2023 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 2023.
Efforts to date
Building on the work we’ve done over the past 4 years, GSA continues to modernize our websites, improve usability and accessibility of digital products and services, and streamline our digital portfolio. We’ve rationalized websites and content, established a digital governance structure to coordinate across business lines, and trained our website managers to ensure they’re equipped with the knowledge they need to perform the important work of managing a GSA website. The release of OMB Memorandum M-23-22 Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience brings reinforced focus to our efforts.
Embracing the ideals of 21st Century IDEA
As this is our last annual report, we begin with a high-level assessment of our overall progress to adopt the ideals of 21st Century IDEA. We’ll then move on to stories showcasing specific accomplishments from this past year.
- Accessible: We’ve adopted an enterprise accessibility assessment tool and trained web teams in its use. We perform quarterly accessibility scans of every website, and regularly share accessibility reports and scores with web teams. We provide ad hoc recommendations to help teams meet accessibility requirements, and ensure each website contains all required accessibility links and content. We’ve seen accessibility scores go up year over year. GSA also co-leads the Federal implementation of Section 508, along with the U.S. Access Board, providing training and guidance to agencies on how to buy and build products and services that conform to the Revised 508 Standards.
- Consistent: We established an Enterprise Digital Experience (EDX) team to coordinate GSA’s implementation of 21st Century IDEA. Situated in GSA’s Office of Customer Experience, this team has been working for several years now to help GSA meet Federal web requirements, and in particular the items outlined in Section C of M-23-22, Customer Experience and Digital Service Delivery. We’ve matured the management and governance of GSA digital properties through creation of a Digital Council and Executive Board. We established an agency strategic goal to increase adoption of the U.S. Web Design System (USWDS), and have seen a steady increase, year over year. Greater adoption of the USWDS (specifically the banner, identifier, and footer components), and inclusion of required links and content are bringing more consistency to GSA’s digital presence. Our USWDS team supports and collaborates with design teams both at GSA, and across Government, to continually improve the USWDS program and accompanying implementation guidance.
- Unique: Since we began this work in earnest in 2019, GSA has reduced our inventory of active public-facing websites by 25 percent. We developed a Digital Lifecycle Program to ensure new sites and digital services are created with more deliberation and understanding of long-term support needs, managed according to Federal web requirements, and decommissioned in a way that causes minimal disruption to users. We’ve trained web teams on how to manage their website backlog, conduct content audits, and are continually improving content management and governance practices across the agency.
- Searchable: We continue to work with our web teams to install a search function (typically using Search.gov) on every public-facing GSA website, and optimize content to make it easier to find via commercial search engines. GSA’s Search.gov program provides a free-to-agencies search engine to help web teams across government meet this requirement.
- Secure: Security is always a top priority, and GSA sites are diligent in following all security requirements.
- Designed for users: GSA was the first Federal agency to appoint an agency-level Chief Customer Officer, and we continue to keep customers at the forefront of our work. We consult with GSA teams on human-centered design and research methods. We’re working to establish a common feedback mechanism on each website, and we employ an enterprise customer research platform to gather qualitative customer feedback. Experts in survey methodology review each external survey before distribution to ensure it’s designed to provide actionable feedback, and help teams with action planning once they’ve gathered data. GSA also offers extensive design guidance to agencies, including the Human-Centered Design Guide Series and 18F Methods. GSA co-leads several governmentwide digital communities of practice, to provide a platform for agencies to learn, collaborate, and share, and we provide training on a variety of topics. A vast majority of GSA websites use the Digital Analytics Program (DAP) to gather quantitative data, and we developed the Guide to the Digital Analytics Program to help agencies easily adopt DAP.
- Customizable: As a foundation to enable GSA to offer more customization, we’re designing more consistent login experiences for implementation on all GSA sites that have login functionality. This will provide users with a trusted and easy experience when logging into a GSA digital service. We’ve identified standardized login solutions based on user needs, including widespread use of Login.gov when appropriate. GSA also provides the Login.gov shared service to improve the login experience across Government.
- Mobile-friendly: According to analytics.usa.gov, more people now access Government websites from mobile devices than computers, so our teams have embraced responsive design, and we continue to design sites and edit content for consumption on small screens.
Strengthening management and governance
Here’s a sampling of specific successes and accomplishments in 2023, to illustrate the high- level progress noted above.
