Requirements for delivering a digital-first public experience

Understand the policy framework: 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act and OMB Memo M-23-22

What is 21st Century IDEA?

The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, otherwise known as 21st Century IDEA, was a bipartisan act signed into law in December 2018.

In September 2023, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued M-23-22, Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience. In part, this memo provides further policy guidance to help agencies fully implement 21st Century IDEA. The law and policy guidance collectively establish a framework and the requirements for a digital-first public experience.

For the policy guidance, read more in the fact sheet, Building Digital Experiences for the American people.

Why is it important?

Each year, the federal government provides information and services to more than 400 million individuals, families, businesses, and organizations. And according to analytics.usa.gov, there are about 2 billion visits to federal websites each month, representing over 80 billion hours of interactions with the public. Over 50% of these visits occur on mobile devices.

Digitally is now the default way the public wants to interact with the government. [1] More than ever, digital experiences are central to federal agencies’ mission delivery. And of course, the public expects their digital interactions with the government to be on par with their favorite consumer websites and mobile apps.

Delivering a digital-first public experience is a significant opportunity to improve the lives of millions by making it easier to access the information and services they use and count on each and every day.

What’s in the law?

21st Century IDEA requires all executive branch agencies to:

  • Modernize their websites
  • Digitize services and forms
  • Accelerate use of e-signatures
  • Improve customer experience
  • Standardize and transition to centralized shared services

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act or the 21st Century IDEA.

SEC. 2. DEFINITIONS.

In this Act:

  1. Director.–The term ‘Director’ means the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
  2. Executive agency.–The term ’executive agency’ has the meaning given the term ‘Executive agency’ in section 105 of title 5, United States Code.

SEC. 3. WEBSITE MODERNIZATION.

A. Requirements for New Websites and Digital Services.–Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, an executive agency that creates a website or digital service that is intended for use by the public, or conducts a redesign of an existing legacy website or digital service that is intended for use by the public, shall ensure to the greatest extent practicable that any new or redesigned website, web-based form, web-based application, or digital service–

  1. is accessible to individuals with disabilities in accordance with section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794d);
  2. has a consistent appearance;
  3. does not overlap with or duplicate any legacy websites and, if applicable, ensure that legacy websites are regularly reviewed, eliminated, and consolidated;
  4. contains a search function that allows users to easily search content intended for public use;
  5. is provided through an industry standard secure connection;
  6. is designed around user needs with data-driven analysis influencing management and development decisions, using qualitative and quantitative data to determine user goals, needs, and behaviors, and continually test the website, web-based form, web-based application, or digital service to ensure that user needs are addressed;
  7. provides users of the new or redesigned website, web-based form, web-based application, or digital service with the option for a more customized digital experience that allows users to complete digital transactions in an efficient and accurate manner; and
  8. is fully functional and usable on common mobile devices.

B. Requirements for Existing Executive Agency Websites and Digital Services.–Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the head of each executive agency that maintains a website or digital service that is made available to the public shall–

  1. review each website or digital service; and

  2. submit to Congress a report that includes–

    • (A.) a list of the websites and digital services maintained by the executive agency that are most viewed or utilized by the public or are otherwise important for public engagement;
    • (B.) from among the websites and digital services listed under subparagraph (A), a prioritization of websites and digital services that require modernization to meet the requirements under subsection (a); and
    • (C.) an estimation of the cost and schedule of modernizing the websites and digital services prioritized under subparagraph (B).

C. Internal Digital Services.–The head of each executive agency shall ensure, to the greatest extent practicable, that any Intranet established after the date of enactment of this Act conforms to the requirements described in subsection (a).

D. Public Reporting.–Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act and every year thereafter for 4 years, the head of each executive agency shall–

  1. report annually to the Director on the progress of the executive agency in implementing the requirements described in this section for the previous year; and
  2. include the information described in paragraph (1) in a publicly available report that is required under another provision of law.

E. Compliance With United States Website Standards.–Any website of an executive agency that is made available to the public after the date of enactment of this Act shall be in compliance with the website standards of the Technology Transformation Services of the General Services Administration.

SEC. 4. DIGITIZATION OF GOVERNMENT SERVICES AND FORMS.

A. Non-Digital Services.–Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Director shall issue guidance to the head of each executive agency that establishes a process for the executive agency to–

  1. identify public non-digital, paper-based, or in-person Government services; and

  2. include in the budget request of the executive agency–

    • (A.) a list of non-digital services with the greatest impact that could be made available to the public through an online, mobile-friendly, digital service option in a manner that decreases cost, increases digital conversion rates, and improves customer experience; and
    • (B.) an estimation of the cost and schedule associated with carrying out the modernization described in subparagraph (A).

