COVID-19: Managing Government

April 16, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a dramatic impact on government operations. Large parts of California’s state government workforce have transitioned to remote work, the state is responding to an unprecedented increase in requests for public assistance, and state officials have sought to create an inventory of locations that could be used for hospital beds, shelter for homeless people, and other forms of pandemic response. These are extraordinary management challenges for state government.

Many of state government’s 230,000 employees have begun to work from home during the pandemic, posing obvious management challenges on issues such as oversight, technology and morale. The Commission’s 2014 report, From Hiring to Retiring: Strategies for Modernizing State Human Resources, emphasized the importance of a strong and innovative workforce. In order to achieve this, the Commission recommended that the state ensure a navigable hiring system, a forward-thinking strategic plan for human resources, and a unified system of oversight, transparency, and accountability. After the report was released, CalHR (California Department of Human Resources) published a strategic plan for 2014-2018, which set out goals to provide superior customer service, leverage technology to optimize operations, achieve organizational excellence to maximize the ability to respond to the needs of customers, and identify more efficient ways to conduct business. All of these goals – both those of the Commission and those of the Department – are critical to managing the state workforce during the pandemic and after it.

Further impacting state work, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent job losses have resulted in a dramatic increase in requests for government assistance. In the last month, 2.5 million Californians have filed applications for unemployment benefits. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a 350 percent increase in the number of people applying online for CalFresh, California’s food stamp program. A Customer-Centric Upgrade for California Government, the Commission’s 2015 report analyzing government operations, offered a blueprint to help agencies and departments cultivate a customer-centric culture across state government, including the role of high-speed broadband as the foundational technology for connectivity and digital services. But as services move online, it is equally important that we recognize the inequalities our state has in internet access. While most Californians (94.1%) have access to broadband coverage and (70%) wired low-price plans, significant gaps exist in some rural counties. As more Californians seek services, policymakers must bear in mind the need for a customer-centric culture, so that everyone, not just the easiest to reach, is served. 

State government also faces a challenge in identifying locations and property to use in the COVID-19 pandemic. From space for 50,000 hospital beds to 15,000 rooms for homeless people, Governor Newsom has been working to locate or acquire needed properties such as convention centers, fairgrounds, and hotels. In a 2012 report, Building Value: Modernizing Property Management, the Commission recommended the creation of the Department of Asset Management within the Government Operations Agency to serve as the central state authority for managing California’s real property assets. The Commission also recommended the creation of a clear asset management policy for the state. A focus on strong asset management will serve the state well during the current pandemic, and in our efforts to recover and move forward.

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