Government Innovation During a Pandemic

Bilzin Sumberg
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Bilzin Sumberg

During this current COVID-19 crisis, a great deal has been written on what government is not doing (or not allowing others to do). But the same attention is often not given to what government is doing. The reality is that governments are continuing to conduct public business, in many cases at a rapid pace, despite the significant impediments of which we are all now familiar. These efforts have been made possible by a remarkable level of innovation in both the public and private sectors, including the rapid-fire development of new technologies and novel repurposing of old ones.

In the government-contracting space, for example, we have observed a rapid shift to the remote environment. Fortunately, a number of technologies already existed for the acceptance of electronic proposals (BidSync, DemandStar, and others), and those technologies continue to be widely utilized (including where hard-copy submissions were previously required). The rest of the process, which previously relied upon face-to-face meetings, has required innovative technology and thinking to continue, and that innovation has already taken place. Contract negotiations are now being conducted with video-conferencing technologies such as zoom, and are being recorded using those same technologies to comply with Sunshine Law or other open-government requirements. Similarly, public meetings to determine responsibility, hear oral presentations, and evaluate proposals are also shifting to technology platforms, and those platforms are being implemented in a manner that conforms to the legal requirements for each meeting and each type of participant. Members of the public may be given view-only access, for example, and participants in the process can be given viewing or speaking rights as is appropriate for the meeting. As one prominent example, a virtual pre-bid conference was recently held for a P3 development at the Aloha Stadium, and more than 200 industry representatives attended.

In addition to creatively utilizing existing technologies, governments are also working with the private sector to develop new technologies or new implementations of old ones. Fortunately, developers of government technologies are stepping up to meet current challenges. For example, Tyler Technologies, the largest company in the U.S. dedicated to the development of public-sector software solutions, released a new Virtual Court solution ahead of schedule in order to meet the immediate needs of municipal courts, and has worked with school districts to repurpose its bus-routing software to facilitate meal drop-offs to needy families. These and other ongoing efforts of both the public and private sectors are together permitting government to continue uninterrupted, and proving the proverb that necessity is the mother of invention.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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