2022 Annual Report
Public Law 115-336, “21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act”
Prepared for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the public by the General Services Administration (GSA), per the requirements of Section 3(d) of Public Law 115-336.
Section 3(d) of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (21st Century IDEA) requires the head of each Federal executive branch agency to report annually (through 2023) to the Director of OMB and the public on the agency’s progress to implement the requirements of the Act and to modernize its websites and digital services. This report details GSA’s efforts to modernize our websites and digital services in 2022.
Efforts to Date
Building on our accomplishments over the past three years, GSA continues to strengthen our digital governance, respond quickly to changing user needs, prioritize easy access, and improve customer journeys and experiences across all our digital products, platforms, and services.
Strengthening Digital Governance and Management
Last year, we identified a lack of standardized enterprise business processes around website management as a challenge to our ability to streamline and modernize our websites. To address this, we have taken several steps to strengthen digital governance, enabling us to greatly improve how we manage our digital portfolio and deliver digital services to customers.
- We set enterprise performance goals for fiscal year (FY) 2022 that have spurred greater adoption of the U.S. Web Design System (USWDS), bringing more consistency to the look, feel, and functionality of our websites, improving accessibility, and helping us strategically manage content across the GSA enterprise. By working with site managers to implement three key USWDS components (banner, identifier, footer), we more than doubled implementation of USWDS on GSA websites. We also promoted consistent practices across GSA sites such as including contact information within the footer of every page to help users more easily engage with GSA.
- In collaboration with our Office of Human Resources Management, we developed key performance goals around website management which will be adopted in FY 2023, such as requiring 100% of senior leaders who oversee a GSA digital property to have appropriate language added to their Senior Executive Service performance plans, and 100% of GSA website managers to have appropriate language describing this work added to their performance plans.
- Our Digital Council published a new internal policy on management of our digital presence, to document roles and responsibilities, and emphasize that customer experience, communications, and technology need to act as a “three-legged stool” to support seamless digital service delivery. We regularly bring in speakers to brief our Digital Council on a variety of web management topics, such as simplifying digital authentication, web records management, and content audits.
- The only visible public representation of many of our programs is as websites, so it is imperative that we understand each program’s purpose and audience. Our Enterprise Digital Experience Team in our Office of Customer Experience launched a Website Evaluation Program to review and provide feedback to help teams improve the customer-centricity of their programs on the web. The team evaluates such things as USWDS implementation, mobile performance, accessibility, customer-centricity data (such as adherence to OMB Circular A-11, Section 280), presence of required links, and non-duplication with related sites. We provide each team with an analytics package and recommendations in a fluid, narrative form that provides clarity and context. We also launched design consults to help teams understand and visualize the impact of modernization efforts on user experience.
- We developed and implemented a Digital Lifecycle Program (DLP) to aggregate and order all GSA and Federal policies and laws pertaining to websites. The DLP reframes policy compliance into steps paced along four stages of a website’s lifespan: Proposal, Launch, Management, and Sunset. This ensures that GSA uses common language and website management milestones, and that compliance becomes less burdensome to website teams, allowing them to focus more attention on their programs.
- We updated our internal roadmap for fixing our websites, to drive efficiencies in how we manage our digital portfolio, and improve the experience of GSA customers and business partners. We are currently focusing our work in these four areas:
- Expand web modernization efforts
- Tie performance to service delivery
- Build an enterprise customer-focused content strategy
- Redesign GSA.gov as a central customer service hub
- We’ve reduced our digital footprint by 23% over the past four years by consolidating websites, improving categorization of website types, and streamlining customer journeys across the GSA enterprise.
We continued to strengthen the knowledge and skills of our web teams, and provided support to help agencies measure the impact of their digital services.
- GSA continued to grow our internal Digital Community of Practice, which supports staff who manage GSA websites. We produced a monthly newsletter to educate web teams on agency goals for our digital priorities, and engage them around coordinated implementation of 21st Century IDEA. We’ve recruited members from this group to tackle specific enterprise modernization efforts in the areas of accessibility, content management, design and user experience, and technology infrastructure.
- We’ve increased capacity on our GSA.gov team, enabling us to strengthen internal web best practices, increase editorial management and oversight on our flagship website, standardize experiences with similar types of content, and craft new editorial guidance, which will enable greater consistency across our entire digital portfolio.
- We collaborated with the Lab at OPM to develop and offer targeted training on service design to web teams and senior leaders. We also hosted training sessions for web teams on topics such as USWDS adoption, digital governance, and accessibility testing and remediation. We began development of an “Orientation to Website Management at GSA” class, which will be required for all GSA website managers in 2023.
- GSA established a new cross-functional Service Delivery team to help GSA programs deliver digital services that are easy to use and support. In FY22, this new team partnered with several GSA teams, including the Center for Charge Card Management to work on the GSA SmartPay® website and learning system, Integrated Award Environment to work on SAM.gov’s Entity Validation Service processes and communication, the Workplace 2030 initiatives, and the Center for Fine Arts website. Most improvements will be live in FY23.
