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Top Picks: Ransomware Attacks, Learning What the Public Thinks, Losing Experienced Workers


May 27, 2016 by Byron Katsuyama
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Top Picks: Ransomware Attacks, Learning What the Public Thinks, Losing Experienced Workers

Each week I scan the web for interesting and useful news, blog posts, articles, and reports from a variety of local government-related sources, and post them to the In Focus section of MRSC’s homepage. Here are some of the most interesting “top picks” from my most recent scans.

Ransomware Attacks on the Rise

The number of ransomware attacks on government agencies has been increasing rapidly over the last year or so according to recent reports from the FBI and security research firms. Ransomware is a type of malware used by cybercriminals to take control of computer files, encrypt them, and then demand payments from victims in exchange for a key or other device that will allow them to regain access to their files. The FBI reports that government targets have included hospitals, school districts, state and local governments, and law enforcement agencies. While many think that ransomware attacks are being aimed primarily at large government organizations, cybercriminals are increasingly targeting small government agencies because they tend to present fewer defenses and are therefore easier to penetrate.

A series of articles in Government Technology offer insights on the origins and scope of the problem as well as some solutions. One article documents the growing threat for public sector organizations. Another offers some useful tips in case your computer becomes infected. Of course, it’s much better if you can avoid an attack in the first place, so we encourage you to look into these 5 steps to take on ransomware using a defense-in-layers approach, which can hopefully reduce the chances that your devices will be compromised by a ransomware attack. Finally, for the less tech-savvy, there’s also some common sense advice on how your organization can avoid becoming a ransomware victim.

Learning What the Public Thinks

New technology and changing demographics are making it harder for local governments to use traditional survey methods to learn how their citizens feel about issues in their communities. A recent Governing article provides a good overview of why it’s getting harder to learn what the public thinks. For example, the ubiquity of caller ID has had the effect of reducing the numbers of willing survey participants as more people have been choosing not to “pick up” when they don’t recognize the name or number displayed on their phone. Growth in the numbers of people who no longer have a landline and who use cell phones exclusively is also presenting new challenges for survey researchers.

While these forces present new challenges, they are also creating some interesting new opportunities for local governments to collect this type of information. A growing number of local governments are beginning to use their social media platforms not only to broadcast news and information, but also to initiate and carry on two-way conversations with citizens which can then be used to collect feedback and monitor trends on a variety of community issues. An interesting article in Governing outlines how some cities are beginning to mine social media data to inform public policy and improve operations, while another offers some novel examples of how cities are leveraging social media platforms to gauge public opinion through social data analyses.

Losing Experienced Workers

Much has been written over the last ten years about the aging government workforce and the potential impacts that the coming wave of retirements will have on government organizations.

Local governments, where the percentage of workers that are 50 and older is higher than in the private sector, will be greatly affected by the growing waves of baby boomer retirements. Older workers have accumulated a great deal of institutional knowledge, much of it intangible, over the span of their long careers. Many experts are concerned that the loss of so much institutional knowledge occurring in some instances over a very short period of time, may have significant negative effects on the quality of services unless more is done to mitigate the impacts. Governing offers some particularly sobering workforce statistics that will be presenting serious challenges in the area of government IT operations. A thoughtful article in Public Management reviews the demographic facts and also lists some potential strategies for leveraging the institutional knowledge of baby boomer employees.

What steps is your organization taking to mitigate the impacts of the coming waves of boomer retirements?

What emerging issues or hot topics have been on your radar recently? Post them in the comments below or send me an email at bkatsuyama@mrsc.org.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Byron Katsuyama

Byron began work at the Center as a Research Assistant in July 1978. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of Washington and an M.P.A. from the University of Washington's Evan’s School of Public Policy and Governance. After completing his M.P.A., Byron joined MRSC's consulting staff as a Public Policy and Management Consultant concentrating on municipal administration and policy analysis. Byron is responsible for research in such areas as emerging local government issues, best practices, strategic planning, performance measurement, and local government management. In addition to his consulting duties, Byron also maintains the "Focus" section of MRSC's website and is editor of our "In Focus" and "Ask MRSC" e-newsletters. He also coordinates our HR, Planning, Finance, Government Performance, and Council/Commission Advisors. In his own community of Kirkland, Byron also served for eight years as a member of the city's planning commission. Byron is a member of the Washington City/County Management Association (WCMA) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

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