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Top 25 2021: Two Decades of Doers, Dreamers and Drivers

This group of innovative and visionary IT professionals marks the 20th year of GovTech’s Top 25 awards, who in a most unconventional year continued the critical work of making government better.

logo of the Government Technology Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers for 2021
Nimble. Flexible. Creative. These might not be words readily used to describe the people that populate the government workforce. But the pages that follow offer many examples of why they should.  

This issue marks the 20th year of Government Technology’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers. Conceived as a forum to celebrate the largely unseen and unsung work of innovative and visionary government leaders, we’ve honored more than 500 people since that inaugural set of winners in 2002.

In a most unconventional year, there was no shortage of inspiring work taking place in state and local government — work that underscored to so many why they got into public service in the first place. Fundamentally, it was to help people. After all, when it comes to organizational mission, public-sector work can’t be beat.  

This year’s honorees were tested in ways they likely never anticipated, and their work sustained the capacity of their organizations to serve their vast constituencies. Here are a few characteristics that stand out to me about this group.

They’re creative. New problems call for new solutions, and our 2021 cohort was challenged like never before. We chose this year to acknowledge the accomplishments of all state and local government chief information officers with a group award for solving the problems before them by quickly shifting entire workforces to remote work and equipping them with the necessary tools to keep government running.  

They were also on the front lines of moving as many services as possible online. They did this to keep these services available during a pandemic with an uncertain end date. In many cases, their work accelerated their agency’s planned digital transformation by several years.  

They’re great communicators. Once upon a time, IT staff were relegated to dark data centers, plying their trade outside of the public eye. But today’s CIO has to mirror strong technical skills with the ability to translate tech issues into terms non-technical staff and policymakers can understand and identify with. Many CIOs talk about the need to understand the business needs of their organization, and let those business needs drive tech deployments. Our honorees are very good at it.

They’re citizen-focused. While many on this year’s list have considerable technical expertise, they’re not interested in wowing you with technology that’s ahead of its time. They understand that tech needs to solve problems and offer better, more convenient services. These themes came through time and again as we interviewed them about their work.

James Weaver, former CIO of Washington (who earned the same job in North Carolina after he’d made this year’s list), spoke about his citizen-focused mindset: “It’s great we had digital services, but if people can’t connect and avail themselves of it, we’re failing in our mission,” he said.

They’re collaborative. Maricopa County, Ariz., Chief Information Security Officer Lester Godsey works in an organization that is largely, but not completely, centralized. He focuses on building relationships with other IT leaders in order to build trust and consensus among county agencies as well as with external partners. Further, he shares best practices broadly, empowering stakeholders to achieve the high security standards he sets for the county.

“We frankly try to remove any excuse not to work with us,” Godsey said.  

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that technology is a foundational underpinning of a successful government enterprise. But it needs smart, committed people behind it to make sure it delivers on government’s mission. Here’s to this year’s Top 25.

View the video from the Government Technology Events team featuring many of this year's winners.
Noelle Knell has been the editor of Government Technology magazine for e.Republic since 2015. She has more than two decades of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.