Somebody Left Obama’s Mic Open and We Learned That …

Somebody Left Obamas Mic Open and We Learned That

By: Daniel Jeffers - Search Engine Optimization - 2014

Federal IT is Horrible

We knew that. Before the inauguration, the Federal Web Managers Council sent him a letter saying (opens PDF) "we know we're horrible. We need your help, here are some ideas." A year ago they provided a progress report (opens PDF) saying "we need a lot more progress."

What They Want to Happen

The new executive order came out on April 27th, and calls for "Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service." It gives agencies 180 days to come up with a plan.

Highlights of what agencies need to put in their plan:

  • One major initiative that will use technology to improve the customer experience
  • Customer feedback mechanisms, including a system to use feedback regularly to make service improvements
  • Innovative technologies for customer service that will:
    • lower costs
    • decrease service delivery times
    • improve the customer experience

The memo explicitly refers to private industry best practices as a model.

The comments of Jeff Zients, Federal Chief Performance Officer, and Vivek Kundra, Federal Chief Information Officer give more insight into what the administration wants to happen:

"The president has made clear that now more than ever we need to make every taxpayer dollar count," Zients said. "He's also been clear that agencies cannot fall into the trap of viewing decreased funding levels as an excuse for the status quo or for accepting diminished service levels." (as quoted in NextGov)

In what seems to be a related comment, Zients said agencies should take the opportunity to streamline and consolidate the 20,000 odd websites they collectively operate. (FierceGovernment)

What Will Really Happen?

Increased expectations, reduced funding, and marginal relief from restrictive regulations are good starter ingredients for a soup of unintended consequences. I foresee a lot of defensive reporting, at the least.Each one of those 20,000 websites has some group of people who've spent a lot of time believing it's important. Consolidating websites has to address why those websites exist in the first place. If many of them overlap, it could be because the organizations that created them overlap. Base closings might be a good model for the level of difficulty we should expect. Consolidating websites may not improve user experience or lower costs. Putting a whole bunch of unrelated content under one URL structure often results in one un-navigable sprawling site that serves nobody well. Is there any chance that Federal sites can be as efficient as a private industry project? Federal agencies have to meet section 508, privacy, PRA restrictions, just to give a short start to a very long list. More importantly, they have to serve the harder to reach, less profitable audience segments. The ones that private industry can ignore.

What Does This Mean For You?

Federal web manager and communicators should stay close to what the OMB produces as part of their requirement to provide assistance. One website that should help is the new CIO.gov site, which includes a best practices section. If forced to make a guess, I would say that having any kind of existing pilot program with measurable results would be the best way to strengthen your position.

Non-profits, associations, and small businesses should think about what Federal agency websites you use as part of your business or service to members. If you partner with, or make heavy use of a Federal website, consider developing a strategy that could improve that interaction. Present it the agency. They will need suggestions, and you represent the audience they need to connect with. Shoot for that "one big innovation."

Contractors are very much part of the Federal agency online world. To stay relevant contractors need to find out what specific measures and practices are being adopted. If you have the resources to pitch the "one major initiative," you may get a lot of mileage and good will, even if it is never implemented. More importantly, keep close to the clients and make sure you have a demonstrated capacity to deliver whatever the new approach demands.

As a citizen, you have the power. Federal agency websites have been ordered to find out what you think. Don't waste the opportunity, what you want from Federal websites is probably what many others want as well.