By Pam Greenberg
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on legislative information technology offices in 2020.
In an August survey, key information technology CIOs and directors in state legislatures said they have shifted priorities and provided new services to meet the demands of a remote workforce and to support virtual legislative sessions and hearings.
Many legislative IT offices acted swiftly this year to ensure continuity of the legislature. They worked to provide equipment, ensure network security and provide training and support for legislative staff and legislators who began working from home, many for the first time. Programmers worked to develop or implement new applications, such as remote voting tools, often within a very short timeframe.
IT staff in many states set up and secured videoconferencing software so that legislative proceedings could be conducted remotely. They also worked to make sure the proceedings could be viewed in real time and on-demand by the public. Some worked to enable public participation in other ways, such as through online forms so the public could submit comments or testimony or request to speak without having to visit the capitol.
In the survey, CIOs and IT directors indicated that their top priorities in the coming months include developing new applications to support remote sessions, hearings or voting. Developing or refining systems to enable a paperless environment was also an important priority for many.
Concerns about funding and the need for additional security measures due to COVID-19 also figured prominently in responses to the survey. A majority of CIOs and directors expect that combating security threats will be either the “most important” or an “important” priority for their office in the next few years (similar to results seen in past surveys).
While some respondents indicated that previous upgrades to cloud-based systems helped with the transition to remote work and meetings, still others specifically mentioned the need to evaluate the possibility of moving application servers and data to the cloud.
Lastly, implementing or increasing capacity for video livestreaming and recordings of legislative proceedings is also a priority for many CIOs or directors. For legislatures that shifted to remote meetings in 2020, many began to livestream and record committee hearings to ensure accessibility for the public, even when some state capitol buildings were closed due to the pandemic. Others increased the number of hearings that were webcast and archived. A few legislatures, including North Dakota, have used CARES Act funding to supplement upgrades.
Legislators and legislative staff are in the process of planning for 2021 sessions that will likely require continued changes in IT systems due to the pandemic. Although some of those changes may not last beyond the pandemic, the technology upgrades and new systems in many states can enhance the legislative process and the public’s access to it for the long term.
Pam Greenberg tracks technology, cybersecurity, privacy and related issues for NCSL.