Monday, December 28, 2020 - 03:40pm

BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford recently marked the fourth anniversary of being sworn into office, reflecting on progress made and historic challenges addressed during 2020 as they continued working with Team ND to empower people, improve lives and inspire success.

“The historic health and economic challenges of the past year remind us of North Dakotans’ strength, resiliency and ability to overcome adversity. This inspired our administration to work even harder on behalf of the citizens of our great state, and we are filled with gratitude every day for the opportunity to serve,” Burgum said.

Building on the previous three years, the Burgum administration continued to advance the governor’s five strategic initiatives: the Main Street Initiative, Behavioral Health and Addiction, Transforming Education, Tribal Partnerships and Reinventing Government – driving toward a more efficient, responsive and transparent state government.

The administration also continued to employ a whole-of-government approach to addressing natural disasters, including spring flooding that was estimated to have caused more than $40 million in damages to roads and other public infrastructure in 21 counties in eastern North Dakota. River and overland flooding caused significant damage to roads, bridges and culverts in counties that were already heavily burdened by recovery costs from significant spring and fall flooding in 2019.

Presidential disaster declarations requested by Burgum were granted for spring flooding between April 1-20, 2020, and for a severe summer storm June 29-July 1 that caused flash flooding in six counties across northern North Dakota and resulted in more than $5 million in damage to roads and infrastructure.

But it was the coronavirus pandemic that dominated the state’s response efforts in 2020.

COVID-19 pandemic response

State agencies began working with key federal and local partners weeks before the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) confirmed the state’s first case of COVID-19 on March 11. Two days later, Burgum declared a state of emergency in response to the public health crisis.

On March 15, the governor, in coordination with the state superintendent and state health officer, protected public health by ordering schools closed to in-person instruction, triggering a process that saw educators and school administrators design and implement a comprehensive distance learning plan by April 1. In less than a month, school districts across the state were able to transition from the traditional classroom-based system to a full distance learning model for the last two months of the 2019-20 school year.

