website analysis

Federal websites must step up their game, study concludes

Although citizens increasingly go online for government information and services, the federal websites that facilitate this interaction aren’t up to the job, according to a new study from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

The study looked at variables like speed, security and accessibility for the disabled in its analysis of almost 300 federal websites.

“Despite years of progress in digital government, a striking number of federal websites do not even meet many of the U.S. government’s own requirements, let alone private-sector best practices,” Alan McQuinn, ITIF research analyst and the report’s lead author, said in the report’s announcement. “It is incumbent upon the new administration, supported by Congress, to make websites more convenient, accessible and secure.”

The majority of websites -- 78 percent -- passed the speed test for desktop sites, but far fewer -- 36 percent -- passed mobile speed tests.

The researchers looked at encryption and domain name security when evaluating the sites’ security status. They found that 61 percent of websites sufficiently implemented both tools.

A majority of the tested websites were accessible to people with disabilities, but 42 percent failed the tests because of issues including insufficient contrast for people with sight disabilities and pages that could not be read using screen reader technology.

A panel of industry experts and the report authors discussed the study’s findings at the March 8 announcement. One idea they drilled in on was consolidating websites across agencies.

Chris Neff, the vice president of marketing at NIC, said the patchwork quilt of government websites can be confusing for citizens who are looking for services that involve more than one agency. It can be scary, he said, to combine multiple branches of government into one site, but some places have already begun to do it. Arkansas.gov, for example, is bringing services from multiple agencies into one location, he said.

Panelists said the Trump administration can build on the Obama administration’s efforts to consolidate websites so there are fewer domains offering the same amount of information.

Analytics will also play a role in improving websites, according to John Landwehr, vice president and public sector CTO at Adobe. Federal agencies should determine where people are going on their sites and make it easy for them to get to those popular pages. Site visitors who begin filling out a form but leave the page before finishing is another indication of a problem, Landwehr said.

The improvement of government websites must begin with executive leadership that institutes timelines, expectations and penalties if improvements are not made, Neff said.

“It is incumbent upon the new administration, supported by Congress, to build upon previous efforts to modernize federal websites, pushing them to be more convenient, accessible, and secure,” the study concludes. “These efforts will only come to fruition by identifying problems, creating a plan to address them, and promoting a transparent system for website metrics that pushes the government to constantly improve itself.”

Read the full study here.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at mleonard@gcn.com or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.


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Reader Comments

Thu, Mar 9, 2017 DrK

It has been over a decade since FISMA has been instituted to bring federal computing systems into good security compliance. Yet most agencies are receiving grades of D an F (scale A being excellent to F being a failure to meet standards). Most agencies have CIOs and they are failing, yet no one seems to be held accountable. This seems to be government trait, no accountability and thus we the general public lack trust in these entities.

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