Congress can open the door to true digital service delivery in government
© Getty Images

In recent years, the federal government’s digital landscape has transformed dramatically. As seen through agencies move to the cloud and the creation of digital service teams, government leaders have worked hard to establish a sound digital culture that transcends party lines and achieves mission-critical goals. The past few years have served as an inflection point in the federal government’s IT modernization journey, as policy mandates have pushed plans from vision to reality.

Despite these efforts, the federal government continues to struggle to modernize its citizen-facing digital services. The 2012 Digital Government Strategy provided the building blocks for a modern, 21st century digital government. The result was more cloud adoption, data center consolidation and cybersecurity, but less reimagining of citizen-facing services. According to the latest Forrester and American Customer Satisfaction Index, federal government service delivery ranks at or near the bottom of several key performance indicators including citizen satisfaction. This must change. The U.S. government must learn from the private sector where companies have made the delivery of digital services and customer experience a priority, backed by the creation of customer-service focused leadership positions, user-centric design and investments in mobile-friendly digital experience technology and processes.


One piece of legislation that could help agencies improve their citizen satisfaction ratings and accelerate their digital service delivery is the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA). This bipartisan, bicameral bill aims to take a user-centric approach to service delivery by mandating a digital, mobile-friendly option be offered for all federal websites, eliminating redundant paper-based workflows and forms and encouraging agencies to accelerate the use of electronic signatures. The 21st Century IDEA, sponsored by Reps. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Progressives push for changes to Pelosi drug pricing plan Khanna calls out progressives who haven't endorsed Lipinski challenger MORE (D-Calif.), John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeWe've lost sight of the real scandal US attorney recommends moving forward with charges against McCabe after DOJ rejects his appeal Hillicon Valley: Google to pay 0M to settle child privacy charges against YouTube | Tech giants huddle with intel officials on election security | Top IT official names China main cyber threat MORE (R-Texas) and Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanCost for last three government shutdowns estimated at billion The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE (R-Ohio) should be a top priority during the lame-duck session of Congress.

If this bill becomes a law, it will help agencies prioritize funding to quickly optimize their digital platforms to meet the customer service expectations of citizens, which were highlighted in a recent ITIF report, which showed 91 percent of government websites failed to perform well in at least one of the mobile friendliness, page load speed, security, accessibility categories. If 21st Century IDEA is enacted, agency heads and CIOs will be better prepared to quickly transform their websites, forms and internal processes to be more secure, searchable and accessible to citizens, while ensuring agencies and CIOs are held accountable.

Looking Ahead

As 21st Century IDEA nears the legislative finish line, we must begin to think now about what Congress can do to achieve the spirit of what 21st Century IDEA proposed – modernizing citizens interactions with government. Simply enacting IDEA is not enough, to reach its full potential Congress should review the requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) to ensure it is achieving its goal of reducing the paperwork burden. Why do we believe this is an issue? The President’s Management Agenda disclosed that the government’s more than 23,000 forms lead to more than 11.4 billion hours of paperwork annually. Reforming and modernizing the reporting functions of the 1995 PRA will enable agencies to more efficiently implement the 21st Century IDEA.

Beyond the PRA, we must ensure that implementation of 21st Century IDEA is a priority and that agencies are willing to allocate funding to meet the policy’s key objectives. Congress and OMB must offer federal agencies practical strategies to carry forth the vision of the Act, whether it’s prioritizing the use of funding vehicles such as leveraging an agencies IT Working Capital Funds, the Technology Modernization Fund or helping agencies emphasize funding for these critical citizen-centric digital requirements during the yearly budget planning process.

Integrating Digital Service Delivery for Years to Come

Over the past five years, the federal government has clearly gained momentum in its digital transformation efforts, with both the Obama and Trump administrations focusing on IT modernization and improving customer service in government. As we look ahead to the next five years, we know from a recent Accenture survey that more citizens will engage with government via digital platforms, including 44 percent of citizens that say they’ll place priority on smartphone access to government digital services. User interfaces will morph from keyboard and text messages to using voice and video. It’s critical that Congress implement 21st Century IDEA to ensure that the U.S. not only continues its ever-evolving digital transformation, but also maintains its position as a global driver of innovation and leader in citizen-centric digital service delivery.

Tony Scott is a former federal chief information officer for the U.S. Government