The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently released policy guidance to direct federal government agencies towards modernizing the entire digital experience provided by their websites. Government websites have never been known for being especially convenient, clear, attractive, reliable, or even usable in many cases, let alone accessible to people with disabilities.
But the OMB’s recent guidance has made it clear that this will be changing in the coming years. The Guidance, titled Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience (OMB M-23-22), “provides a robust policy framework” so government agencies have a consistent, common standard to follow as they develop “online tools and experiences that meet today’s expectations.”
Framework for a better user experience
The new standard guides the development of online tools and experiences to align seamlessly with the expectations of today’s digital-savvy citizens, providing a consistent, trustworthy, easy experience across all federal government websites and apps.
This initiative builds on the Biden administration’s commitment to elevating the customer experience within the federal government. It aims to bridge the gap between government services and the American public, whether it involves rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure or ensuring that citizens can easily access the information they need.
Modernization through consistent, usable design
The digital modernization project focuses on updating the entire digital experience for customers. The project will include designing websites and apps and creating content that are consistent in their appearance and branding, as well as easy to understand and use. This goal of consistent branding among government agency websites is important because it builds trust by clearly communicating to the visitor that they are on an official government website. Agencies will also be mandated to participate in a government-wide Digital Analytics Program to gain more user insights to further improve the experience. Finally, one of the most important components of this overhaul is the prioritization of accessibility by underscoring the importance of Section 508 standards.
Focus on accessibility
Section 508 requires that all government agencies make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. This is a major area of improvement for government agencies; 60% of federal websites have accessibility issues. Section 508 also includes documents found on and through websites and apps, such as forms and PDFs. A recent report on accessibility found that nearly 75% of federal PDFs are inaccessible, and the recent policy guidance reported that only 2% of forms are even digitized. Inaccessible documents contribute to the 10.5 BILLION hours Americans spend filling out government paperwork each year. When people aren’t able to complete and submit forms and other paperwork, they often lose out on government services and funding. Annually, $140 billion in government benefits goes unclaimed due to inefficient, complicated, inaccessible processes.
Several agencies have already started taking steps towards a better customer experience. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is enhancing services, making tax record access and payments easier via IRS.gov. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is optimizing content for readability and accessibility. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are improving design and information organization on Medicare.gov, resulting in increased user satisfaction. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is serving users digitally and enhancing accessibility through its VA Health and Benefits mobile app.
Better service to the American public
U.S. federal CIO Clare Martorana acknowledges that in a world where people rely on the internet to do everything from order lunch to pay their mortgage to send birthday wishes, they expect to be able to receive government services digitally as well. She admits, “we don’t consistently make it easy for you.” This policy guidance addresses existing shortcomings and embraces modern practices to enhance trust and satisfaction among the American public while also streamlining services and saving taxpayer dollars.
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Nina comes to Equidox with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”