At least one congressman is pushing Congress to provide funding to states for IT modernization, as they are hampered by legacy systems in their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., said on a German Marshall Fund webinar May 29 that he wants Congress to provide that in an upcoming coronavirus relief bill.

A record number of Americans have filed for unemployment in the United States as businesses furlough and lay off employees due to disruptions caused by the pandemic. But the unprecedented waves have crashed antiquated IT systems in states across the country, as reported by The Washington Post.

“Every state in the country has been hit by a tsunami of claims for unemployment insurance, and it’s been very difficult to respond,” said Langevin, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

New unemployment numbers released by the Labor Department on May 28 show that more than 2 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total number of jobless claims up to 40 million since mid-March.

Congress is considering another aid package, as several safety net programs established early on in the pandemic are set to expire in the coming weeks. Langevin said previous rescue packages provided funding for states that could be used for IT modernization, but gave states wide “latitude” for how they could spend it.

“There’s a clear need for IT modernization and incentivize the move to the cloud," Langevin said. "I’m hoping that when we do take up the next one that we’ll see funding ... for IT modernization.”

Langevin’s effort comes amid calls from 16 of his fellow Democrats in the Senate, who wrote a letter to congressional leadership in late April urging Congress to modify regulations preventing federal innovation hubs at the General Services Administration and U.S. Digital Service to provide assistance to states.

"During this national emergency, when speed is vital for millions of Americans, red tape is preventing the federal government’s skilled technologists from helping the state and local agencies that need them most,” the senators wrote.

Trade associations have also pushed Congress on the issue. A mid-April letter to Congress from the Alliance for Digital Innovation, the Center for Procurement Advocacy, CompTIA, the Cybersecurity Coalition, the Information Technology Industry Council and the Internet Association called on Congress to provide funds for IT modernization at all levels of government.

"Outdated government IT systems and processes already hinder some federal and state agencies’ ability to deliver aid to new applicants for small business loans and unemployment insurance,” the groups wrote. “The COVID-19 pandemic also exposes the need to redouble efforts to digitize federal forms and reduce reliance on hand-processing paperwork for high priority response and relief efforts.”

House Democrats have signaled interest in expanding IT funding in previous rescue packages that didn’t pass, including one that would’ve provided $3 billion for the GSA’s Technology Modernization Fund, which funds modernization projects across the federal government.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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