B. Services Required To Be Digital.–The head of each executive agency shall regularly review public-facing applications and services to ensure that those applications and services are, to the greatest extent practicable, made available to the public in a digital format.

C. Forms Required To Be Digital.–Not later than 2 years after the enactment of this Act, the head of each executive agency shall ensure that any paper based form that is related to serving the public is made available in a digital format that meets the requirements described in section 3(a).

D. Non-Digitizable Processes.–If the head of an executive agency cannot make available in a digital format under this section an in-person Government service, form, or paper-based process, the head of the executive agency shall document–

  1. the title of the in-person Government service, form, or paper-based process;
  2. a description of the in-person Government service, form, or paper-based process;
  3. each unit responsible for the in-person Government service, form, or paper-based process and the location of each unit in the organizational hierarchy of the executive agency;
  4. any reasons why the in-person Government service, form, or paper-based process cannot be made available under this section; and
  5. any potential solutions that could allow the in-person Government service, form, or paper-based process to be made available under this section, including the implementation of existing technologies, procedural changes, regulatory changes, and legislative changes.

E. Physical Availability.–Each executive agency shall maintain an accessible method of completing digital services through in-person, paper-based, or other means, such that individuals without the ability to use digital services are not deprived of or impeded in access to those digital services.

SEC. 5. ELECTRONIC SIGNATURES.

Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the head of each executive agency shall submit to the Director and the appropriate congressional committees a plan to accelerate the use of electronic signatures standards established under the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (15 U.S.C. 7001 et seq.).

SEC. 6. CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE AND DIGITAL SERVICE DELIVERY.

The Chief Information Officer of each executive agency, or a designee, shall–

  1. coordinate and ensure alignment of the internal and external customer experience programs and strategy of the executive agency;
  2. coordinate with the management leaders of the executive agency, including the head of the executive agency, the Chief Financial Officer, and any program manager, to ensure proper funding to support the implementation of this Act;
  3. continually examine the digital service delivery strategy of the executive agency to the public and submit recommendations to the head of the executive agency providing guidance and best practices suitable to the mission of the executive agency;
  4. using qualitative and quantitative data obtained from across the executive agency relating to the experience and satisfaction of customers, identify areas of concern that need improvement and improve the delivery of customer service;
  5. coordinate and ensure, with the approval of the head of the executive agency, compliance by the executive agency with section 3559 of title 44, United States Code; and
  6. to the extent practicable, coordinate with other agencies and seek to maintain as much standardization and commonality with other agencies as practicable in implementing the requirements of this Act, to best enable future transitions to centralized shared services.

SEC. 7. STANDARDIZATION.

A. Design and Implementation.–Each executive agency shall, to the extent practicable, seek to maintain as much standardization and commonality with other executive agencies as practicable in implementing the requirements of this Act to best enable future transitions to centralized shared services.

B. Coordination.–The Chief Information Officer of each executive agency, or a designee, shall coordinate the implementation of the requirements of this Act, including the development of standards and commonalities.

C. Federal Supply Schedule.–

  1. In general.–The General Services Administration shall make available under a Federal Supply Schedule the systems and services necessary to fulfill the requirements of this Act.
  2. Requirements.–The Federal Supply Schedule described in paragraph (1) shall, to the extent practicable, ensure interoperability between executive agencies, compliance with industry standards, and adherence to best practices for design, accessibility, and information security.

Note: The link below opens a .pdf file hosted on Congress.gov. It is 246 KB in size and four pages long.

View the full legislation

What does it mean to modernize websites?

OMB’s policy guidance (M-23-22) requires that agencies ensure their websites, web applications, digital services, and mobile applications conform to the following requirements and principles:

  1. Accessible to people of diverse abilities
  2. Consistent visual design and agency brand identity
  3. Content that is authoritative and easy to understand
  4. Information and services that are discoverable and optimized for search
  5. Secure by design, secure by default
  6. User-centered and data-driven design
  7. Customized and dynamic user experiences
  8. Mobile-first design that scales across varying device sizes

Note: For footnotes, view the full policy guidance as a web page.