- Digital.gov offers guidance and training to help Federal agencies improve digital service delivery. In FY22, GSA’s Digital.gov team continued to grow its external digital communities of practice, which support Federal employees and contractors across government who manage Federal websites. The governmentwide communities grew by 17%, from 8,349 to 9,748 members. The team also held 37 events that focused on improving digital services in government. Topics ranged from user experience, accessibility, multilingual communications, USWDS, website management, and the need to communicate in plain language. Over 11,000 people attended these free-to-agencies events—realizing a cost avoidance of $5.18M to the Federal Government.
- Digital Dashboard is GSA’s governmentwide analytics solution (gov-only at this time) that delivers website compliance and conformance metrics for agencies’ public-facing websites. In FY22, GSA successfully modernized the legacy Digital Dashboard by: 1) migrating the system from an on-the-premises environment to a cloud-based solution, 2) moving from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9, and 3) integrating the solution into the IT Dashboard’s Visualization Platform, setting the stage for future public-facing reporting. The migration to the cloud and optimized scanning not only allow for more frequent scans (weekly vs. monthly), but also increase reporting capacity, from 1,300 to over 20,000 public-facing websites governmentwide.
Prioritizing Easy Access
This year, we continued a concerted enterprise-wide push to improve ease of access to our digital platforms, building capacity to maintain a high standard of accessibility.
- Our Section 508 Team in GSA IT identified six key accessibility indicators to help us benchmark the accessibility of our public-facing websites, based on results from automated scanning. The team organized and conducted training sessions for all GSA web teams, and provided access to an enterprise testing tool, to help teams assess their sites and remediate any issues. 75% of GSA sites reached 88% compliance in six months (the highest score available via automated testing tools), as measured against these indicators.
- For FY23, we are expanding enterprise-wide standardized training and testing to improve capacity for GSA staff to continue delivering accessible content and digital products. We are moving to a hybrid testing model, with a goal to reach and maintain 100% accessibility for all 24 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) testing criteria on all our digital platforms.
- The Digital.gov team brought in an accessibility expert to manually test and evaluate Digital.gov’s website and end-to-end service offerings. The report found very few accessibility issues, and the team is using the findings as a roadmap to increase the accessibility of Digital.gov content and events.
- The Center for Charge Card Management conducted a full content audit of smartpay.gsa.gov and is using the findings to make their website more accessible to the government’s charge card community. We will share what we learned from this project with other GSA teams to facilitate content audits on more of our digital properties.
Improving the Customer Experience
We continued our efforts to streamline back-end processes and systems to improve the front-end experience for our customers.
- Our Office of GSA IT reviewed authentication systems in use at GSA, and the various constraints that may inhibit adoption of common systems. As a result, we’ve established a target architecture for authentication systems that addresses the needs of four key audience groups: the public, GSA customer agencies, the vendor community, and GSA employees. This target architecture aims to consolidate nine unique authentication systems into four to ensure that individuals interacting with GSA systems can connect in a consistent and secure manner. This directly impacts customer experience as users can manage a single set of credentials and move seamlessly between GSA systems.
- As part of the Website Evaluation Project, the Enterprise Digital Experience team created and implemented the first customer experience evaluation parameters based on Federal CX policy and law. These parameters are: a website team’s ability to state their audience and their purpose; maintenance of a repeatable customer feedback mechanism; ability to take action based on feedback; and ability to measure the impact of those actions.
- To help customers feel confident working with us, we’ve embedded CX into the buying and selling experiences on GSA.gov by integrating CX principles into our team culture. We’re improving customer journeys by delivering the right tools and content at the right time, removing duplication, and filling content gaps. We’ve made it easier to find and buy Best in Class technology, by centering designs around customer tasks and needs, and clearly explaining how our offerings save money, and help meet mission.
- We uncoupled the selling and buying experiences on GSA.gov, and launched a new Selling section. This redesign was backed by several rounds of iterative usability testing, and customer testimonials that moved from “it’s not worth it” to “it’s so easy.” The new selling content currently has an 80% customer satisfaction rating.
- The GSA IT Platform Solutions and Development team has worked for two years to migrate seven legacy websites into a common USWDS theme. This past year saw two more sites switch over, with another two in beta. The USWDS theme is actively maintained in GSA as an open source project, and has enabled program offices to focus development efforts on the content and transactional components of the site rather than generating one-off designs. The consolidation onto a single theme has brought a level of commonality to the sites, enhanced their overall Section 508 compliance, improved access on mobile devices, and enables us to easily apply new USWDS features to all sites at once. Such a solution has enabled GSA to avoid costs associated with website management and service delivery.