In 2023, all senior leaders at GSA were assigned digital experience performance goals, to improve accountability for management of their digital properties. In support of these goals, all our website managers attended a three-module orientation training program covering roles and responsibilities of GSA website managers, an introduction to service design, and an overview of Federal web policy requirements. Web manager position descriptions were also reviewed and updated to ensure web management duties were properly documented.
Assessing policy compliance
We continued to mature our Digital Lifecycle Program (DLP) and require all web teams to complete an annual self-assessment of their website against Federal requirements. This exercise provided each team with clear direction on how to bring their sites into compliance with 21st Century IDEA and other Federal web requirements. Our Enterprise Digital Experience (EDX) team identified six key performance indicators (USWDS implementation, mobile performance, accessibility, customer-centricity, presence of required links, and non-duplication with related sites), and evaluated 80 websites against these criteria in 2023. This is part of our 3-year effort to evaluate every GSA website, and provide teams with customized qualitative and quantitative analysis and recommendations. Many web teams have already taken action based on these evaluations.
Sharing our experiences
We published several articles on Digital.gov sharing our experiences to improve digital service delivery. EDX and the Digital.gov team also collaborated to publish resources on how to deliver modern digital services. These resources include the aforementioned Human- Centered Design Guides series, and curated topic collections and introductory resources for key policy areas such as accessibility, content, design, security, privacy, and trust, as required by M-23-22. We are also developing a version of our Digital Lifecycle Program for publication on Digital.gov, to share our processes and tools for assessing website compliance. Digital.gov also hosts seven governmentwide communities of practice for over 11,200 members to collaborate and share resources with others who are focused on building better digital-first public experiences.
Training our teams
We built capacity by training our web teams on key facets of website management, including how to conduct a content audit, how to manage a website backlog, and how to assess accessibility using our agency standard 508 testing tool. We leverage our internal digital community of practice to share regular communications, articles, and guidance on website management and modernization. Digital.gov also provides free events for partner agencies to build practitioners’ knowledge, skills, and abilities across Government web teams.
The Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) continued to mature digital governance with a new UX strategy that sets common goals and coordinates efforts to improve the user experience for citizens, customers, suppliers, and FAS employees. FAS also established a central content management office, hired two new content designers, and launched a user-centered content strategy, supported by a stakeholder governance committee, to make it easier for buyers and sellers to do business in the Federal marketplace. These strategies established a framework for improving acquisition services by better understanding user priorities, making information easier to find, and connecting teams across the organization to streamline decision-making and collaborate on content management and delivery.
We piloted a new User Experience (UX) team to help GSA deliver exceptional services and products to customers by improving the user experience and usability of our digital products. The team partnered with several GSA teams to embed UX practices into the product development process, refine project requirements through user research customers, and support acquisitions and contract evaluations.
Improving customer experience
Here are some examples of ways we’ve improved the experience of our customers.
Improving user experience and streamlining compliance
The GSA Center for Charge Card Management (CCCM) administers the Government charge card program, GSA SmartPayR. CCCM modernized their websites and launched the 889 Representations search tool to help procurement professionals and purchase card holders abide by the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act - Section 889, and secure the Federal supply chain. Originally developed by NASA, the tool shaves 95 percent off search time, or 2 minutes and 25 seconds on average, and is being used 7,500 times each business day—with a burden reduction of 75,000 hours annually. The new SmartPay program and training sites embody the goals of 21st Century IDEA—accessible to all, leveraging the USWDS, and building with and for users. We eliminated 500+ pages of content (75 percent) on the program site to ease user experience and provide a more intuitive information architecture.
Sharing the nation’s art
The Center of Fine Arts (CFA) administers the nation’s oldest and largest public arts collection, with over 26,000 artworks. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Art in Architecture program, GSA launched a new website that is easier for users to navigate and engage with GSA’s art collection, and easier for CFA to maintain. Site performance has increased and accessibility is 100 percent. More people are enjoying the collection—views increased from 5,694/month to 13,875/month.
Easing access to leasing tools
GSA’s new Leasing Portal provides a modern interface to all of our lease acquisition and administration tools. It consolidated three stand-alone tools (the Automated Advanced Acquisition Platform (AAAP), the Requirement Specific Acquisition Platform (RSAP), and the Tax Tool), bringing them into compliance with USWDS, and providing a contemporary, user-friendly interface. The migration enabled us to implement the high priority workflow improvements most requested by customers.
