Data Tools To Help Section 508 Compliance Under Development

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The General Services Administration aims to use data analytics to detect if requests for information and proposals for IT products meet section 508 compliance requirements, according to Marina Fox, .gov domain services program manager at GSA.

“When government releases a statement of work that does not contain the proper section 508 language…what happens then, in the worst case, is that the government gets sued, and the Department of Justice has to go to defend them, and guess whose money is being spent? The taxpayers. Guess whose needs are not being met? Taxpayers, because if the person who is visually impaired is unable to view the results of the information on the website, then what’s the point of even handing them that information?,” said Fox.

However, with over 500 solicitations at a minimum coming through FedBizOpps daily, manual review is not a great option for GSA’s compliance team. Fox described how Section 508 compliance is not simple to locate, with accessibility law being lengthy and often complicated. The existing process of randomly sampling around one percent of solicitations and sending letters to agencies informing them of their failure to meet compliance often occurred after a vendor had already been selected.

“This human review is not going to work. We need artificial intelligence and machine learning in order to be able to scan through the entire population of solicitations listed on FedBizOpps, and separate them under IT…and then scan those using predictive modeling and predict their compliance,” said Fox.

Thankfully, help is on the way.

“We are currently migrating and getting ready for production,” Fox said. She described how GSA is using natural language processing, machine learning, and human input to create an “engine” to predict compliance. She noted the tool would live in a cloud environment, making it scalable and flexible.

Fox also hinted towards a future for the tool beyond the section 508 office.

“We are scalable, we are agile, and we can always add more use cases. Right now it’s section 508, next it could be FedRAMP and cybersecurity, sustainability, and really, 80 percent of Federal requirements are the same,” said Fox.

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