Defining Resilient Infrastructure in Preparing for the American Rescue Plan
The Senate is poised to take up the $1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan as early as today, following passage in the House last weekend. $130 Billion of that funding is reserved for cities and counties, and resilient infrastructure is an important allowed use – but what does it mean?
Resilience is a mindset or framework that appears today in every context from mental health literature to mandates directed at IT spending (and these are just two examples). The meaning of “Resilient Infrastructure” will inform millions and even billions of dollars in investments made in local governments across the U.S. with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act.
Resiliency in government is often thought of in terms of physical infrastructure, of roads, bridges, and utilities. But information infrastructure has become equally vital in the pandemic. Local government leaders need the tools and technology to plan and operate their governments, whether staff are working in City Hall, field offices, or working from home. At the same time, residents and the business community need and expect services enabled virtually, and have become adept at looking to the Internet to get things done. Adding complexity are issues such as equity and continuity, which are increasingly top-of-mind for local government leaders.
As the pandemic (hopefully) continues to wane due to widespread vaccination programs, the focus for many local government leaders is shifting more fully to driving much-needed economic recovery, and technology plays a key role. Three aspects of resiliency are emerging: continuity of operations in critical systems, accessibility of data, and equity in budgeting and planning.
One: Continuity for critical systems and operations
Continuity refers to the ability of a system, organization, or population to function successfully into the future by conserving resources now to keep them available for the future. One key example when it comes to local governments is ensuring that software will not sunset, depend on aging hardware, or become functionally obsolete. Instead, systems should be expected to be evergreen, fueled by ongoing development, access to new technologies and a broad market ecosystem.
In an open letter to President Biden on February 9, 2021, the Chief Financial Officers and Finance Directors of some of America’s largest municipalities wrote: We strongly support providing local governments additional flexible funding [to support] … small business aid; direct assistance to individuals and families; food security; housing and homelessness assistance programs; and tourism and visitor industry aid.” To distribute this massive funding package, local governments will require the infrastructure to drive applications, expeditiously allocate funds, and maintain audit trails for every dollar distributed. This is a tall order, and technology is the key to facilitating this massive transfer of federal dollars to local aid efficiently.
Two: Accessibility of Technology and Data
Technological resilience enables a government to continue its work through social, political, and environmental disruptions. With the cloud-first technology available today neither a fire in the city hall data center nor a viral pandemic should bring government services to a halt, nor make data unavailable to staff and the public.
Staff should be able to work anywhere on the Internet, using cloud-first software to directly engage with stakeholders needing services. Staff should also be able to share information with residents easily across common social media platforms and their own websites. Finally, staff should be able to receive funds, pay bills, review performance and financial results, plan for the future and conduct public meetings remotely with technology that secures and facilitates their work.
Three: Equity in Budgeting and Planning
As many communities have clearly felt in the wake of recent social movements, there is a greater need than ever for data to drive actions in support of equitable returns for all populations in their communities. One prominent advocate of better budgeting, Andrew Kleine, former Budget Director for the City of Baltimore and author, recommends governments move away from incremental budgeting since the approach isn’t getting the job done where needs are growing faster than revenues. Kleine’s recommended approach of outcome-based budgeting requires a whole lot more data and a mutual understanding of priorities and performance.
One example that many cities are exploring is the use of an equity lens to evaluate their budget and operational successes and priorities. For example, this approach would look not only at costs and funding, but at needs and results: does increasing funding for roads in areas where economic mobility is constrained have outsize effects on the economic prospects of residents? Shayne Kavanagh and Jake Kowalski writing for GFOA, supported by nine city representatives, make the case for going beyond equality of opportunities to consider the results of decisions in terms of equitable outcomes. Fairness is a key concept in these issues.
Building Resiliency with Cloud-First Solutions
“The pandemic forced us to pause and reflect. It taught us that technology can surmount many challenges at home and work; made us rethink not just the way of using technology but doing business; and accelerated the movement of data to the cloud and remote working,” explains Leena Walavalkar, Chief Innovation Evangelist, Tata Consultancy Services.
As a leading government technology provider, OpenGov is helping pave the way to resilient infrastructure in local government with solutions that ensure continuous Improvement of key systems, accessibility of data, and equity in budgeting. A unique modern cloud ERP, powers more effective and accountable government with its budgeting and planning, Financials, and citizen services software for permitting, licensing, and code enforcement in a single integrated solution, to support the changing world and constantly shifting demands placed on governments today.