Federal Agency public websites and digital services are the primary means by which the public receives information from and interacts with the Federal Government. These websites and services help the public apply for benefits, search for jobs, comply with Federal rules, obtain authoritative information, and much more. Federal websites and digital services should always meet and maintain high standards of effectiveness and usability and provide quality information that is readily accessible to all.
Federal Agency public websites and digital services are defined here as online information resources or services maintained in whole or in part by the departments and agencies in the Executive Branch of the U.S. Federal Government that are operated by an agency, contractor, or other organization on behalf of the agency. They provide government information or services to the public or a specific user group across a variety of delivery platforms and devices, and support the proper performance of an agency function.
Agencies' management of their public websites and digital services must continue to comply with all relevant Federal laws and policies.
- Establish Integral Digital Governance
A strong governance structure will help agencies develop coherent priorities, set up lines of accountability, and satisfy the public’s expectation of the best possible level of service. Agencies must manage their websites and digital services not as discrete individual IT projects, but as part of a comprehensive strategy covering all their digital information and services
- Use Analytics and User Feedback to Manage Websites and Digital Services
All public facing websites and digital services should be designed around user needs with datadriven analysis influencing management and development decisions. Agencies should use qualitative and quantitative data to determine user goals, needs, and behaviors, and continually test websites and digital services to ensure that user needs are addressed.
- Make Information Searchable and Discoverable
Search functions are now a universal and expected website feature the public commonly uses to find information. Furthermore, search engine optimization is critical to reaching users who primarily rely on commercial search engines to find information.
- Provide Open Data Public Engagement
Consistent with OMB Memorandum M-13-13, Open Data Policy—Managing Information as an Asset, agencies must disseminate information to the public, structured in a way that enables the data to be fully discoverable and usable.10 Open and publicly accessible data can increase public participation in government, promote transparency and accountability, and increase government operations’ efficiency and effectiveness.
- Provide Access to Government Information on Multiple Devices
Government information and services should be readily available to the public regardless of device. Agencies must, to the extent practicable, ensure that their public websites and digital services perform equally well on non-desktop devices such as mobile devices and tablets.
- Protect Privacy
The Federal Government necessarily creates, collects, uses, processes, stores, maintains, disseminates, discloses, and disposes of personally identifiable information (PII) to carry out missions mandated by Federal statute. The review of privacy risks should begin at the earliest planning and development stages of agency actions and policies that involve PII, and should continue throughout the life cycle of the information.
- Implement Information Security and Privacy Controls
Information technology changes rapidly and agencies must have the flexibility to address known and emerging threats while making continuous improvements.
- Use Secure Connections (HTTPS)
The public expects Federal Government websites to be secure and their interactions with those websites to be private. OMB Memorandum M-15-13, Policy to Require Secure Connections across Federal Websites and Web Services, requires that all publicly accessible Federal websites.
- Use Only Approved Domains
Currently, the primary way users quickly determine if they are on an official U.S. Government website is to look for the .gov or .mil designation as part of the domain name.23 The .gov and .mil domains are widely viewed as zones of increased trust, where the public can confidently access government information and services in a secure environment knowing that the site is legitimate and authoritative. Requiring Federal websites to be part of the .gov or .mil domain instills greater confidence in Federal Agency public websites and digital services.
- Comply with Third-Party Website and Application Requirements
Using third-party services such as social media and collaboration platforms is now a common business practice and helps to create a more robust, user-friendly, and interactive online experience. Agencies may use a third-party website or application at their discretion so long as the agencies comply with all relevant Federal laws and policies.
- Ensure Information Quality and Accuracy
The Internet enables agencies to communicate information quickly and easily to a wide audience, which, while of great benefit to society, also increases the potential harm that can result from disseminating incorrect information. Taking this into account, information disseminated from Federal Government websites and digital services, or from third-party services on behalf of the Government, is expected to be authoritative and reliable.
- Ensure Accessibility for Individuals with Disabilities
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, open new opportunities for people with disabilities, and encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.28 The law applies to all Federal departments and agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology29. Under Section 508, departments and agencies must ensure that employees and members of the public with disabilities have access to information and data that is comparable to access available to others unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency.
- Comply with Records Management
All Federal records on agency websites and third-party sites and applications must be properly managed. At a minimum, agencies must be able to identify, retrieve, and preserve Federal Agency records created and maintained on agency websites or third-party sites. These requirements apply until their business use has ended and the records are transferred to NARA or destroyed according to their disposition schedule. Agencies must also manage administrative records that provide evidence of how of their web and third-party programs are managed and operated. Agencies using third-party websites or services are responsible for managing and capturing Federal records created or received on those sites.
- Use Plain Writing
Web content is most effective when it is easy to understand, find, and use. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires agencies to draft all public-facing web and print documents in plain writing, calling for agency writing to be clear, concise, and well-organized.33 On April 13, 2011, OMB issued Memorandum, M-11-15, Final Guidance on Implementing the Plain Writing Act of 2010.
- Provide Multilingual Content
Agencies must already provide appropriate access for people with limited English proficiency by implementing Department of Justice guidance for Executive Order 13166, Improving Access to Services for People with Limited English Proficiency. 34 Agencies must use this guidance to determine which website content must be provided in other languages, based on their agency’s mission, analytics, and user feedback.
- Ensure Access to Mandatory Content
Laws, regulations, or other policies will occasionally mandate that agencies place certain links on their website. Agencies must respect and adhere to these statutory or executive-level mandates and incorporate these requirements in a manner that does not reduce the usability or performance of the agency’s website and digital services.
- Transition to Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6)
Agencies must remain up to date with major technical changes in internet protocol.
- Ensure a Consistent Look and Feel Across Websites
Common user interface components and visual styles help create a seamless transition across an agency’s websites and improve the ease with which the public can find information.