House Passes Bill to Improve Government’s Digital Services

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. Susan Walsh/AP

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The IDEA Act would require agencies to upgrade their websites to meet basic security and usability standards, but lawmakers did make some changes.

Lawmakers on Thursday approved a bipartisan bill that would revamp federal websites to enhance citizen services.

The House passed by voice vote the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, or 21st Century IDEA, which would require agencies to improve online customer experience by making new websites more user-friendly. The bill ultimately aims to make citizens less reliant on paper processes when interacting with federal agencies.

“It’s time our government agencies adopt the innovative technologies of the 21st century,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who introduced the bill in May. “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.”

The bill would set minimum accessibility, searchability and security standards for all new and existing government websites, and require agencies to adopt web analytics tools to constantly improve sites’ functionality. Organizations would also need to make all sites mobile-friendly and comply with website standards set by the General Service Administration.

If signed into law, agencies would have 180 days to meet the new benchmark. Any sites that launch after the bill is passed would need to comply with the standards from day one. Agencies would also have to roll out online versions of every paper-based form within two years.

The original version of the bill required agencies to create a “digital option” for all in-person services, but the measure was removed from the final legislation.

Its companion bill in the Senate, introduced by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, still awaits a vote. The legislation has received broad support from the tech industry.

“It’s a great time to give Americans a boost of confidence in government services,” said Craig Albright, vice president of legislative strategy at BSA | The Software Alliance, in a statement. “The [21st Century] IDEA Act will make federal agencies more efficient and create a better user experience for the millions of Americans who rely on these resources.”