Five years ago when theirs was the self-described "worst government site on the Web," Washington, D.C.'s IT staff came up with what they termed a "Kennedy Dream."
In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy presented to Congress the goal of landing a man on the moon before the decade's end. The plan was particularly ambitious given the fact that the United States was nearly a full year away from its first manned space flight of any length or distance.
Like Kennedy, the IT team in Washington, D.C., knew its goal of moving from worst government Web site to No. 1 was a long shot at best. But the group was determined, focused and dedicated, according to Suzanne Peck, CTO of the district.
Recently the Center for Digital Government -- a national research and advisory institute on IT in government and education -- named the district's site the top city government Web site in the United States.
"It seemed an impossible dream when we first said we would be No. 1," said Peck. "But now, five years later, here we are."
Best of the Web winners were chosen from sites entered in categories that included city, county and state government. A panel of IT experts judged sites based on innovation, Web-based delivery of public services, efficiency, economy and functionality for improved citizen access.
More than 260 jurisdictions vied for the award, making Peck's victory all the more sweet.
"We are over the moon," said Peck. "Our goal was to provide residents, businesses and visitors in the nation's capital with more online services than any other municipality, and I think we're doing that."
Peck credited several key IT officials including Adam Rubinson, Jamey Harvey, Vic Grimes and Deirdre Samson with helping her team realize the dream.
"We've got a great mayor, good IT leadership, fabulous IT professionals and now this," said Peck. "We're really enjoying the recognition."
Others enjoying similar recognition in best state and county Web site categories are IT teams in Utah and Montgomery County, Md.
"We were delighted to receive the award for best state Web site," said Utah CIO W. Val Oveson. "Our IT team has a long-term commitment to serving the public. This award has been a very big boost for us."
In fact, Utah has a long history of fostering leading-edge technology. Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt -- recently named the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- made technological improvements and innovations a major part of his decade-long tenure.
"Gov. Leavitt's commitment to technology took the state to a whole new level," said Oveson. "I'm sure Gov. [Olene] Walker will carry on his vision and commitment."
In Montgomery County, Md., commitment is also the watchword.
"We strive to offer the best portal and online services possible to our citizens," said Alisoun Moore, CIO of Montgomery County. "We are constantly trying to improve our offerings and stay ahead of the curve."
Moore said her team paid particular attention to making the county's Web site citizen-friendly.
"Rather than designing the portal in a manner consistent with the county's organizational structure, it was designed from the viewpoint of a constituent," Moore said. "The innovative design makes county services and information available in a straightforward manner."
That straightforward manner may be key to producing a successful Web presence. Virtually all top finishers in the Best of the Web competition noted they were particularly mindful of making a visit to their government's Web site an enjoyable experience.
"Government portals have truly become the citizen gateway to services," said Cathilea Robinett, executive director of the Center for Digital Government. "Capturing first place in the Best of the Web contest reflects their true commitment to the citizens and businesses of their respective jurisdictions."
Along with the Best of the Web awards, the Center for Digital Government this year named the nation's 10 most technically advanced legislatures. The rankings were announced as part of the Center's 2003 Digital Legislatures Survey, a new study in which all 50 state legislative offices were invited to participate.
The Digital Legislatures Survey is the first of its kind and will be used as a standard against which government IT teams can measure themselves, according to Center officials. The Center believes the survey can serve as a model for best practices.
Nevada garnered the top spot among legislative Web sites, an honor that Allan Smith, Information Services Manager for the state's Legislative Council Bureau, said was a "big boost" for his team.
"We're basically a three-man team, and we work very hard," said Smith. "This recognition has shown us we're going in the right direction."
The Digital Legislatures Survey included a set of 12 questions and ranked state offices according to a four-point scale.
Questions included topics such as online access, legislation, elected officials, legislative technology support and operations. Rankings were established based on multiple-choice selections. URLs and background data were required for final verification and validation.
In Nevada, Smith said while the state's IT team has enjoyed the recognition brought about by their No. 1 standing, the team's real reward comes from knowing they are putting people in closer touch with their government.
"Receiving top honors is nice," said Smith. "But our real goal is to serve our constituents, to get information to them in a fashion they can understand and that can help them."
Nevada's legislative portal allows citizens to access a variety of legislative session information, as well as the legislative law library. Residents can also log on to the site for live broadcasts of interim committee meetings. Smith's team is working to add close captioning to such broadcasts to serve an even larger portion of the state's population.
"We always strive to stay timely and improve upon ourselves," Smith said.
In fact, the Center for Digital Government's awards are, in large part, a way to acknowledge those governments best using technology to reach out to their constituencies, and thereby advance the cause and process of democracy.