How to Make Progress on Digital Forms and Modern Websites
Under 21st Century IDEA, agencies are not required to provide information about their transition to web-based forms. Of the agencies that have provided specific numbers on how many forms they have made available in a compliant digital format — the Defense, Treasury and Veterans Affairs departments — “all report significantly lower numbers than the total number of forms our assessment found associated with each agency, indicating that agencies use a narrow definition of which of their forms are ‘related to serving the public,’” the ITIF report found.
For example, while ITIF’s assessment found 1,159 total forms associated with DOD, the DOD “claimed in its most recent 21st Century IDEA report that it has digitized all 139 of its forms related to serving the public,” ITIF states in the report.
ITIF found that only 2 percent of government forms in its sample are “fully compliant as an online form” and that “78 percent are partially compliant as a fillable PDF.”
“Most executive agencies have made significant progress toward making their forms available as fillable PDFs,” the report states. “But, although users may be able to fill out and submit these forms without printing, as long as the forms have e-signatures enabled, which most did not, this format does not fully comply with 21st Century IDEA’s mobile-friendliness requirement.”
The fault may not be entirely with the agencies themselves, ITIF suggests, noting that the Office of Management and Budget has not produced guidance for agencies to comply with 21st Century IDEA, as required by the law.
The law required OMB to issue implementation guidance by June 18, 2019, and members of Congress again asked on May 6, 2021, for guidance by June 20, 2021, according to ITIF.
“Both of those deadlines have now passed. It is likely that, without implementation guidance, agencies will continue to struggle to fully comply with 21st Century IDEA’s requirements,” the report states. “Moreover, as agencies continue to create forms without guidance, they will likely create many that do not comply with the law, which will create more unnecessary work for them in the future to recreate those forms in a mobile-friendly and accessible format.”
ITIF recommended that OMB issue implementation guidance for the law and that Congress hold oversight hearings on agencies’ compliance with 21st Century IDEA. ITIF also recommends that the Technology Modernization Board should issue grants to incentivize agencies to use login.gov, and that OMB should direct federal agencies to discontinue the use of fax machines.
How Technology Can Help Agencies Digitize Forms
Various technologies can help agencies accelerate the process of digitizing forms and making them accessible to government users and citizens alike.
Document management involves the “use of a computer system and software to store, manage and track electronic documents and electronic images of paper-based information captured through the use of a document scanner,” according to the Association for Intelligent Information Management.
An electronic document management system lets agencies store, access, index, search, retrieve, archive and delete documents. An EDMS is designed to let agencies convert physical documents into electronic forms that can be stored and accessed quickly.
Longstanding tools can also help agency IT teams transform paper forms and legacy processes into digital ones. As Adobe notes on its website, its Adobe Acrobat tool can help in this regard: “Whether it’s a scan of an existing manual document or a simple line form made with Microsoft Word, you can use the Prepare Form tool to create digital forms from your existing documents. Acrobat automatically recognizes form fields for things like text entries, checkboxes, radio buttons, and signatures.”
Adobe also points to its Adobe Experience Manager Forms solution as a way to enable agencies to author “web and mobile-responsive forms and documents via a create once, publish anywhere experience,” according to a 2018 report from the company and research firm IDC.
Adobe notes that while AEM Forms can be used for simple, transaction-based interactions, the solution can also be used “to simplify and streamline the complex transactions seen in regulated industries and government services,” with typical use cases including customer enrollment and onboarding, employee onboarding, customer service, and customer communications.