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Panelists Clash on Adequacy of Government Web Sites Under Coronavirus Strain

David Jelke

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Photo of Dustin Hailer from his web site

April 20, 2020— U.S. government websites have handled the coronavirus strain with varying degrees of success – depending on which panelist from Wednesday’s Information Technology and Innovation Fund webinar you asked.

ITIF recently published a report on the amount of government websites that have crashed. According to the report, 28 states failed the mobile page load test for sufficient speeds.

Many of these websites that have crashed or been slowed are government unemployment websites that have buckled under the weight of 17 million Americans who have lost their job in the past couple weeks.

“Legacy tech has really been a problem” in government software, said Dustin Haisler, chief innovation officer of eRepublic. These websites “were not designed for the CARES Act,” referring to the $2 trillion COVID stimulus package recently passed by Congress.

Government websites, Haisler contends, were designed to be prepared for emergencies but not for a 100 percent remote work-society. Unlike hurricane season, Haisler said, “a lot of people just didn’t see this in the cards.”

The government “has done an incredibly good job from our perspective,” said Brian Anderson, the chief technology officer at NIC Components Corporation, acknowledging that the government is dealing with “an entirely unprecedented” situation.

“The response has been amazing in a time where most of these offices are entirely empty right now or on skeleton crews.”

Anderson commented on the unexpected intensity of the COVID-induced traffic. Government websites are currently experiencing traffic that “we might see in a month but in a matter of hours.” The pandemic will set “a new bar” for how government responds to the demands put on these systems, he said.

Panelists also discussed the outbreaks impact on a long-standing issue in broadband equity. Anderson said that fixing digital divide during the outbreak also happens to “[meet] a need that serves” disconnected parts of the population. “The government still has to overcome that,” Anderson said.

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