State of the Digital State

The Center for Digital Government surveys the 50 states to reveal whos getting the most out of technology in law enforcement and social services.

by / June 7, 2001
Last year saw many changes for the high-speed world of information technology. Hype gave way to reality, and feisty new dot-coms were forced to walk through fire. Some emerged in ashes, a few got healthier and still others formed partnerships to survive.

It was also a time for states to adopt a new perspective on the use of information technology. It became clear that electronic government was no longer an optional addition to government service, but a necessity. There are more than 20,000 sites in the United States alone that offer government information and services. Not only have citizens come to expect online conveniences, but governments internal operations now rely on integrated systems and cross-agency access to information. As one analyst said, "In three years time, all governments will be Internet governments or they wont be governments at all."

The results of the first phase of the Digital State Survey indicate that e-government leaders embrace this concept and are making significant strides in the digital revolution. The fourth annual Digital State Survey is a product of the Center for Digital Government, the knowledge-management and research division of e.Republic, the parent company of Government Technology magazine; and the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. The survey is done in four parts, each dealing with two distinct sectors of e-government. The first assessment focused on law enforcement and courts and social services.

"The results show that information technology in government is no longer an added expense. It is an investment," said Cathilea Robinett, executive director of the Center for Digital Government. "The nations chief executives and elected officials are joining with IT leaders to elevate digital systems to priority status. Reality has set in and the pace of implementation has quickened. This is an exciting era for electronic government."

Law Enforcement

The passage of a year demonstrated that leaders in law enforcement and the courts are committed to an online presence. Out of a scoring system that ranged from zero to 100 points, 41 states reported a score of 50 points or more and 14 logged 80 or more. At the top of the list with 94.44 points were Colorado, Delaware, Illinois and New Jersey. From this list, only New Jersey was a repeat from the previous years survey.

Following close behind with 88.9 points were Georgia, Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The most significant improvement in this range to previous scores was reported by Ohio, where 32 points were gained, moving the state up from 24th position.

States new to the top 10 list include Arizona, Florida and Michigan with scores of 83.33. Each of these states posted noticeable gains over the previous year with Florida adding 50 points to its 2000 score.

Responses from the states show there is a determined effort to integrate justice systems across the spectrum of services. Law enforcement agencies at all levels, justice courts and correctional facilities are removing the barriers that once characterized their operations. The use of mobile and wireless technology for state police officers is becoming a requirement for doing business and the information available to officers crosses agency boundaries.

Colorado CIO Bob Feingold said the state has come a long way in managing records in the criminal justice system. "It used to be done by manual means and relationships and hard, solid police work to dig up information on individuals," he observed. "Now the records correlate. Information can be retrieved based on common fields that all jurisdictions have agreed to use."

Colorados world famous mountains present opportunities for recreation, but simultaneously stand as barriers to communication. The state launched a $40 million program this year to bring broadband to remote regions. The program will impact justice and law enforcement throughout the state. "What we want to do is to extend the system and capabilities to large municipalities like the city and county of Denver," said Feingold. "What Colorado has done is recognize that you dont have effective e-government unless you have access to broadband."

Georgia, according to CIO Larry Singer, has made a concerted effort to integrate once-disparate law enforcement and justice services. Gov. Roy Barnes led the consolidation of police, patrol and investigation activities. "It is the same philosophy that drives us to organize our IT resources as an enterprise," Singer said. "Because business leads technology in Georgia."

Georgia state law enforcement organizations have the advantage of being partners with the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI. "This gives us the opportunity to learn best practices from around the country," Singer said.

In Illinois, the State Police partnered with the Department of Central Management to build a network for all state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. State Police officers now have more than 853 digital mobile devices in use, with plans to increase that number to 1,500 by September.

New Jersey made a return appearance to the top tier of the list while raising its score by almost nine points. "I think we are seeing the results of all our efforts to work together," said Wendy Rayner, New Jersey CIO. "All the capabilities are coming to fruition. Ive been working to get all the agencies to understand the benefits of sharing. Law enforcement agencies have been leaders."