With a dual focus on saving lives and livelihoods, state agencies stepped up in numerous ways to address the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • The NDDoH Public Health Lab scaled up from running 197 COVID samples per day to running 7,500 per day. In addition, the lab validated and confirmed 61 new assays and procedures in nine months, added 17 instruments and grew staffing from 18 to 140 dedicated team members from the NDDoH and North Dakota National Guard. To date, the lab has resulted over 850,000 COVID tests in addition to its routine public health testing. Of the last 400,000 COVID samples, 97 percent were resulted in less than 36 hours after arriving at the state lab and 65 percent were resulted in less than 24 hours.
  • On Nov. 19, the pandemic response became the North Dakota National Guard’s longest-ever operation in North Dakota, surpassing the 2011 Souris Valley flood response. The Guard saw its first COVID-related activation on March 16 and has now conducted support operations for more than 285 consecutive days.
  • At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NDDoH stood up the Public Health Hotline. Since the launch on March 12, more than 67,000 calls have been answered by nearly 30 team members six days a week. The team reports a low 1.3-minute average wait time and not only fields questions and comments from the public but provides resources and an empathetic listening ear to citizens during this challenging time.
  • Within 48 hours after the Governor declared a state of emergency, North Dakota Information Technology (NDIT) enabled roughly 7,000 state team members to work remotely to support agencies’ ability to serve citizens, accomplishing in weeks or months what would have typically taken years. Within weeks NDIT implemented a scalable COVID testing and contact tracing system that helped eliminate manual data entry and saved significantly on staffing resources.
  • The Governor’s Office, Department of Public Instruction (DPI), Dakota Carrier Network, NDIT and the Broadband Association of North Dakota worked together to identify homes without Internet connectivity, offered service to 2,000 homes in rural North Dakota, and set up numerous wi-fi hotspots in school and community center parking lots. North Dakota received national recognition from Education Superhighway for these connectivity efforts.
  • The NDDOH and NDIT worked together to create informational dashboards to support the Unified Command and provide user-friendly, real-time and transparent information for citizens and decision makers. White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx praised the NDDOH public-facing dashboard as one of the best in the nation.
  • North Dakota was selected in August by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as one of four states to be part of a pilot project to plan for distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, helping to ensure a successful rollout to the public when the vaccine became available this month.
  • NDIT responded to an exponential increase in cyber threats. They provided enhanced cybersecurity protection across state government via on COVID-related online threats; launched a statewide cybersecurity outreach campaign,; and provided free tools for citizens to learn how to better protect themselves and their devices from cyberattacks.
  • The Department of Human Services (DHS) implemented a myriad of resources to support citizens during the pandemic. These included the Emergency Rent Bridge to provide temporary rental assistance to eligible renters experiencing a loss of household income due to COVID-19; SNAP Emergency Assistance; a Childcare Emergency Operating Grant to help financially support and sustain the operation of child care services; Project Renew, a crisis counseling assistance and training program; and a temporary shelter program. In addition, the State Hospital in Jamestown is the only psychiatric hospital in North Dakota’s surge plan for COVID-related care. The hospital has cared for 74 COVID-positive patients this year.
  • The DHS and NDDoH partnered with the North Dakota National Guard, long-term care providers and hospitals to create the Vulnerable Population Protection Plan, recognized as a model for other states.
  • Working with the Emergency Commission and the Legislature’s Budget Section, the Governor’s Office and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) led efforts to allocate $1.25 billion in Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars from the CARES Act, with 30 percent going toward public health and safety, 29 percent to economic support for individuals, 25 percent to economic support for businesses and 16 percent to continuation of government services.
  • Job Service North Dakota experienced a record volume of unemployment claims as the pandemic took a significant economic toll, starting with a collapse in the energy sector in early 2020. The pandemic directly impacted the employment of North Dakotans, resulting in over 200,000 unemployment claims being filed, 180,000 more than in all of 2019. 
  • Job Service paid out a record $900 million to unemployment insurance recipients this year and worked with the state Emergency Commission and the Legislature’s Budget Section to ensure the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund remained solvent. Over $400 million was allocated from the $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act money to maintain solvency and replenish the trust fund to support unemployed North Dakotans and avoid increases to employer tax rates.
  • Even with record unemployment volume, North Dakota was one of only three states in the nation to meet federal timely payment targets. Job Service implemented multiple federal programs, that required reprogramming technology and redesigning processes and procedures. North Dakota was one of the first states to implement three new federal programs and begin paying individuals. Historically, implementing new unemployment programs would be three- to six-month projects, but Job Service IT and business teams worked day and night to get them done in weeks.  
  • The agency also implemented virtual tools in its workforce centers to continue serving clients, developed an interactive dashboard to track unemployment claims and impacts on industries and regions of the state, and staffed the Workforce Coordination Center to help meet staffing needs across the state.
  • Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) established emergency coverage for certain frontline workers and processed hundreds of claims for COVID 19 exposure and infection. WSI assisted the Department of Commerce with a $2.5 million grant for the Medical Expense Assistance Program (MEAP), providing first responders and frontline health care workers financial assistance for COVID-19 related expenses. With workers’ compensations claims down, WSI staff also assisted Job Service in processing unemployment claims.
  • The Department of Commerce led Commerce Business Briefings in partnership with the Greater North Dakota Chamber to provide real-time updates on federal, state and local funding opportunities for businesses and communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. On average, more than 1,000 individuals joined each briefing to hear updates from a variety of community, state and federal leaders. Commerce also led the efforts on ND Smart Restart protocols for businesses to focus public health measures on specific areas and avoid blunt, statewide economic disruptions. 
  • Commerce developed and implemented three grant opportunities to assist businesses: The Economic Resiliency Grant Program (ERG), Hospitality Economic Resiliency Grant Program (HERG) and Hospitality Economic Resiliency Grant PLUS. These programs combined helped more than 2,500 businesses by awarding more than $62 million in CARES Act funds.
  • Commerce’s Tourism Division launched the first-ever in-state marketing and fully funded cooperative campaigns to support businesses and communities which saw a significant downturn in visitor spending in 2020. It also hosted weekly/monthly tourism chats providing insights on industry data and trends.
  • The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) proactively reduced resident population by more than 15 percent in prison facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and implemented strict mitigation measures, preventing the type of widespread, deadly outbreaks that plagued other states.
  • The DPI, in partnership with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, NDDoH and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provided cloth masks in October for North Dakota students and faculty. North Dakota received almost 160,000 masks, based on the state’s number of students from low-income families. The emphasis was on first providing masks to students who come from low-income households and/or who are at higher risk.
  • The North Dakota University System, with the leadership of Dr. Joshua Wynne, dean of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dr. Paul Carson, an infectious disease specialist and professor of public health at North Dakota State University, and the NDDoH, modified instruction to ensure student success and safety for all students, faculty and staff. Faculty, instructors, staff and administration demonstrated great adaptability, innovation and persistence as they maintained high quality education for all university students.
  • The Department of Transportation created collection sites at several locations for COVID supplies, drove trucks to deliver COVID supplies to medical facilities, enhanced the use of kiosks to improve services such as motor vehicle tab renewals during the pandemic, expanded the use of digital message signs to support pandemic response and increased rest area cleaning and operations to support the movement of goods.
  • The North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission worked closely with tribes to coordinate testing events for tribal nations and deliver additional personal protective equipment to aid in the tribes’ pandemic response.
  • As North Dakotans sought recreation and room to physically distance outdoors, the Parks and Recreation Department stepped up to accommodate a 35 percent increase in overnight campers during the 2020 season from May to October.
  • The Game and Fish Department made accommodations to complete their annual extensive walleye and northern pike spawning efforts, while many states across the nation had to shut down because of COVID-19. In addition, North Dakota was the only state in the Central Flyway to complete the waterfowl survey, continuing an annual run of 70-plus years.
  • Game and Fish also made adjustments to certify 1,800 students through an online hunter education course due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were required to complete an online course and pass a written and practical exam.
  • With no additional staff resources, the Office of Management and Budget successfully managed the allocation, distribution and reporting of $1.25 billion of federal Coronavirus Relief Fund moneys – roughly equivalent to one-quarter of the state’s two-year general fund budget.

