GSA Names 14 Projects Supported by $150M from COVID Stimulus

AP/Jacquelyn Martin

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan enacted at the start of the Biden administration included $150 million to support digital services improvements.

The General Services Administration retroactively announced 14 projects that have been receiving funding as part of the American Rescue Plan, outlining how the agency has been spending $150 million in pandemic relief targeted at improving federal digital services.

The second COVID stimulus package—the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan—included $150 million for GSA’s Technology Transformation Services allocated for improving and digitizing citizen-facing services, especially those related to the pandemic and critical services that have had to go online.

While TTS released the list Monday, all of the projects are already underway, including two that were completed in September.

“And this is just the beginning,” TTS Director Dave Zvenyach said in the release. “As we head into FY22, TTS will be doubling down on what is possible to make the largest impact on public-facing digital services.”

The 14 projects are divided into three buckets: recover in the wake the pandemic; rebuild existing government services; and reimagine digital services “to improve transparency, security, and efficiency to bolster public confidence in government,” GSA wrote on its website.

The projects, with background from the website:

Recover

  • Automating farmers’ debt relief processes, completed in September. “Farmers’ debt relief at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agencies was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the paper-based processes employed by the FSA. Processing requests included manual calculation and review of debt statements.”
  • Investing in cloud adoption and reuse, in progress. “Agency demand for cloud services dramatically increased during the COVID-19 pandemic due to staff working remotely. This increased demand made authorizing cloud services by FedRAMP critical to helping both agencies and the public recover from the pandemic.”
  • Putting the user at the forefront of COVID rental relief, in progress. “State, local and tribal governments have faced the challenge of building novel local-level infrastructures designed to provide rental assistance to tenants and landlords to avoid financial distress and evictions due to public health measures taken during the pandemic. Mitigation of housing instability during the pandemic is critical in the effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and support economic recovery from the national emergency.”
  • Assisting families eligible for the Child Tax Credit, completed in September. “The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 increased the Child Tax Credit and expanded it to include monthly payments. Government and community outreach is critical to ensure eligible families know it is available.”
  • Creating a consistent search experience, in progress. “As a result of COVID-19, the public clamored for information from the government on loans, benefits, unemployment, jobs, and health. Search.gov is a shared service available across government that aims to simplify and empower the government website search experience for the public.”

Rebuild

  • Verifying income for public benefits, in progress. “Income verification is key to the eligibility determination process for many public benefits programs, but it tends to be performed independently by each agency, and in different ways across states.”
  • Streamlining identity verification, in progress. “Government agencies rely on third party aggregators, like credit bureaus, for identity data validation. This leads to risks around data breaches, monetization of citizen personal information without consent and duplicative costs when government ends up paying for its own data.”
  • Creating inclusive design patterns, in progress. “The U.S. Web Design System’s inclusive design patterns will make it easier to create accessible, mobile-friendly government websites for the diverse American public. USWDS identifies best practices for common digital service interactions and guides teams through the process of building with those practices using the design system.”

Reimagine

  • Reimaging USAGov as the front door to government, in progress. “Accessing government services shouldn’t require deep knowledge of the intricacies of the executive branch.”
  • Increasing voter information and access, in progress. “The next steps for Vote.gov is to become the primary, trustworthy, and authoritative source for voter information. It will promote access to voting information and be a key resource to help break down barriers for voters of all backgrounds, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, national origin and age.”
  • Locating childcare services, in progress. “The U.S. Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Office of Child Care and TTS are partnering to improve the experience on Childcare.gov, as well as expand its possibilities through prioritizing functionality for families in their search and make the platform responsive to evolving needs.”
  • Bridging the gap to Wi-Fi access, in progress. “The Institute of Museum and Library Services and TTS is piloting efforts to provide the public, secure, compliant, and affordable Wi-Fi hotspots to help address the digital divide.”
  • Building a talent pipeline for government technologists, in progress. “Launched in August 2021, the U.S. Digital Corps is bringing skilled, diverse and mission-driven early-career technologists to the federal government. ARP funding will help the U.S. Digital Corps to scale to meet the workforce and implementation needs of the federal government by recruiting fellows for two-year stints with pathways to career service, with the first fellows beginning work at agencies in 2022.”
  • Spurring innovation through 10x investment, in progress. “10x will continue investigating and testing ideas with the potential to transform government digital service delivery. Similar to 10x’s Eligibility API’s Initiative which proved the viability of reimagining how social safety net programs could be administered using a rules-as-code approach.”

“These projects are a prime example of GSA’s commitment to using technology to make sure government can move at the speed of need and deliver for the people and communities we serve,” GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan said Monday in the release. “From making it easier for families to access child care services to helping farmers access debt relief programs, these projects address some of the most pressing issues people face in their daily lives.”

Carnahan also cited another major federal IT investment in the American Rescue Plan: the $1 billion added to the Technology Modernization Fund. That funding was designated for pandemic-related services and agencies’ responses to recent high-profile cyber breaches. To date, the TMF Board has allocated $311 million for six projects, plus an additional classified project with an unknown price tag.

“Combined with efforts like the Technology Modernization Fund, we have an opportunity to make a truly transformative impact and reimagine how we deliver services to the public,” she said.

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