Section III. DELIVERING A DIGITAL-FIRST PUBLIC EXPERIENCE

A. Requirements for Websites and Digital Services

Federal websites and digital services serve agencies’ missions and help users find the information and support they need. Agencies should ensure their websites, including web applications, digital services, and mobile applications, conform to the requirements and principles described below to design and deliver a high-quality, integrated digital experience that is simple, seamless, and secure across agencies for all users.

1. Accessible to People of Diverse Abilities

The Federal Government serves people of all abilities. In designing their websites and digital services, agencies must strive from the start to maximize access and usability so the widest possible range of people may reach and interact with the government through its websites and digital services.

  • Design accessible experiences: Agencies should design websites and digital services to be usable by all people, including those with disabilities, without the need for adaptation or specialized design, to the greatest extent possible.
  • Follow accessibility standards: Agencies subject to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 must make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities in accordance with statute and must comply with accessibility standards as specified by Section 508.5 In addition to the accessibility standards required by Section 508, agencies should apply the most current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to websites and web applications, where possible.6
  • Test for accessibility: Agencies should incorporate accessibility testing into website updates and release processes to address issues detected in testing before code is released. Accessibility testing should include automated scanning, manual testing of websites, and usability testing with people with disabilities, as well as testing with users of adaptive technologies. Because automated testing tools are limited and can only detect some accessibility issues, agencies should incorporate manual testing of websites and digital services to cover all accessibility requirements.
  • Conduct inclusive research: Agencies should incorporate the needs of individuals with disabilities into the design and development of websites and digital services, and should include individuals with disabilities in usability testing of new tools or features. Considering the needs of individuals with disabilities early and often through user research demonstrates a commitment to accessibility that goes beyond baseline compliance.
  • Promote accessibility and welcome feedback: Agencies should develop and publish an accessibility statement that provides a public feedback mechanism to contact the agency in case a user encounters problems and wishes to seek assistance or report an accessibility issue.7

2. Consistent Visual Design and Agency Brand Identity

Members of the public depend on the Federal Government for authoritative and trustworthy information and services that they cannot get from any other entity. It is critical that the public knows when they are accessing information from the Federal Government, utilizing a Federal Government service, or communicating with someone who represents the Federal Government.

Trust in Federal Government information and services depends on the public’s ability to distinguish between government and non-governmental entities and information. Clear and consistent use of an agency’s brand identity and the visual design of its websites and digital services helps the public to identify official Federal Government entities, information, and services. This includes consistent and standardized use of everything that comprises the look and feel of an agency’s product or service (such as a logo or seal, color palette, typeface, imagery, voice and tone, or product or service name). Design systems are tools for standardizing and maintaining brand identity and ensuring a consistent look and feel across channels, including websites and digital services.

  • Use the United States Web Design System: Agencies should use the United States Web Design System (USWDS) to ensure a consistent appearance across public-facing websites and digital services. All public-facing websites and digital services must comply with the Federal website standards8 published by the Technology Transformation Services of the General Services Administration (GSA) which incorporate the USWDS.9
  • Establish and maintain agency brand identities: Agencies are responsible for establishing and maintaining appropriate brand identities (e.g., use of an agency’s seal or logo) for themselves (or their individual components, offices, or programs)10 and their respective websites and digital services. Agencies should not establish unnecessary brand and product identities, or multiple uncoordinated identities, that could create public confusion (such as using an internal-facing project or program name for the name of a public-facing digital service).
  • Apply agency brand design consistently: Agencies should ensure that websites and digital services use appropriate brand identity in a consistent manner, including when an agency uses a third-party website or web application (such as a social media platform) to communicate.11 Agency websites and digital services should have a cohesive, consistent look and feel that is aligned with agency design and branding guidelines. Agencies should establish internal control processes to ensure that all public-facing websites and digital services are checked for consistency prior to public release.
  • Centralize visual design and brand identity resources: Agencies should maintain a design page (e.g., [agency].gov/design or design.[agency].gov) that centralizes information about the agency’s visual design and brand identity standards with relevant policies and guidelines on how to use various design elements (e.g., logos, seals, emblems, insignia, name, color specifications, typography, imagery) to ensure the design standards are used appropriately and consistently within and across the agency.
  • Use a government domain name: Agencies generally must use a .gov or .mil domain name for public-facing websites and digital services that are used for official communication.12 Agencies may use third-party services whose domain names do not end in .gov or .mil for official communications when doing so is necessary to effectively interact with the public. Examples of such third-party services include social media services, source code collaboration, and vulnerability disclosure reporting systems. When utilizing third-party services for official communication, agencies should use appropriate brand identity as well as use and expose a .gov or .mil email address to verify for the public which entity is communicating or providing the underlying information or service.13
  • Understand user perception: Agencies should conduct customer and user research, qualitatively and quantitively, to better understand their customers’ and users’ interpretations and understanding of their brand and other trusted elements of their individual components, offices, or programs across channels, especially for websites and digital services, email, text/SMS, and social media, because these are the primary channels the public uses to engage and interact with government online.
  • Reduce user friction by limiting warnings: Agencies should simplify the user experience to reduce friction for users. In general, agencies should avoid the use of unnecessary pop-ups, modals, overlays, interstitials, and other messages that interrupt the user experience and impede the user from completing a task, unless it is a necessary part of the design of the user experience (e.g., a warning before permanently deleting an item) or is otherwise required by law. When determining whether or not to use a warning, agencies should consider the urgency of the information and whether a user action is required as a result of the message.
  • Do not alarm or frighten your users in ways that erode trust: Agencies should consider how legal, security, and error messages are presented and conveyed to users. Agencies should avoid using a tone in their notices to users (such as about access, authorized use, or monitoring) that may have the unintended consequences of eroding trust and impacting the ability of users to successfully transact or engage with government.14 Instead, agencies should provide notice in a way that communicates the information clearly and with a tone that still welcomes appropriate engagement with the website or digital service. To the extent appropriate, agencies should convey necessary legal and other required information (such as about acceptable use and access conditions, government responsibilities to the user, or other responsibilities associated with using the website or digital service) in a centralized manner.15

