- U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, has introduced legislation that would help state and local governments improve their digital systems, and would allocate $50 million a year to the United States Digital Service, which seeks to improve the federal government’s digital presence.
- The "Digital Service Act" would create an annual $15 million fund for state and local governments to get two-year grants to work on digital services, with at least 50% of the funds dedicated to staff. Funding would be authorized through 2027.
- The bill does not currently have any cosponsors or companion legislation in the House, but does have the outside support of groups including Code for America and the Center for Democracy & Technology.
Even as digital technology advances, government agencies have been notoriously slow to upgrade their internal and external operations. The federal U.S. Digital Service was established in 2014 after the initial failure of HealthCare.gov, and was modeled after the U.K.’s Government Digital Service, in order to improve and simplify government’s digital face.
Now Harris’ bill would bring that same approach — and federal backing — to the state and local level. The two-year grants would help fund projects on everything from paperless functions to blockchain technology, with an eye toward helping citizens more easily interact with their local governments. Setting aside at least half of the grants for talent can help ensure that governments can compete with the private sector for workers.
"Americans deserve a government that works for them and that just plain works," said Harris in a statement. 'We must do more to empower our state and local governments to tap into the power of technology to provide seamless, cost-effective services for the 21st century."
Local governments have looked to technology to improve all manner of urban functions, whether digitizing processes like permitting and applications, releasing open data on budgets or using code to clear past marijuana citations. Blockchain is especially expected to streamline city government; Dubai has even said it would use blockchain to help reach its goal of going paperless by 2021. But getting those projects off the ground requires money and experience that some governments don’t have. While companies like Microsoft have offered their support, federal funding will also help accelerate those projects.