GSA Publishes Web Standards for Year-Old Digital Services Law

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The website design standards pull together existing guidance for complying with the 21st Century IDEA Act, which requires all digital services to have a base level of quality and accessibility.

A year after passage of a law requiring federal agencies to improve the quality and accessibility of digital services, the General Services Administration on Wednesday released a set of website design standards agencies across government can use to meet that mandate.

GSA launched a new webpage as part of the U.S. Web Design System, as required under the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, or IDEA Act. While the page itself is new, the information it provides for agencies has been developed incrementally by USWDS team since 2015.

The IDEA Act, passed in late 2018, included eight criteria for all digital services developed after the IDEA Act was enacted, including being accessible to individuals with disabilities, maintaining a consistent appearance, hosting working search capabilities and being designed around user needs.

All of these principles are included in the latest design standards, including the latest code version—released in April 2019—and the maturity model—released in December 2019—that help agencies deploy user-friendly sites quickly and upgrade legacy sites on an incremental timeline.

On Wednesday, the Technology Transformation Service—an arm of GSA that houses innovation shops like 18F and the Presidential Innovation Fellows—released the new design standards to meet a mandate in the IDEA Act.

The new web design standard, in full, suggest agencies should use the web design system—including the USWDS code and user-centered design principles—and follow the maturity model.

In a call with reporters Wednesday, TTS Director Anil Cheriyan lauded the USWDS effort for producing standards that are easy to adopt, flexible to deploy, proven out and built through a collaborative process.

“The 21st Century IDEA Act requires agencies to comply with TTS’ website design standards,” GSA’s IDEA Act Implementation Lead Ammie Farraj Feijoo said on the call. “The standards published today says that agencies should use the U.S. Website Design System,” including the relatively new maturity model.

GSA will also publish a notice in the federal register whenever the design standards are updated. The first notice will go live Thursday, announcing the first update.