Fairfax County dethrones Seattle area in ranking of the country’s most tech-savvy county governments

A close-up of a computer chip (via Adi Goldstein/Unsplash)

Fairfax County’s government is the place to beat when it comes to utilizing digital technology, according to a recent survey of the top digital counties in the U.S.

Fairfax County was ranked no. 1 among counties with populations of 1 million or more people by the Center for Digital Government for its 2023 Digital Counties Survey, knocking off King County in Washington after the original home of Amazon nabbed the top spot two years in a row.

The top ranking marks the culmination of a steady rise for Fairfax County, which came in fifth place for its category in 2021 and second last year. King County, which includes Seattle, took second place this time around.

“We are constantly coming up with new ways to make things easier for our residents and employees through technology,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Jeff McKay said in a July 25 newsletter highlighting the achievement. “We would like to thank and congratulate our Department of Information Technology and agency partners for all of the excellent work they have done, and we look forward to seeing the great work continue!”

A division of the data and media company eRepublic, the Center for Digital Government describes itself as a national research and advisory institute focused on information technology policies and how they’re used by local and state governments.

The annual digital surveys, which include separate ones for states and cities, evaluate how different jurisdictions “are applying technologies to better serve their constituents,” the organization says.

After previously lauding Fairfax County for its cybersecurity efforts, the center says it managed to rise to the top this year thanks in part to an emphasis on data management and incorporation of data-based metrics into the Countywide Strategic Plan originally adopted in October 2021.

“Fairfax provided staff with training and policies about proper data collection and use, and conducted a data asset inventorying project so employees could more easily locate answers to internal questions,” the survey said. “Use of end-to-end encryption also preserves data privacy.”

Other accomplishments include a newly centralized “data lake” to support the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, which provides treatment and other resources for individuals with mental health, substance use and developmental disability needs.

The survey also singles out the county’s new Planning and Land Use System, which consolidated zoning, permitting and other land use applications into one central database. The system fully launched last October after starting to roll out in 2020, though it encountered some initial technical challenges.

“The platform gives constituents a single spot for handling activities like submitting and tracking applications related to zoning, building, permitting and other land development areas, as well as paying fees or submitting complaints,” the survey said.

In addition, the Center for Digital Government was impressed by the county’s expanding use of geographic information systems (GIS) data. Over the past couple of years, it has used mapping technology to track everything from heat and flooding to development in Tysons and Reston.

In general, the D.C. region performed well in this year’s Digital Counties Survey, securing first place in all five population-based categories.

The leaders — including Arlington for the 150,000-249,999 people category and Prince William for 250,000-499,999 people — were united by their prioritization of collaboration and inclusion, Government Technology said when announcing the results.

“Collaboration and inclusion were critical factors to their success,” GovTech said. “Their commitment to equity ensured that the benefits of technological advancements were accessible to all residents, ensuring widespread access to resources and creating a more inclusive digital landscape.”

Photo via Adi Goldstein/Unsplash

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