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Federal CIO touts '10-year-plan' to build a truly digital federal government

The long-awaited guidance to support the implementation of the IDEA Act tasks agencies with ramping up their digital offerings while mandating consistent brand and design standards across the federal government.

The White House advanced an effort launched in Congress years ago to put the federal government on a digital footing. Late Friday, the Office of Management and Budget released guidance directing agencies to deliver a “digital-first public experience,” and giving agencies details and deadlines for the implementation of the 21st Century IDEA Act, which was signed into law four years ago.

“This policy guidance gives federal agencies the mandate and the momentum that we need to deliver federal government that meets today's expectations,” Clare Martorana, federal chief information officer, told Nextgov/FCW. It “is going to transform the way the federal government interacts and delivers for Americans.”

There's a lot of work to do. 

Currently, just 2% of federal forms are usable as dynamic online forms (as opposed to a fillable online PDF), according to the White House. Nearly half of federal websites aren’t mobile friendly and 60% aren’t fully accessible for people who use assistive technology, according to  Martorana. Additionally, 80% of federal websites don’t use the U.S. Web Design System, guidelines and code housed at the General Services Administration that are meant to standardize websites across agencies. 

The new policy framework “is setting the standards for the federal government for digital transformation with over 100 actions and standards that are going to help all agencies design, develop and deliver modern websites and digital services that are trustworthy, accessible and easy to use,” Martorana said.

The guidance memo, from OMB Director Shalanda Young, gives agencies a to-do list focused on analytics, accessibility, branding, content, design, search and digitization. 

Agencies will be required to use web analytics — “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said Martorana — and new federal-wide branding guidelines to give government websites a distinct and consistent look. Agencies will also be required to use .gov or .mil domains and the U.S. Web Design System.

Agencies are also on notice to consolidate, remove or rewrite duplicate, outdated and confusing content on their websites. 

The new guidance also requires the use of an onsite search function for government websites. The government will also be developing better search engine optimization best practices, said Martorana, noting that the “majority of people start outside of the government to find services – they are on search engines.”

The guidance also pushes agencies to develop “new digital options to get government services,” the fact sheet states. 

“The American people should know when they're interacting with an official government website, get the best answer to their top questions in language they can understand, access government online services no matter what their ability is, use government websites that work on mobile and interact with our government in a way that best works for them,” said Martorana. “It will never be digital only, but it will be digital by default.”

Martorana said that part of the reason it took years after the passage of the IDEA Act to issue the guidance was because of collaboration across government with GSA, U.S. Digital Services, the CIO Council and agencies in crafting the policy. 

“We wanted to make sure from the inception that we were aligned and are capable of delivering for the public,” Martorana said. 

“We are trying to do something different, which is use human-centered design on our policies, and I think that that is why this is going to be so important and impactful and is going to really drive this 10-year-plan and make it successful,” she said.

OMB will be watching to see that agencies meet deadlines, including designating digital experience leads and prioritizing services to digitize and improve. 

“This isn’t optional. This is guidance that we are going to manage, we are going to drive… Agencies are not going to be opting out of things like accessibility, of mobile-optimizing their web properties. This is something the administration has taken really seriously,” said Martorana. “This is our time to think big, to help agencies move faster [and] deliver a modern government to the American people.”

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