Progress also continued to be made on the governor’s five strategic initiatives:

Reinventing Government

  • The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) launched its new mobile app, ND Drive, enabling users to conduct various driver’s license and motor vehicle transactions on any mobile device or tablet. The app allows citizens to renew or request a replacement driver’s license or ID card, obtain a driving record, schedule a driving test, and pay reinstatement fees. Citizens can download the app from the Google Play or Apple App Store.
  • The NDDOT also expanded online services for driver’s license and motor vehicle customers and added CDL renewals to online services; expanded use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for surveys and flood response operations; and added virtual State Fleet Auctions through online simulcast giving customers the opportunity to place their bid from anywhere.
  • The Office of Management and Budget moved all training – including Leadership Everywhere training – to online formats, launched a Surplus Property customer website to offer improved customer experience, provided human resources services for eight agencies and began steps to provide shared services for payroll functions of nine additional agencies, which will bring the total to 23, creating efficiencies for state government.
  • The DOCR implemented a zero-cost dashboard project with Recidiviz, including an internal portal and a public-facing website that provides viewers insight on DOCR's vital role in North Dakota.
  • The State Water Commission (SWC) expanded its PRESENS (Pushing Remote SENSors) program to a fully integrated solution for hydrologic data collection, with over 200 solar-powered remote sensing devices being installed at various locations across the state. Utilizing this new technology saves time and money and increases data availability for water managers.
  • The SWC also developed a Water Development Dashboard to make the 2021 Water Development Plan (WDP) a “living” document that will be updated regularly to reflect new projects, committed funds and fluid budget scenarios. The dashboard provides a user-friendly resource for the citizens by incorporating QR codes in the WDP that can be scanned via mobile device. The dashboard will be made public by the start of the 2021 legislative session.
  • The Parks and Recreation Department invested in technology, including wi-fi registration stations at all state park locations, and dedicated resources to updating site-specific master plans and implementing a 21st century planning framework.
  • The North Dakota Highway Patrol formed an Employee Wellness Committee and launched a wellness app that gives employees access to professional, peer and chaplain support.