- To eliminate unnecessary duplication, GSA has turned off the legacy application program interface (API) on data.gov for travel per diem rates within the continental United States. We now offer a single per diem API on open.gsa.gov with recently updated data documentation. The new API requires users to register, which helps us better understand our users and how they interact with the API, which is fundamental to our ability to make continuous improvements.
- We also prioritized nine mission-critical sites to modernize this year. In addition to a top-to-bottom redesign, these sites implemented USWDS, improving the real estate, acquisition, and technology services provided by GSA.
Responding to Administration Priorities
Across GSA, we responded quickly to meet user needs, and provided insight and transparency into our work to meet Administration priorities.
- In 2022, GSA used robotic process automation (RPA) to automate the CDC Community Level transmission data reporting for COVID-19. We created a bot to automatically pull data from the CDC website on the current CDC Community Level. This technology enables building managers to easily post accurate building signage each week without having to individually check the website for every building. We also launched a new internal tool to notify, track, and report COVID-19 incidents in GSA’s 8,000+ Federally-owned and leased facilities, and we continue to maintain our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) page to explain the safety protocols currently in place at GSA buildings and leased space across the nation.
- The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) allocated $3.5 billion to GSA for the modernization of twenty-six Land Ports of Entry. We quickly established a public webpage to share information about BIL projects, showcasing an interactive map to help users easily locate and learn about projects by State. As information needs change, we will continue to adapt this new resource to better serve project and user needs.
- GSA is a leader in the development of sustainability principles with innovative construction technologies, and created the Green Proving Ground (GPG) program in 2011 to help GSA make sound investment decisions in next-generation building technologies based on real-world performance. Since its inception, the GPG program has evaluated dozens of building technologies in real-world operational settings and has recommended the most promising for deployment within GSA’s real estate portfolio. By discovering best-of-breed innovative technologies early in their development and placing them strategically within Federal properties, GSA has become widely recognized as a leader in the commercial building industry and is able to make sound investment decisions that greatly benefit the American taxpayer. In so doing, the GPG program has become a catalyst for market transformation, and has prepared GSA to implement the sustainability initiatives outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
We have identified the following challenges to delivering a better digital experience:
- Coordination around platforms: Many of our sites and services are hosted on different platforms, use different content management systems, and implement common customer interactions and user experiences in different ways. It is much harder to implement rapid development, testing, and deployment on older platforms. By continuing to consolidate technology solutions, leverage shared services, and streamline content, we can improve our customers’ digital experience, share what we've done with others, and take advantage of innovations made by others.
- Coordination around content: Teams that jointly support a common business area should coordinate around customer-facing content development and management. This will improve the customer journey by making it easier for customers to find information and complete tasks when visiting GSA websites.
- Understanding the problem before building a solution: Programs often publish new content on their website without fully understanding the impact. Before publishing, teams should take time to curate existing content and determine if there are ways to make the existing content better. Curating content is harder than publishing something new, but it’s necessary, if we are to improve digital service delivery.
- Funding requests are for large dollar amounts and multi-year. Success is often measured by cost and schedule, and programs have challenges with measuring “performance” or delivery of value to users. The process is heavy and does not encourage low-risk, low-cost experiments or small, incremental investments. GSA has started experimenting with more incremental and streamlined funding approaches to projects, but this remains an area ripe for improvement.
- Adequately resourcing website managers and teams. GSA should provide teams with the time, space, and resources to be successful. This includes prioritizing activities such as meeting with end-users to get their feedback, conducting usability sessions, curating content, and communicating with stakeholders at all levels of the organization.
- Structuring contracts and post-award management for agile development. Contracts should be structured to support agile delivery using a descriptive statement of objectives, rather than a prescriptive statement of work, and incorporate a strong quality assurance surveillance plan (QASP) that is used to verify that work meets acceptable technical quality standards at the end of each sprint. In FY22, GSA kicked off a working group to address these challenges and many improvements are underway.
GSA has made tremendous strides over the past four years to mature our internal digital governance. By strengthening our management structure, and increasing accountability via performance management, we have been able to move the needle in several key areas of digital service delivery, including accessibility, mobile-friendliness, and consistency in look, feel, and functionality through adoption of USWDS.
Federal websites are the digital equivalent of our brick and mortar Federal buildings and should be resourced as such. Today’s Federal Government cannot function without our websites. When 21st Century IDEA was passed, there was no funding attached to the law. But with avenues such as the Technology Modernization Fund now available to support this type of work, and recent Executive orders underscoring the importance of digital service delivery, it would be tremendously helpful if OMB would issue guidance to agencies on how to better meet the requirements in the law, including focusing on the importance of collaboration, use of shared services, adoption of the U.S. Web Design System, and delivering best-in-class digital services. Clear direction from OMB to clarify expectations around how to comply with the law would go a long way toward helping web teams at GSA and across the Federal Government obtain the support they need to do this important work.
U.S. General Services Administration