Wyden, Murray Introduce Legislation to Modernize State and Local Tech Systems
Bennet and Padilla Co-Sponsor State and Local Digital Service Act to Fund Digital Service Teams, Improve Government Services for Users and Save Taxpayer Money
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced new legislation today to help state and local governments update their technology and replace outdated systems for accessing essential health care, housing, employment and other services.
The State and Local Digital Service Act authorizes $100 million to 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 program is modeled on the US Digital Service and 18F programs, which delivered cost-effective tech upgrades at a significant savings to taxpayers. It updates the Digital Service Act, introduced by Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Murray in the previous congress.
“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,” Wyden said. “Governments should not outsource their mission. 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,” Murray said. “It’s critical that these resources be accessible and reliable. The State and Local Digital Service Act 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.”
Senators Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Alex Padilla, D-Calif., co-sponsored the measure.
“When Americans visited government websites over the past year to file for unemployment or schedule a vaccine shot, it was like going back in time to the first days of the internet. All too often, government websites and online portals are the opposite of the intuitive, user-friendly experiences Americans have come to expect in the year 2021. These outdated systems waste people's time, obstructs access to vital services, and erode confidence in government,” said Bennet. “The State and Local Digital Service Act will fund expert digital teams to help bring government services into the 21st century -- reducing costs, improving access to vital services, and helping government run more efficiently and transparently.”
“As the last year has demonstrated, we need to ensure government services are efficient and accessible online – and that starts with modernizing government technology for essential services like unemployment insurance benefits or vaccine appointments. The State and Local Digital Service Act will do just that. By improving digital resources, saving taxpayer dollars, and making sure government has access to top tier digital talent, we can help empower Americans to easily access critical services,” said Padilla.
Grants could fund a range of tech upgrades, including helping states set up easy-to-use vaccine appointments, providing easy-to-use online licensing forms for farmers, and providing technology procurement support to save taxpayer dollars.
Specifically the bill would:
- Authorize $120 million annually for 7 years for state and local digital service grants and planning grants administered by GSA, ranging from $200,000 to $3 million per year. These grants require a 10% cost share and 50% of the grant must be used for talent.
- Allow successful awardees to re-apply for additional grants to sustain their new teams.
- Restore public trust in government systems by funding new and existing teams of designers, technologists, and civil servants to focus on delivering user-centered digital services.
- Remove red tape to allow USDS, 18F, and other federal technology services to provide technical expertise to states and local government entities.
The State and Local Digital Service Act is endorsed by broad array of public interest advocates, including: Center for Democracy and Technology, AnitaB.org, Bitwise Industries, NAVA Public Benefit Corporation, the Public Interest Tech team and the New Practice Lab at New America.
William T. Adler, Senior Technologist for Elections & Democracy, Center for Democracy & Technology: “When interacting with government online, Americans deserve to have a high-quality experience that is reliable, intuitive and private. But governments don’t always have the funding or staffing they need to modernize the delivery of digital services. The Center for Democracy & Technology is proud to support the State and Local Digital Service Act, which will lead the way to more modern and user-friendly digital government services across the country.”
Tara McGuinness, former senior advisor for President Obama and co-author of Power to the Public: The Promise of Public Interest Technology: “There is no path to delivering on the commitments of the American Rescue Plan without improving the capacity of the states to deliver for the communities they serve. This bill goes a long way to supporting states in improving their digital services and ultimately improving the way they serve their residents.”
Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President and CEO, AnitaB.org: "The pandemic has laid bare many troubling issues in the country. Among them is the state of the technology infrastructure that supports the delivery of public goods and services. The State and Local Digital Service Act is a timely proposal that will help states acquire the technology and talent they need to efficiently meet the needs of the citizens they serve. The bill also supports the goals of the United States of Technologists, a collective effort led by AnitaB.org, to empower 10,000 technologists to enter the public sector across state, local and federal government. We are eager to see the bill enacted to support this crucial initiative and thank Senators Wyden and Murray for their work on this important issue."
Jake Soberal, CEO and Co-Founder, Bitwise Industries: "The need to update or replace state and local digital infrastructure has presented an opportunity to drive economic growth in an inclusive manner that impacts some of the most vulnerable communities. We, at Bitwise Industries understand how transformative technology can be in the lives of the underserved and underrepresented. By having a focus on equitable outcomes, we have witnessed how that directly impacts economic growth. The State and Local Digital Service Act directly addresses the technology gaps that state and local governments face promoting digital access and equity, including through public/private partnerships. If we want to address some of the biggest problems this country faces today we need to work together to ensure outcomes are equitable. To accomplish this we need to bring together the communities that these technologies will serve and include them in the process by increasing digital literacy. As we look to the future, the State and Local Digital Service Act is a first good step that will address some of the technical challenges state governments face building strong digital infrastrcuture."
Jared Polis, Governor of Colorado: “During my time in Congress, I saw firsthand the important work the U.S. Digital Service was doing to help veterans, medicare recipients, and students. It’s why, when I was elected Governor, we quickly moved to replicate this successful program in Colorado, recruiting from our state’s rich startup and tech community.
“In its first year, the Colorado Digital Service achieved a 17:1 return on investment, led key technology implementations to support our COVID response, and introduced agile and user-centered design principles across state government. I’m excited to see this model receive support from Congress, and we look forward to helping other states learn from our experience.”
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