3. Content That Is Authoritative and Easy to Understand

The Federal Government produces a large amount of official and authoritative information not available from other entities. This content serves many purposes and audiences, helping the public obtain services from agencies or answers to their questions. Agencies are responsible for the content they disseminate and should take affirmative steps to maximize its quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity.16 Poor information quality reduces public trust, introduces confusion that could negatively impact individuals who seek government information and services, and hinders government operations.

For agency websites and digital services, content can easily become outdated or abandoned over time without strong internal agency controls to ensure that information is timely and accurate. Duplicative websites and content can also be problematic because they may cause public confusion (about, for example, which answer is the right one) or obscure the most appropriate content (by, for example, making it unclear which agency is positioned to give an authoritative answer). Regular agency review (and interagency coordination and review, as appropriate) of content is necessary to ensure that outdated, inaccurate, or duplicative information does not negatively impact the public. Proper content strategy should provide consistent answers to commonly asked questions and other top-trafficked web content, and those answers should be accurate, targeted to the appropriate audience, and non-duplicative.

3 a. One Answer

  • Remove outdated content: Agencies should address outdated and inaccurate content as soon as practicable. At the same time, agencies should be cognizant of potentially relevant obligations and policies,17 such as the need to provide adequate notice when initiating, substantially modifying, or terminating significant information that the public may be using (such as historical information); removal of information that is useful to the public can also negatively impact trust.18 When removing content, where appropriate, agencies should create redirects (e.g., an HTTP 301) to direct the public and search engines to new or more accurate content.

  • Do not publish duplicative content: Agencies should avoid unnecessary duplication and repetition of content or similarly related content and should establish processes to review and deduplicate content across websites within their agency as well as across government for cross-agency information and services, whenever possible. Similar content on multiple websites may be appropriate when those websites serve different audiences or user needs.19 However, duplication can create confusion when the information is not consistent, and can impose extra cost and effort to maintain.

  • Retire duplicate websites and digital services: Agencies should decommission or consolidate websites and digital services that duplicate content or functionality. Each website, digital service, and piece of content should serve the express purposes of the organization and identified wants and needs of users, and users should feel confident that they are being directed to appropriate content and tools when they seek to take advantage of an agency’s informational or transactional services.

  • Get user feedback on content: Agencies should provide a feedback mechanism for users to report satisfaction or dissatisfaction with each web page or piece of web content, which enables the public to identify potentially inaccurate, outdated, confusing, or duplicative content. Agencies are encouraged to continuously monitor, measure, and optimize content for performance so the public get the answers they need.

    3 b. Plain Language

Federal agencies should publish content online so the public can find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to meet their needs. Ideally, content should be designed and written so it is conversational, structured, and scannable by users.

