For the seventh time in the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ (NASCIO) half-century existence, the White House changed political parties with the incoming Biden Administration this month. Given the fact that Federal funds support as much as half of state IT budgets, it is no surprise that such changes in Washington, D.C. can have a significant impact on states’ IT bottom line.

MeriTalk discussed this development with NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson, who expressed general optimism along with a healthy dose of uncertainty.

Robinson also gave us an update on NASCIO’s Federal advocacy priorities with the new administration.

Over the last two decades, NASCIO has formally proposed these annual Federal advocacy priorities – or “calls to action” – to highlight Federal government affairs, policy briefs, and legislation on key issues of importance to the association and its membership. The specific NASCIO 2021 Federal advocacy priorities are highlighted below; however, beyond these formal proposals, I asked Robinson to reflect on his forecast regarding the new environment in D.C.

“The key word I would say is optimism. We’ve already heard a number of state and local-related comments from the Federal folks, in particular regarding the new stimulus initiative which includes state and local funds, unlike previously; and also the emphasis on cybersecurity with the critical state and local government component,” he said.

While the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act stimulus bill passed in March 2020 included specific funding for broadband connections, distance learning, telehealth, and telework, President Biden’s proposed package includes far greater state and local funding. Biden is proposing $170 billion to assist in reopening schools and a $350 billion bailout of state and local governments.

Robinson also reported that since the November 2020 election, NASCIO has discussed priorities with various congressional offices, and is particularly pleased that those conversations have involved dedicated funding for state cybersecurity efforts – another piece missing from the 2020 CARES Act.

While modernization of legacy IT systems has been a buzzword at the Federal government level for several years, it seems that only with the COVID-19 pandemic has its profile also risen at the state level. This has been most dramatically demonstrated by the challenges faced by so many state unemployment systems due to the surge in claims applications.

“As you know, states and the Federal government have a symbiotic relationship where states are the agent in many circumstances for the delivery of many Federal programs across the country. Welfare programs, food stamps, Medicaid, child support and many other programs are administrated by the states,” Robinson said.

And while the original computer systems that support these Federal programs have been traditionally funded by the Feds, the funds to modernize these often-times 30-40-50 year old legacy applications have been sporadic at best. In the case of the state unemployment systems, in fact, no specific funding from the federal Department of Labor has ever been provided.

“NASCIO is proposing a multiyear partnership with a portfolio between the states and the Federal government to address these state modernization challenges,” said Robinson.

While not expecting specific callouts for state IT funding, Robinson is optimistic that the more than half billion dollars specified in Biden’s proposal for reopening schools and bailing out state and local governments will benefit state IT efforts as well.

We’ll be optimistic as well, and hope that bailout funding won’t be gobbled up offsetting state and local governments’ $5 trillion of unfunded pension obligations.

NASCIO’s Formal 2021 Federal Advocacy Priorities

As NASCIO’s website points out, the organization’s primary objective in the advocacy and policy arena is to provide Federal policy-makers with insight and recommendations regarding the implications of technology-related legislation, regulations, policies and other proposals.

NASCIO’s overall advocacy efforts focus on:

  • Building awareness of state IT policy issues;
  • Advancing the role of the state CIO; and
  • Expanding the association’s visibility on Capitol Hill and with federal agencies.

The current priorities are:

  • Harmonize Disparate Federal Cybersecurity Regulations;
  • Authorize and Appropriate a Dedicated Cybersecurity Grant Program for State and Local Governments;
  • Advocate for Widespread Adoption of DotGov Domain;
  • Provide Funding for State Governments to Modernize Legacy IT; and
  • Expand Broadband Access and Reform FCC Mapping Methodology Systems.

Learn more about NASCIO’s priorities.

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John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.