Commentary, Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

When I was first elected in 1995, digital communication was in its infancy, and most inquiries and requests for county services came by telephone, letter, or fax machine.  For those too young to remember, a fax machine, or facsimile transmission, uses telephone lines to transmit documents to a special printer; early faxes were printed on thermal paper; later ones used regular paper.  Fax machines still are used in some medical and law enforcement offices, but mostly have been superseded by advanced digital infrastructure.  Today, my office rarely receives a postal mail letter, but we get dozens of email inquiries on a typical day, and new digital technology provides voicemails in both audio and digitized formats.  The digitized format highlights some challenges of artificial intelligence though.  Names often are garbled, and the messages can be difficult to decipher!

The Center for Digital Government (CDG), a national research and advisory institute developed two decades ago, identifies best technology practices among the more than 3000 counties in the United States via an annual Digital Counties Survey.  Winners were announced at the annual National Association of Counties (NACo) conference, held this year in Travis County, Texas.  The survey measures initiatives that streamline delivery of government services; provide data analytics that help decision-making based on performance and outcomes; enhance cybersecurity; and apply innovative and emerging technologies to county priorities.  In announcing the winning counties, CDG staff noted that “This year’s survey results highlight how counties continue to use digital tools” and especially highlighted “ensuring the ability to be resilient in the face of unexpected crisis.”  

Counties are categorized by population for the survey, so that a large county like Fairfax competes against other counties with large populations rather than against all counties.  There are five categories – from fewer than 150,000 residents to more than a million residents.  Commonwealth of Virginia counties did very well in the survey, garnering 12 of the 50 awards, including three first place citations.  Smaller Virginia counties – those under 150,000 population – gobbled up seven awards – York (3rd place), James City (4th), Franklin (5th), Goochland (7th), Orange (8th), Bedford (9th), and Albemarle (10th).  Albemarle County also received special recognition for its participation in all 20 years of the survey, and earning top 10 status every year.

Arlington County placed first in the 150,000 to 249,000 population category, and Stafford County placed 9th.  The next level up, 250,000 to 499,999 population, saw Prince William County place first, with Chesterfield County in 4th place.  There are no Virginia counties with populations of 500,000 to 999,999, but our neighbor across the river, Prince George’s County, Maryland, placed first in that category.  In the last category, one million or more population, Fairfax County took first place, a feat that has been accomplished several times in the past decade.  The CDG announcement noted that “To support the County’s priorities, DIT developed the countywide ‘Data Analytics Framework’ so that consistent, repeatable data analytics allow data-driven decisions for business processes and service delivery – and help to ensure they are made in a more equitable, agile, and responsive manner.”  This is the fourth time Fairfax County has earned the first-place ranking for counties of its size.  A first-class digital infrastructure provides access to many local governmental information and services 24-hours-a-day.  Now, that’s bragging rights!

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at


  • Penny Gross

    Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at