The Progress & Freedom Foundation ranked each state's overall technological progress against a series of benchmarks. The maximum possible score is 100 points.

Washington repeats as nation's most digital state.

For the second consecutive year, Washington led the nation in using information technology to streamline state government operations and deliver citizen services, according to Digital State, a national study conducted by the Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF) in association with Government Technology.

Scheduled for release this month, the annual study tracks state government IT use in eight areas, including education, business regulation, revenue and taxation, social services and law enforcement. Measuring IT achievements against a series of benchmarks, Digital State grades state efforts in the eight categories and also ranks their overall technological progress.

Washington topped all states with an overall score of 82 points out of a possible 100. Wisconsin captured second place with 77 points, followed by Missouri at 75 points, Pennsylvania at 74 points and Florida at 72 points. At the other end of the spectrum, Arkansas ranked last with just 44 points. Rounding out the bottom five were Illinois with 45.6 points, West Virginia with 45.8 points, Montana with 46.3 points and Louisiana with 46.4.

Washington Gov. Gary Locke said his state is proud to receive Digital State's top ranking. "As the home of Microsoft, Go2net and RealNetworks, it is fitting that our state should also have a government that is willing to push the parameters of technological innovation to best serve the people," said Locke. "High technology is opening new doors in how we govern, how we educate and how we do business in Washington state."

Chief Information Officer Steve Kolodney, director of Washington's Department of Information Services, called the survey results a validation of the state's wide-ranging IT initiatives. "It's terrific for our organization. We are stressing people to perform at very high levels, in very risky situations," he said. "To succeed and be recognized for that success is a tonic for the people who have taken the risk and made the effort."

Plenty of Progress

"Digital State shows states making across-the-board progress on implementing digital technologies," said PFF President Jeffrey Eisenach. This year's average overall score of 61 points represents an increase of nearly 40 percent over the 1997 study.

"Without any question, the most significant finding is the rapid rate of improvement," Eisenach said. "What you're seeing is the states really focusing on [IT], and I think you're seeing the results of two and three and four years of effort coming to fruition.

"I think [states] are still running to catch up with the private sector, but I think they're in the race and running fast," he added.

In particular, this year's report says states made significant strides in creating systems to help businesses electronically comply with regulatory requirements. Average scores in the business-regulation category jumped more than 60 percent over 1997, with almost every state now offering at least some online licensing

and permit information. The study ranks Alaska first in the business-regulation

category, followed by Maryland and Pennsylvania, which tied for second.

Eisenach said competition between states to attract businesses is spurring nationwide efforts to reduce government regulatory hassles. For instance, states are moving at varying paces toward electronically collecting regulatory information once, then flowing the data wherever it is needed. In fact, he predicted that business filings eventually will be generated automatically from company information systems and paperlessly transmitted to the proper government offices. "What it's going to do is make compliance with government regulation transparent," said Eisenach. "Obviously, companies will want to oversee the data for purposes of correctness, but it's not going to involve anything like the compliance costs that are currently involved."

For now, however, the study notes that most states have failed to achieve true interactivity in this area. Notable exceptions include Massachusetts, which allows