Whether it was a good year or a bad year for your community, 2021 was a memorable year to say the least.
On a positive note, recent federal legislation in the form of the American Rescue Plan Act is going to put billions in grant funds directly into the hands of municipalities and counties, meaning you’ll have financing to make improvements to local physical and digital infrastructure. On a sadder note, the pandemic and record-breaking, climate change driven natural disasters ravaged communities across the United States and world, continuing to devastate lives and economies.
Regardless, now is prime time to reflect on the trends and notable events of 2021, and to focus your municipal and county leadership on the critical and ever-challenging road ahead.
Here’s a full-recap of the most impactful events of 2021 for local governments, and a glimpse into what your municipality or county can expect in 2022 and beyond.
Notable Events of 2021 and What They Mean for Municipal Government
It seems that there was never a dull moment in 2021. Here are some of the most notable events that will shape US public policy for years to come:
Federal Legislation in 2021
Despite a gridlocked Congress, the House and Senate managed to pass several notable pieces of legislation this year.
For municipalities, two bills in particular will have nationwide impact:
The American Rescue Plan
The American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021 with the intention of easing the burden imposed on communities and families by the pandemic. Within the bill, $350 billion was specifically set aside for state and local government to allocate towards:
Ongoing COVID-19 testing and vaccinations
Preventing local layoffs of essential workers
Improved IT infrastructure and technology
To learn more about the direct impact the ARPA will have on your municipality, read on in What the American Rescue Plan Act Means for Local Governments guide, and visit GovPilot's American Rescue Plan Act specific page.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
On November 15, President Joe Biden signed the infrastructure bill into law, allocating $1.9 trillion dollars towards US infrastructure. Here are the types of infrastructure projects your municipality is eligible to apply for:
- Public transportation, roads, and bridges
- Pedestrian zones and bike lanes
- Disaster resilient infrastructure
- Broadband internet connectivity
- Cybersecurity enhancements
- Updated Hardware & Software
- Cleaner water infrastructure
For more specific details on how grants can be utilized, read on in the What the Infrastructure Bill Means for Local Governments guide.
What 2021 Federal Legislation Means for Your Local Government: Clearly, your municipal government has a lot of options for how it would like to improve local infrastructure. Communicate with local leadership and constituents to prioritize which physical and digital infrastructure projects would be most meaningful for your community. Once you know the projects your community would like to pursue, look to federal resources for instructions on how to file for the relevant grants.
While these laws won’t directly impact municipalities nationwide, several states are taking major action to push local governments towards digitized workflows.
Here are notable pieces of legislation that will undoubtedly inspire similar state laws in coming years:
New Jersey Assembly Bill 1145
The New Jersey state government took major strides to improve workflows related to building permit applications in NJ Assembly Bill 1145. With its passage, NJ now requires municipalities to leverage an “Electronic Permit Processing Review System,” that requires:
Fully electronic permit applications accessible via government websites
Local government officials reviewing e-documents and approving / denying permits via the internet
Private agencies acting on behalf of the government to abide by the same policies
For more specific details about what the recent NJ legislation means for local governments, read on in our NJ Electronic Construction Permitting Law guide.
Florida House Bills 667 and 1059
With massive population growth and constant construction occurring across the Sunshine state, it’s no surprise Florida passed legislation directly related to improving construction workflows.
House Bill 667 was passed shortly after the Surfside condo collapse that left 98 people dead. The bill comes with the goal of improving building inspection workflows to be faster and more efficient by requiring:
Municipalities to offer building inspection requests via their websites
Inspectors to improve / deny inspections within a shortened timeframe
House Bill 1059 was passed to encourage local governments to approve or deny permit applications at a faster rate. The new law requires:
Online construction permit applications
Municipalities to approve or deny a permit application request within 30 days (or reduce their application fee by 10% for every day that passes after the deadline)
For more details about what the passage of this legislation means for Floridian municipalities, read on in the Florida House Bills 667 & 1059: Electronic Permit and Inspection Laws guide.
