Reps. Khanna and Ratcliffe: It’s Time to Modernize Government Websites
It’s no secret that the federal government is way behind the private sector when it comes to modernization and technology. Because of these outdated systems, many federal agencies rank staggeringly behind the private sector when it comes to customer service.
In data collected last year, Healthcare.gov and USAJobs.gov were tied as the worst government websites for customer service. The low scores resulted from a range of user issues, including the inability to get information, complete transactions, or schedule appointments with ease.
Luckily, we can change this and bring our federal agencies into the 21st century.
While this problem isn’t new, it’s been far exasperated by emerging technologies like mobile payment apps and digital appointment booking services that people now use every day to pay their bills or make dinner reservations. For years, the federal government has been playing catch-up with the private sector to adopt online services that become quickly outdated, leading to failures like the IRS’ website crash on Tax Day this year.
When the federal government’s purpose is to serve the American people, lawmakers need to find ways to improve the citizen’s experience when they interact with their government. As times change, and as citizens’ needs transform, it’s our job to ensure we evolve the services we provide.
In today’s world, this means ensuring that when citizens engage with the government, that interaction mirrors other modern, cost-effective experiences in their everyday lives. With everything from hailing a cab, buying groceries, or ordering a pizza, we’ve shifted away from phone calls, walk-ins, or pickups, toward online orders and mobile apps that save us time and, often, money.
The same is true when it comes to federal agencies: Digitization increases the quality of service, promotes efficiency, and improves cost-effectiveness. In fact, recent data from the IRS shows that it costs the agency $42.33 to help a customer on the telephone, $53.64 to respond to letters sent through the mail, and just $0.22 per web-based interaction.
But despite the understanding of the value digital improvements offer, our federal agencies have not made changes that will improve the citizens' experience.
In a recent study, 91 percent of US government websites failed to perform well in at least one category (those categories included mobile friendliness, security, page-load speed, and accessibility). With this in mind, it’s not surprising that 80 percent of agencies score “poor or very poor” when it comes to customer service, trailing behind every other industry ranked, but one.
As lawmakers, we know that making progress on our constituents’ behalf is our main mission – that’s why we’re taking a new approach through the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (21st Century IDEA).
Our bipartisan legislation requires federal agencies to make changes that will bring our government into the 21st century by mandating improvements to the government's digital efforts and setting concrete deadlines for those changes to be made. Those improvements include, for example, ensuring that consumers can connect to government sites through a secure connection, that sites offer search functions, that sites provide consumers a personalization option, and that sites consolidate redundant material. Those changes will be overseen by a responsible agency official to ensure compliance.
Agencies will be required to make paper-based forms available digitally within one year, to provide a digital option as an alternative to in-person government services within two years, to submit a plan to increase the use of electronic signatures on contracts and related documents within 180 days, and to modernize their public-facing websites within one year. No longer will consumers be required to print and fill out forms that must then be either faxed or mailed in.
With proper implementation and oversight, we are confident that the digital improvements included in the 21st Century IDEA will drastically improve citizens’ interaction with the federal government and save taxpayers money.
Government is supposed to work for the American people, and we owe it to them to do a better job. The tools we need to restore the United States’ global leadership in technology and digital government are already at our fingertips. Now it’s time to act.