October 18, 2021

AI Helping State and Local Governments Meet Increasing Demands 

agency CIO
State and local governments are turning towards AI and cloud computing to catch up with backlogs from an increased volume of service requests brought on by the pandemic. (Credit: Getty Images) 

By AI Trends Staff  

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) has cleared its 2020 backlog of thousands of unemployment insurance claims with the help of AI cloud computing tools, a backlog that had ballooned during the pandemic.  

The DWD has been processing an average of 157,000 claims each week, and has distributed a total of $2 billion in unemployment benefits since the pandemic began. The agency now is able to release funds within three business days, according to a recent account in GCN.  

That process had been taking weeks or months, according to Brent Mitchell, director of state and local government within Google Public Sector, writing on a blog post. The recovery was helped by the DWD hiring, contracting, or reassigning 1,300 people to help with the backlog.   

The DWD used Google Cloud’s DocAI services, with its AI and machine learning products. DocAI is used to automate the extraction of critical data from documents and add value by suggesting how to streamline workflows. A Human-in-the-Loop AI feature adds a human review, to increase accuracy.  

“Through a combination of design thinking, deep partnership with state officials and modern technology, DWD’s solutions are tailored to maximize benefits to the constituents,” stated Mitchell.  

Analytics based on historical data were used to shorten the decision-making time for claims, enabling payments to eligible residents to be released more quickly. “We were also successful in screening out fraudulent claims so that the UI program could be administered—with integrity—to Wisconsinites who needed financial assistance,” Mitchell stated. 

In other Google Cloud government contract wins reported by GCN: New York is using Google Cloud to redesign an unemployment insurance application that integrate the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance process; West Virginia last fall started using Google Cloud to give access to Google Workspace capabilities to 22,000 state employees; and Rhode Island in March announced it is partnering with Google Cloud to launch a Virtual Career Center, as part of the states back to work initiative.  

Government Cloud Computing Use Found to be 50% in Survey 

The use of cloud computing is becoming more common for state and local governments. 

The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) standardizes the security assessment and authorization procedure for cloud products and services used by US federal agencies. The companies Maximus, offering government IT services, and Genesys, offering call center services, recently combined to perform a study of FedRAMP, surveying 300 IT decision-makers at state, local and federal governments, as reported in Solutions Review. 

The report found the governments in the US, especially in bigger cities, increased their cloud adoption following the COVID-19 outbreak. Some 49% of state and local governments reported having most of their systems in the cloud, and 56% of federal government offices had some cloud-based systems. A smaller percentage said all of their IT systems are now cloud-based, six percent of federal IT respondents and nine percent of state and local respondents. 

Larger cities and counties reported making more use of the cloud, with 13% of those above one million citizens having all their systems in the cloud, compared to three percent of cities and counties with populations under one million. All reported considering the cloud as an option.  

Bruce Caswell
Bruce Caswell, President and CEO, Maximus

“As government technology leaders accelerate their IT modernization efforts since COVID-19, they are clearly looking to FedRAMP-authorized solutions to enable a remote workforce and meet stringent security compliance requirements,” stated Bruce Caswell, President and CEO of Maximus. “This survey shows that migrating to the cloud helps deliver business value while meeting the growing needs for delivering optimal citizen services.” 

Roundtable Officials Cite Important Role of Vendors 

The sentiments for local governments using more AI was fleshed out further in a roundtable discussion hosted by the Scoop News Group in New York City last year. The group, whose members were not specifically identified by the account from StateScoop, cited the following trends:  

Chatbots look promising. Chatbots were widely deployed across state and local governments during the pandemic. One agency CIO identified the promise, stating, “We have a lot of systems and websites where users are always looking for the right answers to their questions. Chatbots can find those quickly and easily.” 

Data bias is a concern. Of the 12 attendees at the roundtable, 11 had roles such as CIO, and one was hired to develop frameworks and schemas for how AI can be responsibly integrated into government operations. “With AI, there are so many opportunities for bias,” this official stated. “What I’m looking at is how do we build a structure for AI to function effectively and fairly in government operations.”  

Vendors play a crucial role. The role of private companies selling to the government was cited by several attendees as crucial to AI adoption. “We obviously need vendors to educate us on the technologies they are building and can serve, but we don’t want them to promise things they can’t deliver,” one official stated. “The very nature of government requires some degree of customization, so some random AI platform that a vendor has cannot be rolled out without making it fit our environment.”  

Recruiting Needed Talent a Challenge for Local Governments  

Gainesville
Dan Hoffman, City Manager, City of Winchester, Va.

State and local governments interested in pursuing AI to help deliver services are challenged by the difficulty in hiring a qualified workforce, stated one city manager in an interview published in  Forbes. Dan Hoffman, City Manager of the City of Winchester, Va., and former Assistant City Manager for the city of Gainesville, Fla., cited challenges and offered observations for his peers:   

Recruiting Needed Talent. Local governments have become accustomed to seeing unprecedented increases in the volume and variety of data available to them for years. “That’s not new. We’re still behind the curve, though, in hiring and retaining the talent to understand it all,” he stated.  

“In a world where we’re already struggling to compete with the private sector for analytical and information technology talent, we risk falling even further behind or becoming more reliant on outside vendors to handle our technology and data management needs,” Hoffman stated.  

Engage Elected Officials in Planning for How to use AI. “In my opinion, jurisdictions that have chosen to hit the “easy button” and rely heavily on vendors or traditional methods will struggle with this new wave,” Hoffman stated. “Local jurisdictions must set up policy groups and committees to truly engage the elected bodies on what is possible with AI and machine learning if they want to be successful.” 

Where Technology Is Having a Positive Impact on Government. “We’re beginning to see some impacts in intelligent traffic systems across the country. It’s the area that I think has the most near-term potential for expanded use and community benefit,” he stated. 

Promise and Challenges Facing AI Adoption in Government. “In the future, an open and transparent local government will use AI to improve services, make more efficient use of taxpayer dollars, and, in some cases, save lives,” Hoffman stated. “Unfortunately, the first exposure many people have had with AI are very sophisticated marketing campaigns that feel, at best, somewhat intrusive.” 

Read the source articles and information in GCN, on a Google Public Sector blog post. in Solutions Review and in  StateScoop. 

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