In any field, there are a few individuals who can't leave well enough alone. They continually test new ideas and attempt to harness new technologies. These pioneers face perhaps their greatest challenge in state and local government -- working under the unforgiving glare of public scrutiny and battling bureaucracies often famous for resisting change.
Yet the 25 people honored here overcame those obstacles and used technology to push forward the mission of government. Their accomplishments range from subtle yet vital developments in IT management to transformational events, such as launching some of the first government Web sites.
The members of Government Technology's Top 25 for 2002, listed here in no particular order, played key roles in strengthening government operations in their jurisdictions and improving the services delivered to citizens. On a larger scale, their innovations have helped advance the art of applying technology to government service, changing the landscape of public-sector IT.
Chief Information Officer
Before the dot-com bust, California's Silicon Valley was a booming hotbed for startup technology firms riding the PC wave -- a wave that started Dianah Neff's technology career. Palo Alto, Calif., took a gamble in 1986 and hired Neff based on her knowledge of PCs and networks to run the city's information resources department. "They wanted to do e-mail along with a few other innovative things," Neff said. "For years, I had been involved with the first wave of startups and venture capital funding for the new PC era and wanted a new opportunity with a public commitment."
In 1994, Palo Alto celebrated its 100th anniversary by highlighting some new innovations in technology to serve the community. Neff met with some business leaders who demonstrated a new concept -- the World Wide Web. She immediately saw its potential and worked with the community to figure it out, which resulted in the nation's first city Web site.
"The introduction of the Internet changed forever the way governments relate to their citizens," she said. The Internet stripped away layers of bureaucracy that kept citizens from government, changed the nature of transactions and sparked a drive to integrate government systems.
Just as the Internet has changed and grown, Neff also has moved on, launching numerous innovative projects during her journeys through government. She worked with San Bernardino County, Calif., on a joint venture with local businesses and the school district to make online public-sector information more relevant to the community. In San Diego, she launched Bandwidth Bay, which used GIS to map the city's 70,000 miles of fiber-optic cable.
Today, Neff blends her knowledge of technology with her strategic-planning expertise to run IT operations for Philadelphia; she is determined to make life better and safer for residents of the City of Brotherly Love. The key is integration. "The public sector tends to keep its systems the longest. So we have to find some way to extend the life [of the systems], or use the Web, GIS and wireless technology around our legacy systems. That's the challenge."
--Tod Newcombe, Features Editor
Division of Communications
Brenda Decker started at Nebraska's Division of Communications 25 years ago as the departmental secretary and slowly but diligently worked her way up the ranks. For the past four years, she has been director of the state's small but active communications department. Decker reached the top through hard work, honing her skills as an administrator and showing a willingness to work with others.
"In some ways, I ended up in telecommunications by accident," she said. "But at the same time, my strengths lie in how the department functions." Decker enjoys being a public servant, and said she's always liked to solve problems, a