What 2021 State Legislation Means for Your Local Government: If your municipality is in Florida or New Jersey, your government will be required to go digital to improve processes related to construction. If you’re from another state, anticipate similar legislation in coming years meant to encourage you to automate construction via inspection software and electronic permitting.
No region in the United States went without major natural disasters in 2021. In fact, more than 40 percent of Americans live in counties hit by climate disasters in 2021. Storms in recent memory have demonstrated the priority for disaster resilient infrastructure, well-educated constituents, and resourceful community emergency response teams.
Tornados: December Southern US Tornado Outbreak
The December 2021 tornadoes blew through more than 6 states in the southern USA and left 70 dead in Kentucky. With 1,254 total tornadoes in 2021 in the U.S. as of late-December, including unprecedented storms in the south east to close out the year, there is clear indication that underprepared communities will need to take action to mitigate tornadoes.
Wildfires: Western US Wildfires
The western United States has continually had to deal with intensifying wildfires that are destroying communities, nature, and the local air quality. In California alone, wildfires have burned 2,569,009 acres throughout the year and a December wildfire in Colorado destroyed communities.
Hurricanes & Flooding: Hurricane Ida
Hurricane Ida made headlines after wreaking havoc on Louisiana and making it the second hardest hitting hurricane in state history after Hurricane Katrina. It didn’t stop there; the storm led to destruction in the south all the way up to New England, leaving rubble and major flooding in its path.
Snowstorms: Pacific Northwest Winter Storm
‘Millions in Texas Without Power Due to Winter Storm’ was a headline not many anticipated. Yet, 5.2 million Americans lost power in February 2021 due to record-shattering power grid outages as a result of extreme cold that started in Texas and traveled all the way up to North Dakota.
What 2021 Natural Disasters Mean For Your Local Government: Politics aside, storms that were once considered ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ are occurring on a yearly basis - often in areas with no prior history of such events. This trend is likely to continue as climate change intensifies storms and lengthens disaster seasons. Local government officials are elected to keep their constituents safe, meaning it is your duty to consider infrastructure improvements to keep your community protected and local buildings intact. Some of the ways you can consider taking action include assessing which storms pose the biggest risk to your community, forming a community emergency response team to educate constituents and respond to a crisis, and to apply for grants to update local infrastructure.
Explore the following resources for specific details on how to mitigate and respond to relevant storms:
How Has Government Technology Advanced Municipalities in 2021?
Government innovation has prospered in 2021, with the pandemic turning the world upside down and the aforementioned events shaping public policy priorities.
Is your local government taking advantage of the best technology? Here’s some insight into how local governments innovated this year:
Making the Switch to a Digital Format
Adjusting to remote work during lockdown showcased an array of flaws in the antiquated local government workflows nationwide. Already slow processes like filing permit applications or requesting a court appeal became even slower; constituents were left waiting on local officials for important documents.
To adapt, local governments finally took a leap towards digital infrastructure. Leveraging broadband technology and acquiring municipal software helped to improve on mediocre workflows.
Automating Government Workflows
Regardless of department, every government worker is well-aware of the never-ending administrative tasks that come with bureaucratic red tape. For many municipalities, government management software has expedited the amount of time needed for filing paperwork, approving permit & license requests, and more.
The software, which uses technology known as robotic process automation, reportedly saved towns like Jackson, NJ 40 hours per month in their Clerk’s Department alone. Learn more in the Government Digital Transformation Case Study.
Improvements to Construction Processes
With moving patterns shifting rapidly due to Covid-19, construction has brought local economic development to cities and towns of all sizes. Simultaneously, the collapse of an apartment building in Florida reminded municipal governments nationwide that proper building inspections are critical to prevent tragedies and save lives.
