Every good project, idea or innovation needs a champion to take it from concept to reality. This axiom consistently applies to the development of successful digital government programs and policies. Whether by decree or consensus, the implementation of technology in the public sector has required ongoing and active executive support.
California's Web site, which has won several awards over the past year, is just one example of what happens when the word comes down from the top. Arun Baheti, the state's director of e-government in the Governor's Office and key driver of the state's portal development, freely admits his boss was the catalyst. "There's nothing like an executive order to get your attention," Baheti said after winning the Best of the Web award. "The governor said he didn't just want the best government Web site, but the best Web site, period."
Other leading state and local governments issue similar credits. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge was a steadfast champion of information technology; Texas CIO Carolyn Purcell has enjoyed the support of key legislators and State Auditor Larry Alwin, who actively advocated for the creation of an empowered CIO post; Washington state made award-winning strides with the support of Gov. Gary Locke; and elected officials in Fairfax County, Va., fostered an IT environment that has made the county a "poster child" for local e-government.
Not all jurisdictions have such pro-active environments. In state government, elected officials are often preoccupied with other matters -- matters that ultimately grasp the attention of voters during election cycles. In some locales, officials are unaware of the benefits of technology and are not interested in learning. Delegate Joe May, a five-term member of the Virginia State Assembly, who has been a sometimes-lonely advocate for e-government, laments the reluctance of his colleagues to embrace the potential of technology.
"Some of our IT funding was killed in this year's budget," May said. "Unfortunately some of my peers looked to that item much more quickly than I would have liked because e-gov is really materializing in Virginia. Frankly, the benefits of e-gov could be passing us by because we haven't been as quick to embrace it as we should be."
The story is even more poignant in some local governments where budgets are so tight and concerns so immediate, that technology might appear frivolous. However, some cities that have braved the IT frontier have discovered efficiencies, savings and customer satisfaction that address pressing challenges and create new solutions to old problems.
Colorado Springs took first place in the 2001 Digital Cities Survey, sponsored by the Center for Digital Government, the knowledge-management and research division of e.Republic, and Government Technology. Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace admits that Colorado Springs is unique in the digital government universe. "Our community is a big-time user of technology," she said. "We have a well-connected community and, in some ways, there was a demand for us to be more responsive to our citizens."
The city has an IT budget of approximately $6.4 million -- about one-fifth of the city's annual overall budget. According to a report released by the American Electronics Association in 2000, 76 percent of all Colorado Springs households own a computer. Internet use in the city was surpassed only by San Jose, Calif., in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Charles Doolittle, the city's CIO, said he has enjoyed strong support from the city council, which favors enterprise-wide coordination of IT.
The city Web site features numerous services, including the option to pay for certain permits, parking tickets and bus passes; information about airport traffic, council meeting agendas and minutes; and a personalized "CityWire" where citizens can request specific information from government.
Makepeace has been around to watch the evolution of e-government. After 12 years on the city council, she was