There's clear evidence that the public sees this as a valuable tool."
The growing popularity of electronic services also helped Michigan cope with tighter budgets, according to Passino. "[Online transactions] are a huge cost savings for the state because you're going from a process that costs tens of dollars to visit a clerk at a physical location to one that costs a few cents when citizens do their business on the Web site," he said. "So it's attractive from a public standpoint, but it's vital from a state cost-structure standpoint."
Washington Seeks Innovation
Third-ranked Washington unveiled several advanced e-government applications over the course of 2002, said CIO Stuart McKee. Among the most significant was the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) "No Wrong Door" initiative, designed to give citizens easier access to social services benefits.
"[It] allows users to go directly to information about a variety of concerns and services," McKee said. "For example, clicking on the 'cash' icon will produce a menu of assistance programs that includes getting financial help for people with medical and drug/alcohol problems as well as for people unable to work. Hyperlinks lead the user to additional information and even to Web-enabled ways to apply for help."
McKee said solving cultural issues holds the key to e-government success.
"Surprisingly, the biggest challenge we face does not involve budgets, or knowing how to build an application, or even resources," he said. "The biggest challenge we face has to do with our business processes and to some degree with people who may sometimes be a little resistant to change."
To be successful in the digital age, governments must constantly rethink how they do things, instead of merely automating traditional operations, added McKee. "It is a dynamic process to merge a government culture into a technology culture, but it is absolutely vital. Technology doesn't solve problems, people solve problems."
The average overall score in this year's Digital State survey was 65 out of a possible 100 points, down from an average of nearly 70 points in 2001. However, the downturn reflects tougher measurement standards developed for 2002, not a slowdown in e-government activity.
Indeed, this year's survey - underwritten by American Management Systems (AMS) and Microsoft Corp. - was perhaps the most tightly contested in the history of the annual award program, according to the Center's Robinett.
"The top states are remarkably close. The stakes are higher than ever, and a single point can make a big difference in the standings," she said. "States are committed to digital government, and that commitment has really paid off. Digital government is finally becoming part of the DNA of government."
Overall, states made their strongest progress in Digital State's taxation and revenue category, where the average score neared 86 points out of 100. The category shows broad adoption of electronic tax applications across the nation.
For example, citizens may pay taxes online using credit cards, debit cards or electronic checks in 41 of the 45 states responding to the survey. Thirty-nine states electronically transfer tax refunds into citizens' bank accounts, and 37 states allow citizens to check the status of tax filings via the Internet.
Digital State's education and social services categories provided good news, as well.
The education category, where the average score topped 82 points, shows that public institutions are opening a wide range of electronic resources to teachers, parents and students.
For instance, 33 states said most of their public colleges and universities allow students to perform administrative functions online, and 37 states said most of their public higher-learning institutions offer online access to course syllabuses, class notes and other material.
Departments of education in 30 states now collect aggregate student academic records and performance data, and make