Helping agencies align space to workforce needs
The Public Buildings Service (PBS) recognized that the Federal workplace is changing as agencies lean into increased flexibility. To help agencies right-size their real estate footprint to reflect new distributed work patterns, and optimize their space for mission needs, PBS developed new offerings to showcase best practices for space consolidations, improved utilization, and physical space cost avoidance.
Improving intranet usability
OMB M-23-22 recommends that agencies “apply the requirements of the memo to internal- facing websites and digital services.” This year, several GSA teams updated hundreds of pages on InSite, GSA’s official internal website. In particular, our IT shop completed a massive content audit of 400 pages, removed over 130 pages as part of the review, and redesigned over 100 pages, incorporating web design best practices to improve internal user experience. The team leveraged web analytics to identify topics to keep or eliminate, and followed accessibility best practices as they rebuilt pages, improving site navigation and readability for assistive technology. It’s now easier for GSA employees to find the content they need for IT solutions and services.
Modernizing GSA contracting
Getting support contracts “right” leads to much better outcomes.
Structuring contracts to support agile delivery
We conducted an internal review of IT support contracts to identify best practices and challenges, and to address a challenge identified in this review, as well as challenges noted in GSA’s FY22 report, CCCM piloted an agile acquisition contracting approach for GSA leveraging the approach advocated in the 18F de-risking guides. This contract used a Statement of Objectives, which described the work to be done, but not how to do it, which supports agile development. It included a strong Quality Assurance Surveillance Plan (QASP) that GSA engineers use to ensure code quality. We awarded a contract to a small business based on evaluation criteria that included past project code and user research plan reviews. This procurement was a success, and the contracting approach is now being used by other GSA teams.
Considering user needs in contract evaluations
The Federal Coworking initiative, launched by the Public Buildings Service (PBS) in FY23 allows Federal employees to work in shared spaces, and is available in six prototype locations nationwide. The team needed a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) desk / conference room reservation system to allow Federal employees to reserve space. The procurement included user experience as an evaluation criteria of the COTS products. GSA provided sandbox access to 12 users and asked them to complete common tasks, such as finding a room and booking it, and rate their experience. The end-user feedback was instrumental in evaluating and awarding the contract to the winning vendor.
Progress on meeting OMB guidance
When OMB released M-23-22 in September 2023, we had already fulfilled (or were making great progress on) several required agency actions called out in the new guidance.
Fulfilling required agency actions
We had already identified GSA’s public-facing websites. For several years, GSA has maintained our agency’s website inventory in the Digital Registry in Touchpoints, and GSA website managers reviewed and validated the data in September 2023. We’d also identified our top websites and inventoried public-facing services. The Digital.gov team and GSA web policy experts had already begun developing expanded resources in anticipation of the release of the new OMB guidance.
As of the publication of this report, we’re working to meet the additional requirements laid out for GSA in the OMB guidance, including updating the website standards, publishing updated plain language guidelines, facilitating industry collaboration, making it easier to buy, identifying opportunities to enhance shared digital offerings, and developing and maintaining a Federal Services Index.
We’ve identified the following key challenges to delivering a better digital experience.
- Properly resourcing the work. Managing a Federal website is a complex undertaking, requiring vast knowledge and specialized skills. Ideally, each website would be staffed with a website manager who is supported by a team of people able to adequately maintain the website commensurate with evolving customer needs and ongoing policy responsibilities. However, one quarter of our website managers are currently tasked to manage more than one website, and many teams struggle with capacity to meet the myriad of requirements. This poses a risk to our ability to fully meet customer needs and adhere to policy requirements.
- Centering procurements around user needs. For both custom development and COTS purchases, GSA should continue to seek to understand user needs and incorporate those needs into the procurement approach. In FY24, we plan to implement a user-centered procurement approach at GSA, and will be developing recommendations for teams to ensure new technology project acquisitions are optimized for meeting 21st Century IDEA and delivering good user experiences.
GSA has made great progress in the past five years. The release of guidance from OMB offers clarity on the work ahead of us, and re-emphasizes GSA’s role to in turn provide guidance and direction to other Federal agencies.
So we will continue to lead by example and embody the goals of 21st Century IDEA in GSA’s websites and digital services. We will tell our stories and share our successes and lessons learned, so our colleagues across the Government can learn from our work. As technology and policy evolve, we will continue to focus on the needs of our customers as our north star, to rebuild trust in Government, meet our mission, and serve our fellow Americans to the best of our ability.
You can read past reports on GSA’s progress to meet 21st Century IDEA on our digital strategy page on GSA.gov.
U.S. General Services Administration