Integration of cross-agency information systems is a priority for states that lead in the justice arena. Colorado has linked law enforcement, prosecution, courts, adult corrections and juvenile corrections into one integrated justice system. This means that offenders can be tracked throughout the process from arrest, to trial and incarceration.

Delaware rose 18 points to enter the top 10 list and the first tier of digital states in the category. The states law enforcement and justice systems are linked to the information management systems efforts and include police, public safety, the attorney generals office, the public defenders office, courts and social services. The participation of social services is an indication of growing recognition that justice casts a wide net throughout state programs.

States have also made court records available to the public through the Internet. Guided by state policies regarding the privacy of certain information, trial transcripts from a variety of courts can be accessed through state portals. In addition, videoconferencing of court proceedings has become increasingly popular, creating significant cost-savings for governments. Other innovations in top justice systems include the ability to file court documents online and the use of digital signatures. Illinois and Washington are national leaders in the arena of digital signatures.

Although the top 10 states have set new standards for implementing services in law enforcement and justice, it is important to recognize other states that have also made significant progress in these arenas. Leading the charge was South Dakota, at 49 points higher than the previous year. Rhode Island rose 41 points to 55.56, and Mississippi added 39 points to log a total score of 72.22.

As a nationally recognized leader in the field of integrated justice, the Hon. George Nicholson, Justice for Californias Third Appellate District Court, has advocated for increased use of technology in the courts. "It appears that progress is being made on a number of fronts," he said about the results of the current survey. "We are moving toward improved telecommunications and rapidly developing experimental programs for e-filing."

Social Services

States made remarkable progress in implementing electronic systems to deliver social services. In the 2000 survey, there were only 15 states with a score of 50 and higher. That number soared to 41 this year.

At the top of the list is a familiar name in the e-government winners circle. Washington, for the second consecutive year, logged a perfect 100 points. This year, however, the state had company, with Kansas also achieving the maximum 100 points. Maine and Minnesota were close behind with scores of 95.83 points. Florida, Nebraska and South Dakota tallied 91.67 points. The six newcomers to the top 10 list showed phenomenal progress, with Maine up 66 points and Florida rising 62 points over the previous year.

Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona reported 87.50 points, Arizona rose 50 points over its previous years standing and Minnesota gained 48 points.

As last years leading digital state, Washington has raised the bar in several areas of e-government, and former CIO Steve Kolodney has gained national attention for leading the state to prominence. However, Kolodney is quick to point out that the departments delivering the winning social and employment services deserve the credit for success.

"Online services ought to be organized so that each agency can have the biggest impact on their constituent group," he said. "From our point of view, our job is to organize peoples work, not to create work thats divorced from the needs of the agency."

Kolodneys Department of Information Services consulted with agencies and private-sector experts to design the content of Access Washington. The home page offers several avenues to information about employment and social services in the state. There are at least three places that users can go directly to link to jobs, as well as a Resume Center. The site offers online filing for unemployment benefits at the Employment Security Department (ESD), and the Department of Labor and Industries has online forms pertaining to workers compensation claims.

A unique feature of the states social and human services is online training for foster parents, plus child-support tracking. In addition, although some activities such as applying for food stamps or requesting changes in child-support payments require personal interaction, Washington residents can meet with case workers using interactive videoconferencing. Not only does this service reduce the need to travel to various offices to file applications, it helps residents in rural areas where there are no state facilities available.

According to Paul Trause, acting commissioner for ESD, his department gets a tremendous amount of online traffic, particularly for employment searches. Three years ago, he explained, there were no employment services online. Today, ESDs WorkSource has 17,000 jobs listed, plus a link to federal job openings. He said the site has "tens of thousands of user sessions each month."

And, the internal culture of the department has changed. Once viewed as a less-than-friendly regulator agency, Trause said the department has become a "career assistance agency."