Main Street Initiative

  • Burgum hosted the third annual Main Street ND Summit in October, announcing two new tools to aid communities with planning and development. The North Dakota New Development Calculator enables local decision-makers and citizens to help hold the line of property taxes by estimating the fiscal impact of a potential new development, based on estimated costs of supporting and maintaining new infrastructure and the property and sales tax revenue collected from a new project. A new Economic Development Ecosystem Map gives community leaders and economic developers an easily accessible map of partners and resources in their area supporting community and economic development. More than 800 participants registered for the interactive, virtual summit.
  • Results from comprehensive surveying of businesses and communities in the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic provided guidance to local and state leadership. These surveys provided direction for the North Dakota Smart Restart protocols, multiple web-based training sessions for businesses and community leaders and regular communication to the Main Street Leaders network.
  • The re-energized Rural Development Council used results from the Rural Economic Development survey to set priorities for long-term rural economic and community growth, including stabilizing rural development funding, investment in infrastructure, quality of life and high-paying jobs, and building leadership capacity.
  • Commerce implemented the Partners in Planning grant and awarded $125,000 to nine communities to create comprehensive plans, economic diversity plans or COVID-19 response plans.
  • Vibrancy grants incentivized small successes in communities that empower the community and develop confidence in local leaders to strive for more. These grants also support the implementation of a community need project identified and supported by a comprehensive or economic development plan whose creation was incentivized by the Partners in Planning grants – effectively operationalizing the plan and ensuring it doesn’t get placed on a shelf. Commerce is accepting applications through Jan. 4 for the second round of grants.

Behavioral Health and Addiction

  • The Department of Human Services continued to increase access to human services for North Dakotans, delivering those services – including behavioral health services – closer to home.
  • North Dakotans now receive 50 percent of their behavioral health services from a human service center within a community versus a clinic setting.
  • Over the last year, behavioral health clients who received services at a human service center experienced a 53 percent reduction in arrests.
  • North Dakotans now have access to 24/7 mobile crisis response. DHS has provided 5,628 crisis services in the last year, with crisis psychotherapy and triage services doubling in the last three months. 
  • Gov. Burgum and First Lady Kathryn Burgum hosted the fourth Recovery Reinvented, a daylong virtual event focused on reinventing recovery through eliminating the stigma of addiction. They were joined by national and state addiction recovery experts and more than 3,000 online viewers who spanned the state and nation. The governor and first lady emphasized the importance of supporting innovation in virtual recovery support services and telehealth; illuminating the connection between mental health, addiction and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs); and inspiring employers to create recovery-friendly workplaces.
  • The DHS human service centers received four-year national accreditation from the Council on Accreditation for their outpatient behavioral health services.
  • DHS provided peer support specialist training to more than 460 individuals, and 30 people are newly certified in delivering behavioral health peer support services.
  • DHS also expanded access to telehealth services to provide medically necessary behavioral health services to vulnerable North Dakotans during the pandemic. The number of behavioral health providers at the department’s eight regional behavioral health clinics and four satellite clinics using telehealth to deliver services grew from 71 to over 350 providers in March and April alone.