To inspire new construction and protect existing infrastructure, many municipalities are improving on construction workflows by:
Moving permit applications online
Opening up inspection requests online
Leveraging inspection software to improve efficiency and save time
Improved Procurement Practices
Local governments are constantly seeking support from the public-sector for acquiring necessary goods and services. Recent federal infrastructure legislation is posed to stoke economic development by increasing the number of public-private relationships nationwide. Many localities have opted to leverage government procurement technology to automate billing, track goods and services, and get real-time insights on where government funds are being allocated.
You can learn more about how government procurement is evolving in our Best Government Procurement Practices & Technology guide.
Advancements in Constituent-Municipality Communications
Technology has given everyone the chance to have their voices heard. As Trump’s Twitter presence indicated, constituents like to hear what their government officials have to say. Local government officials are no exception. To improve trust in local government, many municipalities finally increased their digital presence during the pandemic.
Municipalities are improving communications with constituents by:
Getting active on social media (Instagram, Facebook, NextDoor, Linkedin, etc.)
Holding and promoting regular events in public settings that discuss important issues with constituents
To learn more about how you can improve communication within your community, read on in the How Local Governments Should Use Social Media and Complaint Management Software: How to Improve Citizen Engagement guides.
What Innovations Are Occurring in Each Governmental Department?
While innovation is occurring for municipal government as a whole, more nuanced technology is impacting every governmental department differently.
Everything from the courthouse to the public works department should be feeling an exciting change coming on. Here is how (and why) government technology has improved workflows across departments:
For many municipalities, the pandemic was the perfect opportunity to go paperless in the clerk’s department. Using cloud-based technology, any permit or license application can be submitted via a government website. All relevant files will be safe and secure in the cloud, and will be accessible to all relevant government officials via municipal clerk’s software immediately. The software is designed to be intuitive, giving clerk’s office employees a simple, less time consuming alternative to approve or deny relevant applications.
For more insights into the benefits and processes of online applications, explore this Digital Pet Licensing case study.
Health inspections have become even more integral ensuring public safety in communities taking precautions against Covid-19. Fortunately, government technology is easing workflows for health inspectors via:
Mobile health inspections: By improving efficiency and automating workflows, health inspection software is allowing inspectors to complete inspections more quickly at a high standard with customizable templates for various business-types.
Cloud-based record searches: inspection information is automatically stored in the cloud, meaning health officials are able to access documentation for each location instantly.
Online licensing approvals: local businesses can file relevant paperwork related to public health directly via the government website; saving time and keeping people safe at home
Public Works Department (DPW)
Any public works official knows that keeping a community maintained is challenging work. To make life easier and get more done, public works software assists in:
- Complaint management: With a complaint management system in place, constituents can directly reach out regarding non-emergency issues like potholes, downed telephone wires, etc. so that public works officials are aware of the situation as quickly as possible
- Work orders: as new issues arise, scheduling assignments to public works employees or teams will keep the ball rolling. Keep your full team organized with better communication, less stress, and quicker turnaround time.
- Vehicle and equipment management: Keep track of government vehicles and equipment throughout their lifespan. If an issue arises, requests for repairs can be submitted directly.
- Contract management: public works officials are constantly working with vendors and private-businesses. Government software stores contracts in the cloud for easy accessibility and provides real-time reports to track projects.
Municipal and County Clerks
Court houses across the country have been backed up for years as a result of antiquated administrative processes. When the pandemic struck, going remote made things worse, with one survey saying 33% of judicial workers struggled adjusting to virtual court.
Covid-19 shined a spotlight on the need for judicial innovation, and court management software is offering clear solutions. Administrative tasks like transcript requests and court date scheduling are saving court clerks dozens of hours a month. Cloud-based data storage is automatically uploading relevant documents from each case directly into the cloud. And, online systems are allowing many municipal courts to go completely paperless for the first time.
To learn more about court software, read on in the Best Court Management Software 2022 guide.
Engineering departments are constantly performing inspections to make sure local buildings are up to code. With GovInspect, your engineering department can go completely paperless, have tasks automatically assigned to relevant employees, and be used for Certificate of Occupancy and Code Enforcement projects.
