The COVID-19 pandemic forced legislatures to make extraordinary shifts in the way they operated during 2020 and 2021, and technology was an integral part of those changes in many states.
A fall 2021 survey of key information technology contacts (CIOs, IT directors or managers) in state legislatures focused on how legislative IT offices approached and adapted to the pandemic. The survey investigated how these transitions affected certain legislative procedures and operations.
The pandemic clearly accelerated changes in the use of technology in legislatures, according to survey responses.
Changes that might otherwise have taken years were completed in just a few weeks or months. IT staff in most legislatures had to quickly equip legislators and staff with tools to work remotely.
And although a few legislatures had held remote committee hearings in the past, the pandemic forced many others to set up videoconferencing capabilities for committees or sessions and to build new applications that could be accessed remotely by legislators, staff and the public.
Many legislative IT offices also faced challenges in their own staffing, priorities and operations in 2020 and 2021. Close to half of those responding said that the pandemic had a very significant impact on their priorities—delaying, shifting and initiating new projects and creating a need for additional security measures.
Almost three-quarters of respondents said remote work was allowed for all IT employees during the pandemic. Only about 42%, however, thought remote work would definitely or likely be allowed for IT staff in the future.
Remote work policies, according to those responding, can be an important factor in hiring and retaining IT staff. As one respondent said, "Our biggest challenge is the increased competition for staff now that remote work is so widely offered across the U.S. and world.”
Although the pandemic accelerated changes in technology used in legislatures and seems to have increased the recognition of its importance, it’s less clear if or which changes will remain in place or if there’s momentum for more.
Pam Greenberg covers technology and is a senior fellow in NCSL's Center for Legislative Strengthening.