Wisconsin Gov Pushes for Remote Work, New Citizen Portal

The executive branch wants long-term telework options to boost and diversify state employee recruitment and a new all-in-one digital platform to streamline resident services — though funding is a point of debate.

The domed Wisconsin statehouse as seen from the ground.
Wisconsin’s executive branch is pushing for a digital shift that it believes would make state government more accessible to all residents — both as a source of services and source of employment.

The state is facing a looming talent loss as 40 percent of its workforce nears retirement age, according to the Vision 2030 plan from the Department of Administration (DOA) and Gov. Tony Evers. The administration is looking to a digital toolkit to prepare it to fill that surge in vacancies.

Hiring options have traditionally been restricted to those able to show up for work each day at state agency buildings — which tend to be in the capitol and other large cities, DOA Secretary Joel Brennan told Government Technology. These limited recruitment pools may not be enough to fill anticipated needs, however.

But the pandemic proved that letting employees work from home gets the job done, Brennan said. Now, Evers’ administration aims to build on that momentum and offer permanently remote positions to enable the state to recruit staff from anywhere in Wisconsin.

Featuring remote work would also make state job postings accessible to residents who live outside the state’s most populous cities and cannot relocate, helping ensure more communities’ perspectives are reflected in their government.

“Part of this overall vision from the governor and from this administration is…[to hire] people from across the state who represent the great diverse viewpoints and the great diversity of our state,” Brennan said.

For example, “from the standpoint of the more rural parts of the state, there are talented young people who are growing up in and around the Native American reservations in Wisconsin, and they have been in some ways hamstrung at opportunities for state government.”

According to Google Maps, the Oneida Nation reservation is 122 miles from Milwaukee and 141 miles from Madison — not exactly an easy trip.

The Vision 2030 plan also says that allowing long-term remote work options could help the state government better appeal to younger generations’ expectations and desires as well as keep up with the private sector, which is expected to continue permanent work-from-home opportunities.

DIGITAL FRONT DOOR


Evers’ plan also calls for re-envisioning how the government remotely connects with constituents.

The pandemic has made officials more sharply aware of where and how the state’s online setup can create inconveniences for users. Too often, residents must hop between different department websites to access various services, using separate logins at each, and they may have to figure out for themselves which particular agency owns the program they seek, said Olivia Hwang, DOA assistant deputy secretary.

“It’s about meeting people where they are at, at different times in their lives, and making sure that we better connect them to resources rather than sending them on a fishing expedition to go find those things at different agencies,” she said.

The disjointed nature of services is inconvenient for residents who simply want more streamlined experiences when getting hunting licenses and the like, but it is even more troubling for those who need to secure a variety of services, quickly, to regain stable footing.

Someone who has lost their job needs to not only apply for unemployment insurance, but also potentially secure rental or energy assistance and enroll in health care now that they are no longer covered by their work, Hwang explained. Hunting through different websites and logins to find the programs that will serve their needs can be challenging.

“Services are already there for them,” Hwang said, but taking advantage of that can “often take a lot of time and knowledge about how to access those services.”

The Vision 2030 proposal calls for simplifying residents’ experiences. It would provide a one-stop shop digital platform — dubbed a “Digital Front Door” — that constituents can visit to find all the services the state offers and let them use a single username and password for all interactions with the state. That platform could potentially also allow the state to better group associated services such as the various supports newly unemployed residents need.

Brennan said the project is part of a larger arc toward tech modernization in the state, where he said IT has long been seriously underfunded.

“[The governor’s administration] inherited a system where, just in terms of ease of operations and meeting people where they are, as recently as within the last year or so, I don’t think you could go online and get your sticker for access to a Wisconsin state park,” Brennan said.

NEXT STEPS


Brennan said the governor is committed to the Vision 2030 plan. But just how quickly the Digital Front Door project can get up and running is an open question, because it is not clear if the administration will be able to secure dedicated funding.

Evers’ FY 2021-FY 2023 budget proposal called for forming and funding a new Office of Digital Transformation under the Department of Administration that would be responsible for projects such as creating the Digital Front Door. The budget would include money for paying an office director and would fund consulting services costs and initial startup expenses.

The Office of Digital Transformation, however, was among the hundreds of items that Joint Finance Committee Republicans removed from the budget in early May during ongoing deliberations.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.


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