  • Write content in plain language: The Plain Writing Act of 2010 prescribes requirements for the writing style of a wide range of electronic and paper documents prepared by agencies.20 Agencies must use plain language for any document that is necessary for obtaining any Federal Government service or benefit, provides information about a Federal Government service or benefit, or explains to the public how to comply with requirements the Federal Government administers or enforces.21 In addition to meeting the Act’s requirements, each agency should, to the extent practicable, write content for websites and digital services in accordance with Federal Plain Language Guidelines.22

  • Write and test content for the intended audience: Agencies should write online content for the intended target audience and should routinely review online content to make sure it is easy for the audience to read and understand. Agencies should test online content with the intended target audience before and after publishing. When writing online content for the general public, agencies should produce material that is fully comprehensible to the average reader, who reads at an eighth-grade level23 and generally prefers to read online content at levels lower than that. If the target audience is composed of experts (e.g., scientists), a higher reading level may be appropriate. If the target audience is people who may have trouble reading (e.g., low reading literacy, people with cognitive disabilities), then a lower reading level may be more ideal.

  • Write content in conversational language: Agencies should write online content with an active voice; use clear and concise sentences; avoid slang, jargon, and acronyms; and use logical organization and informational headings. Agencies should write conversationally, like regular people talk to each other.

  • Avoid unnecessary “legalese”: Unnecessary legal jargon may inhibit public comprehension. When publishing content for websites and digital services, agencies should consider possible ways to balance competing needs for readability and legal precision. For example, an agency might publish a highly technical webpage on a legal issue for an expert audience, but also publish a complementary page that addresses the same issue in more easily understandable terms for a general audience.

    3 c. Translation and Localization

Many members of the public who interact with Federal agencies have limited-English proficiency (LEP) or use a language other than English. Agencies may in some circumstances be required by statute or Executive order to provide information and services in multiple languages. Even in the absence of such an obligation, agencies should ensure that websites and digital services are offered in languages that meet the needs of their customers.

  • Consider limited English proficiency: Agencies should examine websites and digital services to ensure content is written and implemented so that LEP users can meaningfully access those services consistent with, and without unduly burdening, the fundamental mission of the agency.24

  • Translate or localize content: Agencies must translate content when required by law and should translate or adapt content based on user needs to more effectively communicate with people served by the website or digital service.25 If a significant portion of the target audience speaks a language other than English, translation or localization and developing multilingual content for a website or digital service should be a priority. Agencies should develop an internal strategy for developing and managing multilingual content in conjunction with the information architecture of their websites and digital services.

  • Do not rely on auto-translation alone: Agencies should utilize human-based multilingual content creation and test with native language speakers to verify accuracy and to understand cultural context instead of relying solely upon machine translation services (e.g., services where a computer algorithm translates text automatically into another language without human assistance or review).

    3 d. Content Governance

The public should not be overly burdened with the responsibility to determine which online content published by the Federal Government is most current or most appropriate for their needs when published content differs or conflicts. While the members of the public are always free to draw their own conclusions, agencies should take steps to reduce the cognitive burden or potential uncertainty that users might experience while also ensuring the quality and accuracy of the information they publish online. Accomplishing this at an enterprise level means establishing internal controls and management practices for the publishing of high-quality, authoritative information the public can rely on.

  • Establish an enterprise content strategy: Agencies should develop internal content design and editorial guidance, including content creation guidelines, information architecture standards, and standardized language for common terms and phrases, to reduce the effort required by individual agency components, website managers, or digital delivery teams to develop or update web content on a regular basis.

  • Establish a content management system strategy: Agencies should utilize content management systems (CMS) with automated editorial workflows to support ongoing review and quality control of content published on websites and digital services. Agencies should develop an enterprise-wide approach to content management systems and should consolidate and reduce existing content management systems, where appropriate, to reduce cost and complexity.

  • Establish content review controls: Agencies should establish internal control processes to regularly review websites and digital services to ensure that content is current, accurate, useful, and authoritative and not outdated, inaccurate, useless, or duplicative. At a minimum, any web content that is not actively maintained should be reviewed no less than once every three years from initial publication or date of the last review to determine if there are opportunities to consolidate or remove outdated content. Agencies are encouraged to publish the following on each agency web page: last updated date, next review date, author or program owner, reviewer author or office, or other markers that provide transparency and build trust with users.

  • Involve subject matter experts: Agency control processes should ensure that decisions regarding content, especially the removal or modification of existing content, are informed by persons knowledgeable of the content (such as subject matter experts)26 and, to the extent practicable, the target audience of the content.

