House Bill Would Create Minimum Standards for Federal Websites

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A bill introduced in the House on Thursday would create a series of minimum functionality and security requirements for all Federal government agency public-facing websites and digital services. The measure also would place on the shoulders of Federal agency chief information officers the responsibility to ensure funding and implementation of the new requirements.

The bill–The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act–was introduced by Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and John Ratcliffe, R-Texas. A spokesperson for Khanna said the House bill does not yet have a Senate companion measure.

The congressmen said their bill would dramatically reduce agency costs for providing assistance to citizens, and improve citizens’ online interactions with the Federal government. They cited Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data from 2015 that found in-person or live assistance calls to IRS cost taxpayers an average of $40 to $60, versus an average cost of 22 cents for “digital transactions.”

A summary of the bill says it would give agencies one year to meet new requirements for existing public-facing websites and digital services including: improving “effective and efficient delivery of digital services”; consolidating and personalizing web content; making data “searchable and discoverable”; ensuring secure connection; ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities; increasing use of web and data analytics “to improve website operation and address user needs”; and ensuring compliance with “GSA TTS U.S. Website standards.”

The bill says that new Federal agency websites would have to meet the new standards upon launch, and that agency intranets would have to conform to the new requirements “to the greatest extent practicable.”

In addition, the bill would give Federal agencies two years to provide a “digital option” for any in-person government service, and would give agencies one year to ensure that any public-facing, paper-based form, application, or service is made available in an “intuitive and adaptable” digital form.

The measure would give agencies 180 days to submit plans to increase the use of electronic signatures on contracts and related documents.

On the funding and implementation front, Federal agency CIOs would be required to coordinate with executive agency management leaders–including agency secretaries, chief financial officers, and digital service program leads–“to ensure proper funding and management alignment” to support implementation.

The CIOs also would be charged with: monitoring digital service delivery and recommending necessary changes to agency heads; providing advice and assistance to improve digital service delivery and customer experience; using customer experience and satisfaction data; and coordinating and ensuring executive agency compliance with “Public Law 115-115 ‘Connected Government Act’–Federal Websites Required to be Mobile Friendly.”

“Without a responsible agency official, the requirements [of the bill] won’t get carried out effectively,” the bill summary states.

“Government exists to serve citizens, and this bill ensures government leverages available technology to provide the cohesive, user-friendly online service that people around this country expect and deserve,” Khanna said in a statement.

Added Ratcliffe, “Our bill takes advantage of new and emerging technologies that can drastically improve the way our federal agencies provide critical services to folks across the country, including people with disabilities or those who live in rural areas with limited access to traditional, in-person assistance services.”

The bill’s introduction drew statements of praise from officials at Oracle and Adobe, and several trade groups including the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, BSA-the Software Alliance, and the Software & Information Industry Association.

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