Tribal Partnerships

  • The North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission hosted the third Strengthening Government to Government Partnerships and Relationships Conference on Jan. 15, drawing record turnout to Bismarck State College on one of the coldest days of the year. About 300 people registered for the conference, including tribal leaders and elders, state agency leaders and staff, statewide elected officials, legislators and federal partners.
  • The Highway Patrol continued to work on establishing memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with tribal nations in North Dakota.

Transforming Education

  • Burgum and State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler hosted the fourth annual Governor’s Summit on Innovative Education, highlighting the progress being made in North Dakota toward personalized, competency-based learning, the role that technology can play in those efforts, and the opportunity for innovation amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 1,300 educators, administrators, school board members, legislators, parents and other stakeholders registered to participate virtually in the summit, which featured Khan Academy founder Sal Khan, inventor and FIRST founder Dean Kamen, and Curriki co-founder Scott McNealy among its keynote speakers. Videos are available on the governor’s YouTube channel.
  • North Dakota’s Center for Distance Education (CDE) was asked by North Dakota schools, students and parents to play a pivotal role in the delivery of quality education during the pandemic. This required CDE to scale during the 2020-2021 school to levels previously unimagined. During the 2019-2020 school year, CDE delivered 5,117 courses to North Dakota students, all taught by highly qualified North Dakota instructors with a successful completion rate of 84 percent. By the end of the 2020-2021 school year, CDE is expected to provide over 10,500 online courses to students taught by highly qualified teachers with a projected successful completion rate over 83 percent. That’s an enrollment increase approaching 105 percent in one year.
  • Nearly $2.5 million in emergency grant relief was awarded to North Dakota education entities serving K-12 students and families to support all learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. The grants provide resources to support behavioral health needs of students and families, technology assistance for individuals receiving distance learning, additional staff to support student learning and tutoring services provided outside of the typical school day. 
  • An additional $2.5 million in emergency grant relief was awarded to North Dakota colleges and universities to support modified learning and workforce training enhancements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The North Dakota University System continued to drive innovation during this challenging year. For example, Bismarck State College and North Dakota State University received certifications from the National Security Agency in April for their expanded cyber-related curriculum. BSC and NDSU were respectively named as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education, and in Cyber Defense.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that Dakota College at Bottineau and the University of North Dakota were among 26 schools selected to participate in the UAS Collegiate Training Initiative, which allows educational institutions to collaborate with the FAA to help students pursue their aviation career goals.

Citizen-focused agencies make progress

In addition, state agencies worked hard to deliver core services and improve outcomes in many areas:

