By Steve Towns | Features Editor

Washington retained its title as the nations most technically advanced state, ranking first in the Digital State survey for the third year in a row.

A score of 93 out of 100 points propelled Washington to a first-place finish in the 1999/2000 Digital State survey, which measured progress across eight categories of government information technology.

Washington posted top scores in the surveys social services, digital democracy and management/administration categories, and it ranked among the top 10 states in remaining survey areas.

"Im extremely pleased with the results," said Washington Gov. Gary Locke. "This fortifies all of us to keep going with new ideas for making government more efficient and much more accessible."

Kansas captured second place with a score of 89 points. The state ranked first in individual categories covering taxation/revenue and higher education. Like Washington, it also posted top-10 finishes in the remaining survey areas. Rounding out Digital States top five were Alaska, with 84.1 points; Illinois, with 81.5 points; and Utah, with 80.1 points.

The survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government (the knowledge-management and research division of e.Republic) and the Progress and Freedom Foundation, released results in individual technology categories on a quarterly basis throughout the year. This months final release represents an overall ranking of states based on

their progress across all the survey areas.

Cathilea Robinett, executive director of the Folsom, Calif.-based Center for Digital Government, said this years Digital State survey shows the top-scoring states performing the heavy lifting needed to make digital government a reality.

"These states realize how relevant technology is in the New Economy, and theyre going beyond hyperbole and hot air into practical application," she said. "They understand how technology will play out in the future of economic development and how it impacts their viability in a global marketplace."

The Big Picture

Nationwide, states posted an average score of 63 points, just slightly better than the 1998 Digital State surveys average of 61 points. By contrast, 1998s average score represented an improvement of nearly 20 points over the preceding year.

Robinett attributed at least some of the sluggishness to year-2000 issues. "A lot of these states, particularly toward the end of 1999, were in freeze mode because of Y2K. I also think that the score next year should be a little bit higher due to all of the work thats being done in the post-Y2K era," she said.

Nonetheless, states made significant progress in several survey categories, particularly in the development of taxation/revenue and digital-democracy systems. This years average score in the taxation/revenue area -- which measured state efforts to collect taxes and service taxpayers online -- reached 68 points, a nine-point increase over 1998. Similarly, the average score for the digital democracy category -- which surveyed online voting initiatives -- went from 59 points in 1998 to more than 67 points this year.

On the other hand, most states continue to struggle with infusing digital technology into social services programs. The average score of 45 points was the lowest of any survey area. And while several states, most notably Washington (100 points) and Kansas (89 points), posted strong scores in this category, many others found themselves mired in the 20- to 30-point range.

Jeffrey Eisenach, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Progress & Freedom Foundation, called the social services scores a huge disappointment.

"We need to see some leadership in the social services arena that goes beyond the states and starts with Washington [D.C.]," he said. "At every level of the social services infrastructure, you have agencies that are wildly behind the times. You still see a neglect of those kinds of government services thats simply unacceptable."

Indeed, strong, high-level commitment to using digital technology to improve government operations

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  |  Editor

Steve Towns is editor of Government Technology, and executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government Technology,Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market.