ defenses strong against external threats.

Permissions may need to be changed on occasion to prevent file tampering.

It’s also important to assess C.I.A. daily: confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Enterprise system settings will need to be removed and device user accounts/ credentials deleted. Remember to disconnect everything.


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3 myths about moving to the cloud and how to think about them

When the federal government issued its “Cloud First” policy more than a decade ago, the hype of virtualized infrastructure were promising a path forward for agencies to migrate to a safer, more secure, and more economical IT operating environment.

Over the last 10 years, as agencies threw themselves into cloud modernization projects, three myths evolved that continue to weigh down assumptions about moving to the cloud. While agencies have come a long way in understanding what’s required in setting up cloud services, understanding these myths is essential to the long-term success of any cloud initiative.

Myth 1: Cloud is cheaper

One of the biggest myths surrounding cloud migrations is that they are all, somehow cheaper and result in immediate cost savings.

Looking at the totality of the operation, agencies end up spending more because they are doing more with the cloud, taking advantage of opportunities to use a lot of functionality. These costs can be offset by new efficiencies.

Myth 2: Cloud is easy

For years, agencies have been sold on the myth that moving to the cloud is going to simplify IT — and lead to a single pane of glass to manage an entire IT environment.

The reality is, it’s just too complex in most use cases, especially in a multi cloud environment.
Many agencies turn to SaaS (software-as-a-service) tools and other cloud platforms to speed up modernization without having to invest right away in cleaning up the entire back end.

The reality is that it’s a lot more complex on the architecture side and the policy side. Traditional network folks have spent their careers trying to keep the cloud out or keep things from leaving the environment. It’s a challenge for policy folks who have to work through good security strategies to accept the transfer of data.

The good news is that cloud technologies have evolved significantly over just the last few years in terms of inherent cybersecurity capabilities, inherent openness, and agility and scalability.

There’s no lack of very good, scalable, agile technology that the government can use but it’s not a one stop shop, and it’s not out of the box.

The key is to get into conversations with vendor partners or integrator partners and figure out what works best in terms of the technology.

Myth 3: You’re the only agency facing a talent shortage

The IT talent shortage is all too real with all organizations going through the challenges of finding enough skilled workers.

But fresh talent doesn’t only exist outside an organization. Leadership cannot forget about the upskilling of existing talent. There are a lot of people in the federal government and other state and local governments who want to be doing public service and they’ve been doing it for a long time.

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Transitioning to Digital Service Delivery Starts with Identifying Citizen Needs

State and local agencies must identify the core areas that need the most significant push to digital service and then commit to creating initiatives that support modernization.

Citizens’ interactions with government have evolved immensely at all levels in the past year. The coronavirus pandemic exposed the fragility of critical government service delivery systems and the aging technology behind them.

At the onset of the pandemic, state and local governments needed modern solutions that gave government workers the right tools to maintain service delivery at a time when citizens depended on their governments most. Now, a year and a half into the pandemic, citizen needs are still continuously evolving.

On the Road to Modernization

According to recent research from MeriTalk, only 34 percent of state and local leaders were very satisfied with their organization’s ability to meet citizens’ digital service needs during the pandemic, and 82 percent agree that public services need to become intrinsically digital.

Some organizations are making progress, and the majority say the pandemic has accelerated digital government in state and local organizations by three years or more.

New Technology Solutions to Old Government Problems

To move forward, state and local organizations must use this moment as a springboard for digital action in various areas. Systems that can benefit most from digitization include healthcare, public records, social benefits administration, and tax processing.

State and local agencies must identify the core areas that need the most significant push to digital service and then commit to creating initiatives that support modernization including investing in new solutions.

Further, investing in a right-sized and efficient storage system like application containers for government can help provide a higher level of citizen services. Solutions delivered via an “as a service” model offer flexibility and agility while maintaining costs and allowing agencies to scale up or down without massive disruption.

Looking to the Future of Government Service Delivery

To adapt and continue to innovate in citizen services, state and local leaders must focus on building on the momentum of modernization while continuing to invest in scalable technologies like cloud computing and other flexible solutions with focus on digital delivery goals via electronic forms, mobile applications and digital processes.

By bringing users to the center of the digital experience, state and local governments can evolve services with citizens’ changing needs. In the current digital age, citizens expect to transact anytime, anywhere. They increasingly expect the same from their state and local governments.

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How state and local governments can prepare for ransomware

Over the past few months, ransomware attacks abounded. Agencies faced a barrage of malicious cyberattacks and often had fewer resources for protecting themselves. With the federal government preoccupied with the fallout from SolarWinds, state and local officials were oftentimes forced to defend their systems on their own when an attack finally occurred.

Because state and local organizations are especially vulnerable to the challenges in cyberspace, they need tailored guidance if they want to become more cyber-secure.

The primary recommendation is to increase state and local government resources for personnel and funding. States spend less than 3% of their IT budgets on cybersecurity, according to a 2020 report from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, and only 36% of states have dedicated cybersecurity appropriations. With cyberattacks costing states anywhere from $665,000 to $40.53 million in recovery costs, most current cyber budgets are simply insufficient in today’s digital age.

Luckily, state and local governments can bolster their cybersecurity knowledge by setting up systems that draw upon resources from the private sector with several states having begun creating volunteer programs to help strengthen their cyber capacity. Having commercial cybersecurity aid for sharing knowledge and tools between state and local workers — before a potential cyberattack — can drastically improve existing protocols.

Officials at state and local government should also establish a cyberattack response plan and a planning framework. Making each section of the plan as detailed as possible can increase cybersecurity capabilities for prevention and response in manageable, incremental steps.

Educating state and local organizations to establish better contingency planning structures, by following best practices based on past experiences, can make the challenges ahead more manageable.

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