"Its not the technology," Kolodney said. "The technology only provides tools to let relationships emerge and flower. Human beings have to create the service." Trause is of the same mind. "People are the most important asset weve got," he said.

Don Heiman, Kansas chief technology officer, would agree. "The customer is coming into your enterprise, on your desktop," Heiman said. "The workforce gains a deeper appreciation of customer nuances and needs."

Kansas raised its score from 89 in last years survey to tie for the top spot. According to Heiman, the effort involved several agencies and cross-agency committees working toward a collaborative vision. "We have, I think, a wonderful governance structure and that has a lot to do with our success," Heiman said. He explained that Kansas has a "consolidated structure" in which standards and policies are set by an IT council that represents all three branches of government. The states departments and agencies follow the enterprise standards and participate on various advisory and development committees.

"Project managers take 120 hours of in-class instruction," Heiman explained. "We even have the vendors take the course side by side with my people so that when we do a deployment, everybodys on the same page. This allows us to take on bigger projects, maybe those that are a little more risky."

Heiman said the interpersonal side of IT projects is a priority when it comes to social services. "You are making promises to people on the Web. If you fail, you fail the customer."

Other states that showed notable progress in electronic social service delivery were Indiana, adding 56 points to its previous score; California, where the total rose 49 points; and Georgia, with 45 points over its 2000 score.

Among the innovative and effective applications of IT in the delivery of social services is the ever-increasing use of government as a channel for citizens to find employment. Online job searches are among the most heavily trafficked features on government Web sites. On the best sites, customers are able to search for a job, complete a resume, apply for a job and submit the application.

Social services departments are also beginning to use electronic benefits transfers (EBT) or "smart cards" for the delivery of services, such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families grants, refugee benefits and general assistance. Washington belongs to a six-state consortium that banded together to purchase EBT and smart card services, decreasing costs to the member states.

Top states also report dramatic improvements in the ability to collect child-support payments. Linking to national databases has expanded the options to locate absent parents. Maine officials initiated an automated collection system in 1990, when approximately $38.2 million was received. Each year, collection efforts showed significant increase to amount to $92.7 million in fiscal year 2000. In South Dakota, automated efforts have been so successful that the state received national recognition as collections increased 13 percent over the previous year.

As one of the states making significant progress in both justice and social services, California has developed a new viewpoint on e-government. "I think we see in these results a shift in the mindset of many state departments," observed Arun Baheti, director of e-government. "Over the past two years, they began stressing the importance of IT as a service delivery mechanism. And the power of IT and the Web is finally moving beyond the IT crowd and into the business management side of the house. Were finding more and more business managers wanting to use -- and understanding how to use -- IT and the Web to improve service delivery and internal operations."

Survey Says

Each of the nations 50 states submitted responses to the first phase of the Digital State Survey. According to Jeffrey Eisenach, director of PFF, this alone underscores the growing importance of electronic government. "Again, we see that states are making rapid progress. In my own view, there is no evidence that the passage of the Y2K issue has caused a slowdown of any kind," he said. "On the contrary, whats happened is that the natural conservatism that people had about making new investments in the face of the Y2K threat has lifted and we see the enhanced pace of modernization throughout the government sector."

Results of the survey reveal trends that quicken the hearts of IT advocates. After years of talking about the value of enterprise-wide systems and the demolition of "stove pipe" government, the walls are coming down. Responses to the justice assessment show how dramatically integration of information and services across agency lines can dramatically improve service delivery to citizens while creating intergovernmental efficiencies. Online systems in the arena of social services are changing the relationship that citizens have historically had with the system. New conveniences and the ability for information to be shared among agencies can bring greater dignity and respect to a process that often involves citizens in financial and personal crisis.

Once, the focus was on technology in government and amazing, dazzling applications that promised to move the world from the industrial era to the Information Age. In 2001, the glitter has hit the ground. What remains is an evolutionary process that is driven by people -- people with the skill to use technology, the desire to transform government to truly serve citizens, and the vision to lead the digital revolution.