From cyber attacks to overseeing hundreds of billions in federal spending, state and local governments face growing technology challenges. A new bipartisan Senate bill would reform a half-century-old law to allow federal agencies to provide technology assistance to state and local partners and encourage greater cooperation between government agencies.
Under the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act of 1968, Congress authorized the executive branch to improve coordination with state, local, territorial, and tribal (SLTT) governments to help administer federal programs and grants by technical assistance.
Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have introduced the Improving Intergovernmental Cooperation and Reducing Duplication Act to modernize the law. In particular, the bill updates the definitions under the 1968 law to bring them in line with our modern technology landscape. Additionally, the bill will require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue new plans and policies for how to implement the law:
“The bill requires the OMB Director and [Office of Intergovernmental Affairs] to develop a strategic plan to increase intergovernmental cooperation to improve coordination between federal and SLTT governments, increase efficiency, and reduce costs to taxpayers. The legislation would require the OMB director to update the more than 50-year-old guidance on intergovernmental cooperation to ensure more effective delivery of federal services at all levels of government.”
The bill would also update the General Services Administration’s (GSA) authorities to provide “specialized and technological services” to SLTT governments. In other words, these governments would have the option to access GSA’s shared services, which are now only offered to federal agencies, to improve government efficiency and information technology management. In addition to GSA, all other federal agencies that have been authorized to develop or acquire specific IT or cyber capabilities, such the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, would also be allowed to extend those services directly to SLTTs.
For state, local, territorial, and tribal governments, the bipartisan initiative has the potential to provide needed help from Washington at a time when they face increasing cyber threats and growing challenges simply administering government programs.
Many state and local governments are working to manage cyber risks related to potential ransomware attacks, which involve hackers stealing or encrypting sensitive data and demanding payment. These government agencies often have limited resources, including staff with cybersecurity expertise, to implement best practices to prevent these and other disruptions. Stronger intergovernmental coordination with federal agencies would allow state and local partners to access federal technology tools and contracts to save time and resources while improving security.
Through an expanded Intergovernmental Cooperation Act, the federal government could offer useful technology services, such as Login.gov, without duplicating efforts or requiring state and local governments to acquire or develop their own technology solutions. GSA could also offer SLTT government partners access to federal contracts aimed to answer the White House’s executive order to adopt a “zero trust architecture” to improve cyber risk management.
The potential benefits of increased intergovernmental cooperation would extend beyond improving security.
State, local, territorial, and tribal governments are also managing a growing share of federal tax dollars, including government benefits that many citizens relied on during the COVID-19 pandemic. Improving the way that SLTT governments administer and oversee these programs could improve customer service and efficiency.
Strengthening coordination between Washington and SLTT governments also has the potential to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, federal agencies reported $281 billion in improper payments last year. As state and local governments manage large federal programs like Medicaid and hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency spending, billions of tax dollars are put at risk and routinely wasted due to poor management and lax oversight.
Improving intergovernmental cooperation and encouraging shared technology services could help address these problems. For example, Congress should also require the Office of Management and Budget and other agencies to adopt best practices recommended by the Government Accountability Office and other watchdogs through these new intergovernmental collaborations to improve government oversight.
To be sure, the federal government has a mixed track record managing its own cyber risks and overseeing information technology acquisitions programs. Moreover, watchdogs have identified ways that agencies can better work together to use shared services to improve efficiency. But the potential synergies and security improvements that could be achieved through effective cooperation across federal, state, and local governments are too great to ignore.
The United States faces big technology governance challenges including growing cyber threats and administering benefits programs. It’s only reasonable for government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels to try to improve efficiency through collaboration. Updating the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act of 1968 is a commonsense step forward.
Dan Lips is head of policy at Lincoln Network.