The non-stop climate disasters that unfolded in 2021 put pressure on local governments to step up their resilience measures. Emergency management software can help before and after a storm by:
- Tracking flood zones: GovPilot’s floodplain management module automatically tracks construction and potential hazards within a flood zone as required by FEMA’s Risk Rating 2.0
- FEMA expense management: if a disaster strikes and FEMA provides funding to help, government software can keep track of any related procurement to make reporting expenditures to FEMA simple, fast, and professionally formatted.
- GIS mapping: 3D GIS maps can be made available on your website and updated in real time, meaning it can be used to warn constituents about flood risks, flooding, areas damaged by storms, evacuation routes, and more.
What Does the Future of Local Governments Look Like?
With changes in technology and work culture, there’s a lot of changes your municipality can anticipate in upcoming years. Here are some of the top trends that will shape public policy and government technology in 2022 and beyond:
Local Government Cybersecurity
Cyber attacks like the January 2021 San Francisco water treatment plant hack are just the tip of the iceberg. Federal and municipal governments need to take full precautions to train government workers on cyber security protocols and store data safely and securely to prevent ransomware attacks.
Government software is cloud-based, so that important data is automatically backed up and hackers won’t be able to steal it to collect a ransom. For more details about how to stop cyber attacks from happening in your community, read on in the Government Cybersecurity: How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks guide.
Use of Blockchain Technology
2021 closed out with Jack Dorsey making headlines after discussing the push towards Web 3.0, which is poised to make online transactions more simple and secure with cryptocurrency payments. Though it may sound confusing, the rise in value of Bitcoin and Ethereum as well as rise in prominence of NFTs suggest that decentralization will continue to change the ways humans interact.
Many local governments are getting ahead of the curve, with communities like Miami vowing to accept cryptocurrency payments for fees like permit applications. Others, like Reno, NV are using blockchain to secure data more safely in the cloud.
For more details on how local governments can leverage cryptocurrency and blockchain, read on in the Local Government Blockchain: How Municipalities Can Use Crypto guide.
Less Municipal Workers
Even the private sector is struggling with finding effective workers as many Americans are declining to work over a fear of COVID-19 or in retaliation to vaccine mandates. The public sector was not unscathed. With the private-sector’s more enticing pay, benefits, and company cultures, local governments are having an even harder time filling open roles.
To alleviate this issue, local governments will have to consider attractive incentives to find new hires, and should also turn to government software as a means to get work done that formerly needed to be completed by an employee.
To learn more about recruiting for municipalities and addressing being short staffed, read on in the How to Recruit Government Workers guide.
Modern Government Trends and Technology - In Conclusion
The events that unfolded in 2021 will have a profound impact on municipalities’ priorities for years. Natural disasters had a devastating impact on communities in every region in the United States. Ongoing lockdowns left many American communities struggling to stay afloat in a digital work / schooling environment. Fortunately, federal funding was approved to address both physical and digital infrastructure at a local level, meaning your local government can expect to address the specific challenges in your community for years to come.
To learn more about how government software can help you improve government operations and constituent services, schedule a consultation.
Government Tech and Event Trends FAQs
1. What Important Federal Legislation for Municipalities Passed in 2021?
The American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act were the two most notable pieces of legislation for municipalities in 2021. Both of these bills give federal funding to municipalities directly to improve digital and physical infrastructure projects of their choice (based on their most notable communal issues.)
2. What Events in 2021 Had a Major Impact on Municipalities?
The sheer volume of natural disasters in the United States in recent memory will impact how municipalities operate for years to come. Communities will need to foster emergency management plans for mitigating and responding to relevant crises and build disaster resilient infrastructure.
3. How Has Government Technology Advanced In Recent Memory?
Government software is automating manual tasks across government departments. With digitized applications for relevant permits and licenses, automated access for government workers to relevant data, and insightful reports and dashboards for each department, the switch online has allowed governments to get tasks done at unprecedented rates.