March 2022 marked two years since the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the United States. At that time, it was unclear whether COVID-19 would last a few weeks or a few months. Unfortunately, battling the novel coronavirus has lasted over two years and it appears the ancillary effects of the pandemic will have a lasting impact for governments and those who serve governments. Below we will examine the issues governments still face and will focus on the opportunities as we look to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many families on the local and national level, hardships persist. In addition, the global pandemic caused havoc across the United States’ economy causing significant disruption to employment and work locations.
Prior to the pandemic, only 5 percent of full workdays were completed by staff working at home. In its April 2021 report, Becker Friedman Institute expects that number to rise to nearly 20 percent. The government sector has traditionally been an in-office industry that has operated with paper and hard copy files. The pandemic has shown that governments, like many workplaces, are able to adapt to accept online documents and payments, which has greatly reduced the need for workers in office. In fact, approximately six in 10 U.S. workers who say their jobs can mostly be done from home are working from home all or most of the time, according to Pew Research Center.
As workers adapted to remote working, they also became introspective to their jobs. The Great Resignation showed workers that they had significant bargaining power to determine their future careers. In a recent study by Pew Research Center, the top three reasons workers left a job during 2021 were low pay, lack of opportunities for advancement, and a feeling of disrespect at work.
For government entities and the private sector alike, the workforce will never be the same. With such transformational change, what opportunities are there for governments going forward?
Forging a Path Forward – Aid to Affected Communities
The American Rescue Plan Act provided $350 billion in relief to states and local governments through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. Much of this funding has been allocated to states, cities, counties, and tribal governments. These funds must be obligated by December 31, 2024, and spent by December 31, 2026. We encourage local governments to review the four eligible uses, which include responding to public health and economic impacts and investments in broadband infrastructure.
With several years to obligate and spend the funds, communities should study and understand the populations that were most adversely affected by the pandemic so funding can be allocated to those populations appropriately.
Forging a Path Forward – The Future Workforce
Governments must adapt to the needs of their workforce and enhance their capabilities to serve their constituents. Flexible work arrangements are here to stay, so governments must create policies to allow flexibility for workers but still promote convenience and operational excellence. The more flexible and adaptive governments will be better suited to recruit and retain the best staff. Make sure that there is adequate staffing coverage throughout the week and that supervisors have appropriate mechanisms and technology with which to communicate with their staff and team members.
With remote work comes the need for enhanced cybersecurity policies and infrastructure. Employees should understand the use of technology, including home networks, and there should be ongoing training provided on the safe use of technology and security of sensitive data. All government systems used should have antivirus, virtual private networks (VPN), and anti-malware software. Strong passwords should be required. The use of multi-factor authentication for critical systems can provide additional layers of protection. In addition, all operating system updates should be routinely installed and applications must be up to date. The last thing a government needs is to be the victim of a data breach due to lax policies for remote working.
We Can Help
Rea & Associates, Inc. is well versed in the needs of state and local governments and we are eager to help you navigate through your opportunities. Please contact one of our government or cybersecurity team members to let us know how we can help you emerge strong from the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Danny Sklenicka, CPA (Gahanna Office)