Senate Democrats Introduce Bill to Help State and Cities Modernize IT Systems


The bill would provide $120 million annually for seven years to fund tech teams and tech planning grants.  

Legislation introduced Thursday by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., would provide state, local and tribal governments new means to modernize their IT systems and hire their own digital service teams.

The State and Local Digital Service Act of 2021 would authorize $120 million annually for up to seven years for state and local digital service grants and tech-planning grants of between $200,000 to $3 million per year from the General Services Administration.

Half of all grant funding issued under the legislation must be used to hire technical talent, particularly the designers, technologists and civil servants who provide digital services to millions of Americans nationwide.

“Governments should not outsource their mission. They need in-house technology experts to help with research, design, creation and procurement of digital services. Our new legislation cuts through bureaucracy to deliver upgrades for users, and gets a running start at the huge job of upgrading state and local systems,” Wyden said in a statement.

The bill is an expanded version of the Digital Service Act, introduced in 2019 by then-Senator and current Vice President Kamala Harris. While it didn’t pass, that legislation would have set aside additional funding for the U.S. Digital Service and provided a $15 million pool of funding for local governments to modernize their systems.

While old and outdated IT systems plague federal agencies, the challenges are magnified for state and local governments, which face monumental revenue challenges amid a continued coronavirus pandemic. Beyond providing a new potential mechanism, the bill would allow federal tech services—including the U.S. Digital Service and 18F—to provide technical expertise to state and local government entities. USDS and 18F have upgraded, modernized, and built dozens of wonky government IT systems since their inception during the Obama administration.

“The State and Local Digital Service Act would make commonsense, long overdue investments to help to ensure online government services live up to modern needs and expectations by providing capacity for digital service teams that will save state and local governments money, improve their digital resources, attract top talent to government service, and make it easier for millions of people in Washington state and across the country to get services they need,” Murray said in a statement.