Dec 22 2021

How Will the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Reshape State and Local IT?

The recently passed law will provide significant funding for cybersecurity, digital equity and smart city development.

After months of debate in Congress, in mid-November President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. The law’s scope and impact should not be undersold. It represents the largest federal investment in public works and infrastructure since the Eisenhower administration created the interstate highway system.

The law is going to reverberate through the American economy and landscape for years, and will have a major impact on not just the country’s physical infrastructure but its digital infrastructure as well.

There are several elements of the bill that should be of significant interest to state and local IT leaders and the elected officials they work with. They include programs that touch on cybersecurity, broadband expansion and smart cities.

These programs, which are based around federal grants, are separate from spending the bill will support for everything from bridges to public transit systems and airports, all of which will likely be built with smart technology embedded in it (sensors to support vehicle-to-vehicle communications on highways, for example).

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Law Provides Funding for Cyber, Broadband and Smart Cities

A wide array of programs are funded by the infrastructure law, but there are three areas that stand out as having particular significance for state and local IT leaders.

The first is the State and Local Cybersecurity Improvement Act, which provides up to $1 billion in grants to state and local agencies to address cybersecurity risks and cybersecurity threats to information systems.

The law funds the program at $200 million in fiscal year 2022, $400 million in FY 2023, $300 million in FY 2024 and $100 million in FY 2025.

Agencies can use the grant funding to develop, revise or implement a cybersecurity plan. For many agencies, the first year of funding will include developing a plan and building out a team to execute it. However, this will not necessarily lead directly to the purchase of new cybersecurity technologies like firewalls. With the focus on plans and methodologies, it may, in fact, be a way for agencies to springboard into a zero-trust architecture for IT security. IT leaders can and should partner with trusted third parties as they create their plans.

The next big bucket of funding involves broadband. The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program provides $42.4 billion for grants to states. If a state fails to apply, a local government may apply on its behalf.

RELATED: How can state CIOs encourage broadband expansion?

The program will be managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and will offer grants for broadband deployment in unserved and underserved communities; broadband data, maps and plans; internet or Wi-Fi infrastructure or low-cost broadband for multifamily residential buildings; broadband adoption; and other items deemed necessary by NTIA.

As Consumer Reports notes, the law also includes $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Act, which aims to close the digital divide. It will enable states to “develop comprehensive plans to ensure equal access to the internet for historically underserved communities, and to fund projects that make the internet more accessible, such as Wi-Fi hot spots in schools and digital literacy programs for seniors.”

Finally, the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation Grant Program will provide $500 million to encourage the adoption of smart city or community technologies by large, mid-size and rural communities.

Eligible projects include a variety of smart city technologies, including automated transportation and autonomous vehicles; connected vehicles that can send and receive information; intelligent, sensor-based infrastructure; systems integration projects; commerce or delivery and logistics programs; smart grid systems; and smart traffic signal technology.

Instead of bestowing funds on just one city or community, the grants will be distributed to a range of communities based on their geography, size and effectiveness of the proposed solutions.

EXPLORE: How can smart mobility tech meet citizens’ needs?

How to Make the Most of Infrastructure Funds

There is a lot to digest here, and these are just a few of the major grant programs in the law.

IT leaders prepare now, ahead of grant application deadlines. They can start building teams internally to support grant applications and their administration if they win funding.

They should also work with elected leaders to determine what internal data to collect and on rationales for why their localities should receive funding. This might involve working with trusted third-party IT service consultancies.

DIVE DEEPER: Why is digital equity so critical?

It’s also crucial for state and local governments to determine which officials are going to take ownership of these programs. Who is going to own the cybersecurity grants program? Who will manage broadband expansion? Who will lead a smart city initiative? Who will be the liaison with the federal government agencies?

Without that clarity, it can be easy for governments get overwhelmed with all of the ways they can spend money. That’s why agencies need somebody to quarterback these programs and delegate responsibilities.

The infrastructure law represents a remarkable opportunity to invest in communities across the country. It’s time to get to work.

This article is part of StateTech’s CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.


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