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Emerging Issues Roundup: Post-Pandemic Prognostications

Emerging Issues Roundup: Post-Pandemic Prognostications

Each week I scan the web for local government news, journal articles, reports, blogs, and other relevant sources looking for information about newly emerging issues that may affect local governments in Washington.

This Emerging Issues Roundup blog focuses on three issues that may become more prominent as we approach the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More Remote Workers Will Mean More Cybersecurity Concerns for Local Governments

If, as many are predicting, the number of post-pandemic remote workers will be higher, and perhaps significantly higher, than before the pandemic, then, as David Rath writes in Government Technology, local governments will need to do more to address the unique cybersecurity challenges that come with this shift, some of which may not have been adequately addressed in the early days of the pandemic when the goal was to quickly add large numbers of new remote workers. In any event, having more remote workers means more potential points of vulnerability that hackers can use to infiltrate government systems. If a single home office device is compromised and connects to an agency system via a virtual private network (VPN), it can put the whole network at risk.

A recent ransomware attack involving several cities in Washington should serve as a reminder that the number of attacks on state and local governments in general has been increasing in recent years. So, while there may be greater interest in having a continuation of remote working arrangements than we have seen in the past, the resulting increase in the number of virtual offices will present new cybersecurity challenges for your IT departments. The article also includes a number of useful security recommendations related to remote work from the Center for Internet Security’s Resource Guide for Cybersecurity During the COVID-19 Pandemic. At a minimum, cybersecurity experts advise that local governments continue providing security awareness training for remote workers and move quickly to adopt practices like multi-factor authentication across all services. 

Sustaining the New High-Water Mark in Digital Service Offerings Set During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated the adoption of digital, no-contact services as local governments scrambled to maintain programs and services while state-wide shelter-in-place and social distancing requirements went into and have remained in effect. New online services have included ramped up online service portals, digital payments, electronic signatures, digital plan review, remote meetings, remote work, virtual hearings, and many more. But, as Mark Toner writes in Government Technology, government leaders will face several new challenges as they seek to sustain the momentum achieved in the midst of the pandemic. As the pandemic abates, proactive leadership will be required to continue to drive and sustain progress in this area. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Contactless and People-Centered City Initiative” offers one example of the form such leadership might take. The mayor’s August 26, 2020 directive requires all city departments to, “wherever possible … facilitate remote, digital interactions during and after the pandemic — saving people time, money, and frustration, while improving public health, accessibility, and convenience,” adding that “as our physical doors start to reopen in the future, we will also expand our digital doors to provide services anytime, anywhere, and to all.” 

Other challenges for sustaining the new level of digital services include refining remote work, rethinking public meetings, and addressing both cybersecurity needs and the digital divide.

The Pace of Boomer Retirements is Picking Up. Will the End of the Pandemic Bring Even More?

In addition to the predicted continuation of boomer retirements as we progress from leading edge boomers to larger numbers of peak wave boomers (see our 2018 blog Retaining Institutional Knowledge in the Wake of the Silver Tsunami), the end of the pandemic may prompt some of those boomers to retire even earlier than they had planned. Here’s why: Many local government employees who were born at the peak of the baby boom have spent the past year telecommuting from home. Most of these employees will soon be eligible for Medicare, and many in this group are also getting closer to their “full retirement age” for Social Security purposes. Rather than return to the office as the pandemic fades and as more local governments begin ordering an end to telecommuting, some may be tempted to pull the plug and just "call it a day." The Pew Research Center recently reported that in the past year the number of boomers who are retiring has increased more than in prior years, which may be an early indicator that the pandemic itself or its end has or is becoming an inflexion point for them and potentially for many more.

If this is true, then local governments that have been preparing for the effects of the so-called “silver tsunami," based on previous projections, may be faced with even more than they expected. In any event this may be a good time to revisit your succession plan (you do have one, don’t you?), even if it is just to better prepare for what we already know is coming in terms of the expected wave of retirements and the resulting impacts on your organization’s institutional knowledge. 

What new issues do you see emerging from your perspective as a local government official, staff member, or otherwise interested observer of local government? Share your insights with me and I will consider them for the next Emerging Issues Roundup blog.

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.

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About Byron Katsuyama

Byron retired from MRSC in 2021. He wrote about forms of government, strategic planning, performance measurement, emerging issues, and general local government management.