  • Since updating eligibility criteria for home and community-based services such as home health aide visits in January 2020, 730 individuals have been able to access services in their home, which is a 25 percent increase from 2019. The State of North Dakota and the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) reached a settlement agreement in December that outlines actions the state will take to continue expanding home and community-based care services and enable individuals with physical disabilities to live in the least restrictive setting possible.
  • The DHS provided increased access to Medicaid services for pregnant women, increasing eligibility from 138 percent to 147 percent of poverty, and children with disabilities, increasing from 225 percent to 250 percent of poverty.
  • Initial deployment of Vantis, North Dakota’s first-of-its-kind, aviation-grade, statewide network for flying UAS beyond visual line of sight, began in western North Dakota. Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies Company, L3Harris Technologies, and Thales USA were contracted to work with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to enable real-world, scalable, commercial and public UAS BVLOS operations in North Dakota. Fifteen new UAS companies were recruited to North Dakota in the last 18 months, contributing to a 15 percent year-over-year industry growth. North Dakota has now invested more than $44 million to advance UAS research and development and is collaborating with organizations statewide to build this emerging industry.
  • The North Dakota Highway Patrol also launched its UAS program, after becoming the first state highway patrol agency in the nation to receive an FAA waiver to operate drones over people. The waiver allows the patrol to use drones to help document crash, aid in search and rescue operations and locate missing persons or fleeing suspects in rural or rough terrain.
  • Commerce continued to drive occupational license reform with a research effort that resulted in precision recommendations improving talent recruitment and mobility. The agency also administered an employer-led, highly successful $700,000 biotech skills development program to augment growth toward the state’s rapidly growing biotech cluster.
  • The Office of Management and Budget completed a South Entrance Remodel Project and a new south Capitol sign, completed a real estate study and facility condition assessment, made hands-free restroom and entrance enhancements at the Capitol, and launched budget transparency and CARES Act dashboards.
  • The DOCR implemented an Emerging Adults (18- to 24-year-olds) Supervision Program, a collaborative effort between adult parole and probation and juvenile community supervision intended to improve community supervision outcomes for the emerging adult population.
  • The Department of Health Immunization Program has been working for years to educate and increase human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccinations in North Dakota. According to this year’s national teen immunization survey, 9 in 10 North Dakota teens are starting the HPV series, the second-most of any state in the country.
  • The Game and Fish Department hired an R3 coordinator to lead an initiative with agency partners to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters and anglers.
  • Game and Fish also expanded Chronic Wasting Disease surveillance efforts to include additional deer units where CWD was documented and in other areas where it was of a greater concern.
  • The Department of Emergency Services (DES) was notified in March 2020 that its efforts to secure funding to construct permanent flood protection around Fargo’s wastewater treatment plant were approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The $4.9 million project, of which $3.7 million will be provided by FEMA, was developed by the City of Fargo through a DES-assisted project application that was submitted under FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) Grant Program. The wastewater treatment facility, located in north Fargo, will be protected up to the 500-year floodplain elevation through construction of a levee, floodwall and road raise. Once completed, it will ensure continuous wastewater services to more than 160,000 residents across Fargo, West Fargo, Oxbow and the surrounding communities.
  • The NDDOT completed 193 construction projects on highways and bridges. Vision Zero Highway Safety Corridors were completed on three sections of highway across the state.  Vision Zero, a partnership between the NDDOT, Highway Patrol and NDDoH, is a strategy to eliminate motor vehicle crash fatalities and serious injuries. The state recorded 100 traffic fatalities in 2019, the lowest total in 15 years. 
  • The NDDOT also processed a record number of driver’s license and state ID cards in October. Statewide, almost 25,000 customers received a new license or ID card during the month. This was an increase of 4,000 cards processed during October 2019.
  • The Parks and Recreation Department added to the level of service at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park by adding ice rinks and a covered wagon rentable cabin and expanding trails and the interpretation of the Four Bears Trail. The department also installed 30/50-amp electrical service for camp sites at Sully Creek Campground and implemented initiatives outlined in the Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area Master Plan, hiring a consultant and developing plans and engineering for a campground.
  • The SWC approved about $105 million this biennium for advancement of flood damage reduction projects in the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo metro area, Mouse River basin and Sheyenne River basin where citizens have experienced historic levels of flooding in the past decade.
  • Burgum joined officials from Plug and Play in March to announce that the global innovation platform had selected Fargo as the site of its newest location, with a focus on agriculture technology. Plug and Play is launching the Fargo location with four founding partners: Bremer Bank, CHS, Microsoft Corp. and The OCP Group.
  • The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Board of Trustees certified it had raised more than $100 million in private donations and binding pledges, triggering the $50 million endowment held at the state Land Board to support operations and maintenance of the facility after it is constructed in Medora.
  • Burgum announced in October that North Dakota will launch intermodal rail service, the culmination of more than two decades of effort to gain access to intermodal transportation to reduce shipping costs for the state’s agricultural producers and other industries. The state departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Transportation were among the many groups and individuals who played a role in securing the service.

Burgum will deliver the 2021 State of the State Address at 1 p.m. Jan. 5 in the House chamber of the Capitol. The address will be livestreamed from the Governor’s Office website at

“New challenges create opportunities and demand fresh ideas and approaches. Working together, we can overcome the challenges facing our state and emerge stronger than ever before,” Burgum said.