What the 21st Century IDEA Mandates Mean for You, a Year Later

We may have just ushered in a new decade, but there’s another important milestone on our minds. On December 23, 2019, the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) kicked into the next phase of its mandates. Before that date, the bill addressed lower hanging fruit—setting standards for agency’s creating new websites or digital services—but moving forward, existing federal websites and digital services must step up to the plate as well.

This latest deadline was just the first leg of a long journey to modernizing digital assets, however. The one-year date marked the need for each agency to submit a report detailing a list of all existing digital services, prioritization for modernizing each of these services, and a cost and timeline estimate for completing the work. But is your agency ready for the next steps on the journey to compliance? If not, it’s time to really put the rubber to the road.

The current state of government digital services

To help you get a picture of the scope of this mandate, there are currently over 2,000 top-line .gov websites that will need to make strides toward compliance, and many of them have a long way to go. In the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s (ITIF’s) 2017 review of almost 300 of the most popular federal websites, 92% failed to meet basic standards for security, speed, mobile friendliness, or accessibility.

The path toward compliance is made more challenging when you consider the many competing priorities agencies must juggle. Although many government leaders agree on the importance of digital modernization, budgeting still needs to catch up before many of them can move forward. Currently, the federal government spends $72 billion—or 80 percent—of its IT budget just on maintaining its legacy technologies. While IDEA Act compliance is technically the law of the land, without enforcement and a separate set-aside budget, agencies could argue their funds don’t allow for extensive 21st Century IDEA updates.

Despite these challenges, however, many agencies are embracing the 21st Century IDEA mandates—and effecting positive changes for constituents in the process. There are five agencies in particular that set a great example for what other federal offices should strive for:

Department of Commerce/U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census is going digital for the first time, giving citizens more options to choose the method of answering that works best for them. Moreover, the website will be mobile-friendly and meet all other 21st Century IDEA requirements as well. These updates were clearly made with their users in mind—which stands to improve engagement.

The U.S. Census Bureau is taking this one step further with efforts to connect with under-counted communities (like immigrants, LGBTQ+, renters, and families with young children) to ensure everyone can be counted in 2020. U.Group recently provided pro bono website strategy and development, graphic design, and user experience/user interface design for user-generated content as part of a partnership with Census Open Innovation Labs (COIL) and Rock the Vote. The website will help COIL’s Census Accelerate team match creatives with community-based organizations to generate content that will engage with these communities and combat mis- and disinformation about the Census.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

With nearly 20% of the population living with some type of disability, creating the most accessible experience for all audiences is vital. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development addressed this issue head-on when it turned 950+ of its paper-based forms digital, focusing on making them 508 compliant to ensure Americans of all demographics can access the tools they need to get affordable housing. Since its inception, U.Group has also made a commitment to accessibility because we believe it’s non-optional. As part of this commitment, every website we build is 508 compliant, and several of our team members have undergone rigorous 508 certification.

U.S. Department of Energy

The 21st Century IDEA truly has citizens’ best interest in mind—ensuring federal agencies deduplicate content and provide a cohesive, user-friendly experience to everyone. The Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy took these mandates to heart during its website redesign process. The redesign included updated forms and educational infographics about taxpayer investments, both improving user experience and enhancing user knowledge on renewable energy initiatives.

All of our work starts with understanding the needs of our customers and their audiences and creating good user experiences from that understanding. U.Group recently worked with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to help them create a better experience for their users. Through extensive analytics assessments and user interviews and surveys, we helped the FTC understand what their audiences wanted when accessing their website. This allowed them to put the most pertinent content front and center, creating user experiences that help them accomplish key tasks faster and with less frustration.

General Services Administration

The GSA has long been a trailblazer in working to improve digital services, and now is no exception. They assembled an inter-departmental task force to lead the 21st Century IDEA compliance efforts and have been making great headway since. Several U.Group team members, including CEO Lena Trudeau, came from GSA, and we bring that experience to U.Group’s customer engagements. Not only are these team members true believers in the power of digital transformation, but their time on the front-lines of the government digital modernization movement has given them a first-hand perspective of the challenges you’re up against.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

USDA has released several 21st Century IDEA-friendly programs lately, including the Voice of Customer initiative, in which employees use data analytics and customer feedback to pinpoint and deliver on customer needs which uses data analytics to better accommodate customer needs.

U.Group’s data team has helped several customers unlock the potential hidden within their data, including the Department of Defense (DOD). Using data science, program support, and domain expertise, we helped the DOD use its data to better connect with its small business partners. We’re even building a recommendation engine for them to suggest relevant learning and contracting opportunities to its small business users.

Next steps for compliance

Although federal agencies will have submitted overviews and laid out what needs to be done to modernize their digital services, there is still more work ahead. By the bill’s two-year mark, agencies will need to move any forms that can be digitized online. The execution of updating existing websites also remains on the to-do list. But you don’t have to go it alone.

No matter where you are in the execution stage of your path to 21st Century IDEA compliance, working with experienced partners will allow your agency to execute the bill’s mandates with minimal disruption to your day-to-day operations. With team members from 18F, AWS, and United States Digital Service, U.Group has deep experience creating cutting-edge, user-friendly digital platforms for our customers. Contact us to learn more about how we can embark on the journey to compliance together.

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