Six months in, state executives reflect on their pandemic response

Like everything else in the world, the way governments use and depend on technology has been dramatically changed by COVID-19. But the pandemic has also revealed how technology has never been more important in ensuring that government services remain available to Americans, especially at the state level.

But the winners of the 2020 StateScoop 50 Awards for GoldenGov: State Executive of the Year, have spent the past six months — and will likely spend many months in the immediate future — taking steps to ensure that government has the IT resources to remain functional, and that residents of their states continue to get access to vital services. They’ve also had to make quick decisions about how to make entire state workforces primarily remote, and how to keep their teams motivated and functional through an uncertain and dangerous time.

Usually, StateScoop would be handing out its annual awards at a busy reception with an open bar and free-flowing hors d’oeuvres. But because that wasn’t an option this year, several of the winners spoke with StateScoop Technology Editor Benjamin Freed for the first episode of a podcast highlighting this year’s crop of StateScoop 50 winners.

The thing that we had to kind of get our minds around is the psychology of change, the psychology of people working remotely,” Ron Guerrier, who recently stepped down as Illinois’ statewide chief information officer for a role with HP, says on the podcast. “What does that mean? What it means is that your schedules are completely out of whack that you’ve never had those issues before.”

State IT leaders are working more closely than ever with their counterparts in public health, to both manage the mountains of data related to the pandemic and develop tools that will help states track and — ideally — reduce the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The Department of Health really became front and center with the support of all of the systems, the contact tracing, getting that going, we had no contact tracing system,” New Jersey Chief Technology Officer Christopher Rein says on the podcast. “And now we’re going through very, very, very aggressively.”

But six months in, many people are still working at home, wondering when they’ll go back to their office. But many of the winners in our GoldenGov category are already thinking about what that future looks like, whenever it begins. For one thing, if remote work remains popular, government may be able to reduce its physical footprint and save a bit on rent.

We really believe that this new normal after the pandemic will be 20-30% telecommuting, which means significant savings for taxpayers,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis says.

Throughout the rest of the episode, GoldenGov winners talk about the actions they took to prepare their state workforces for COVID-19, how they responded to record-busting demands on unemployment systems as the economy collapsed and whether they think open-ended telework is a good thing or not. And Guerrier reflects on how the social upheaval of this summer made him think about using technology to promote equity.

On this podcast:

  • Ron Guerrier, CIO, State of Illinois
  • Gov. Jared Polis, State of Colorado
  • John Quinn, CIO, State of Vermont
  • Christopher Rein, CTO, State of New Jersey
  • Sarah Steelman, commissioner, State of Missouri Office of Administration
  • Ed Toner, CIO, State of Nebraska
  • Benjamin Freed, technology editor, StateScoop