Nov 29 2023
Digital Workspace

What New Federal Digital Experience Guidance Means for Agencies

With deadlines in place, funding remains the biggest challenge.

The White House wants agencies to ensure they’re providing easy-to-use, trustworthy, accessible information to improve how they communicate with citizens, which is why it issued digital experience guidance in September.

Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience,” the guidance released by the Office of Management and Budget, serves as a framework for agencies, offering actions and standards for modernizing websites and other digital services.

The document is considered implementation guidance for the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (21st Century IDEA), the 2018 law that provided agencies with a roadmap for digital transformation and improving customer experience but lacked hard deadlines for increasing the use of services such as electronic signatures.

“In issuing the new guidance, hopefully we'll see more of an acceleration of adoption of electronic signatures as a primary way of signing documents,” says David Santiago, head of industry for public sector at Adobe.

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OMB Sets Digital Experience Deadlines for Agencies

Electronic signatures became a “lifeline” for some agencies that used them to maintain continuity of operations during the pandemic, despite the 21st Century IDEA not mandating they be the primary means of signing documents, Santiago says.

OMB’s guidance requires agencies to use and accept electronic signatures “when practicable,” avoid unnecessary signature requirements, provide digital equivalents for submitting information and transacting with government “to the greatest extent practicable,” and use identity verification when greater assurance is needed.

Agencies were given 180 days from the memo’s release, until March 20, 2024, to address its requirements — including those for electronic signatures.

EXPLORE: Agencies onboarding contractors need more diverse authentication technologies.

Other areas of guidance include prioritizing the design of adaptable digital forms and digitization of paper forms that keep data collected digitally, end to end, as well as website consolidation. The latter ensures a consistent website look and feel, robust search capabilities, websites that are user-centered and secure by design, and customized personal experiences, Santiago says.

To help with implementation, the memo gave agencies one month to appoint a digital experience delivery lead; three months to identify their public-facing websites; and six months to assess top websites, duplicative content and tasks that are candidates for self-service while creating an inventory of public-facing services.

Breaking down the guidance further, the memo sets these additional deadlines:

  • The General Services Administration had until Nov. 21 to expand resources on gov
  • The federal CIO Council has until Dec. 21 to establish a Digital Experience Council
  • GSA has until March 20 to update federal website standards
  • The Plain Language Action and Information Network has until March 20 to update the Federal Plain Language Guidelines
  • GSA has until March 20 to host a 21st Century IDEA industry day, make it easier for agencies to buy digital services, identify opportunities for shared digital offerings and develop a Federal Services Index
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Funding Is the Biggest Challenge to Improving the Digital Experience

While deadlines will help accelerate agencies’ improvement of their digital experiences, the government still must ensure the 21st Century IDEA isn’t an unfunded mandate. That’s the biggest challenge to improving the customer experience in government and requires more federal direction due to agencies’ competing IT priorities and scarce resources, Santiago says.

“I don't know if agencies will be specifically allocated funding,” he says. “My sense, what I've heard from OMB, is that there's a desire to move away from silos of excellence within agencies and to really improve CX more broadly across the enterprise.”

When an agency is providing a good digital experience, that means scaling it across the enterprise, Santiago adds.

The Technology Modernization Fund board issued a call for project proposals aimed at implementing the 21st Century IDEA’s web accessibility and form digitization recommendations, with the intent of funding some.

LEARN MORE: Agencies are turning toward automation for efficiency.

High-impact service providers such as the IRS, which have the biggest effect on citizens’ daily lives, especially need to improve their CX. That entails stronger program and project management practices and potentially the introduction of a scorecard similar to the one used by the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, Santiago says.

Vendors such as Adobe can assist agencies wherever they are along the digital maturity curve, often initially by moving from paper to digital forms and signatures. From there, agencies can consider automating more advanced permitting, procurement and HR processes.

“We have been working with certain agencies to improve their grant management processes, leveraging electronic signature and digital automation capabilities,” Santiago says. “We’ve seen that have a significant impact on how the agency processes grants as well as on the experience of their grant recipients.”

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