  • Clearly label non-governmental content: Agencies should establish processes to label or distinguish non-governmental content (e.g., third-party information or research, user-generated content) that is disseminated on an agency website or digital service, including links to third-party websites,27 in a manner that minimizes the impact of such labeling on the usability of their websites and digital services.28

    3 e. Public Awareness Campaigns

To better inform the public of government information and services, agencies may need to use websites and digital services to promote awareness of government services, benefits, and programs.

  • Ensure campaigns are strategic and time-bound: Consistent with applicable law, agencies may establish campaigns (e.g., informational, public awareness, public affairs) to communicate with the public about an issue, service, benefit, or opportunity. However, online campaigns should be time-bound, strategic, and measured for performance. Agencies should monitor timeliness and duration of public awareness and advertising campaigns to ensure that expired online content does not persist.
  • Utilize campaign landing pages: Agencies should avoid creating standalone websites (“micro sites”) for marketing, advertising, and public awareness campaigns that unnecessarily duplicate information or functionality found on the agency’s principal website. Instead, agencies should use the URL for the authoritative web page or tool on the agency’s principal website in their awareness campaigns (e.g., [agency].gov/find-services); use vanity URLs that automatically redirect users to an authoritative web page or tool (e.g., get[agency]services.gov); or design and publish a single campaign landing page (e.g., [agency].gov/services) that directs users to authoritative web pages or tools. These strategies help prevent an agency’s websites from competing with each other for visibility in third-party search results and reduce user confusion over which source is authoritative.

4. Information and Services That Are Discoverable and Optimized for Search

Search is a basic and universal part of using the internet, and search functionality is an expected feature for websites and digital services. Moreover, the public currently gets to Federal Government information and services online primarily through external search engines, which are critical to discoverability. Agencies’ websites must be structured well; contain rich, descriptive metadata; feature machine-readable content to the extent practicable; and follow search engine optimization (SEO) practices to ensure that members of the public can access government information and services from third-party websites and applications. In addition to SEO and public discoverability, a well-structured website also can be friendlier to assistive technology, archival software or services, and for other uses.

The Federal Government’s public web presence is an open book that may be crawled, archived, or “scraped” by anyone in the general public, at any time. Enabling short- and long-term preservation of government content is critical to public understanding of the government and its history, when appropriate. Web scraping plays an important role in making government information and data available and useful for a variety of public uses, including potentially for the training of large language models that enable artificial intelligence chatbots and services to accurately represent information about the government.

  • Use on-site search functionality: Agencies’ public-facing websites must contain a search function that allows users to easily search content intended for public use. This search function should be a site-wide global search and, when appropriate, could be a feature-specific search for a subset of the website content that is of significant public12 interest (e.g., find-a-form tool). Agencies should participate in the Search.gov program by utilizing Search.gov for on-site search solutions or by integrating search solutions with Search.gov.
  • Design search-engine optimized content: Agencies should ensure that publicly available content (i.e., content that does not require user authentication or sign in) is designed and structured so it can be effectively crawled and indexed by search engines. Agencies must not limit which search engines or crawlers can access or archive their public content. Agencies should employ best practices to improve crawling or indexing of web content, including using sitemaps, robots.txt files,29 and descriptive metadata in commonly parsed fields (e.g., meta element tags).
  • Promote the “right” content: Agencies should be strategic with SEO efforts and should think about SEO in the context of the intended audience. Agencies generate a lot of content and not all of this content is of equal importance. Unoptimized or poorly optimized content will result in negative user experiences and poor customer satisfaction. Agencies should perform keyword research and actively look at third-party search results to better understand how the public is trying to find information and should optimize content accordingly so that search terms generate results that are most likely to address the user’s query.
  • Optimize content for discoverability and utility: Agencies should optimize and organize online content to help the public find what they are looking for as efficiently as possible, with the fewest number of steps or clicks, and without forcing the user to understand bureaucratic jargon, internal government concepts and structures, or any other superfluous information that would unnecessarily impede the public’s understanding.
  • Indicate timeliness of content: Agencies should indicate when content on static,30 public-facing websites was created or last updated by including temporal information in line with content or by using “Last Modified” in the HTTP header, in metadata tags, or in XML sitemaps. Time-and-date stamps provide transparency to the user and help the public better understand the freshness of content. When developing a timestamp strategy, agencies should prioritize adding timestamps to content that is time-sensitive, frequently changed, or top-trafficked.
  • Permit automated web scraping: Generally, agencies shall permit web scraping and archival services to operate unimpeded without challenge-response restrictions (e.g., without presenting CAPTCHAs). Blocking or throttling of even potentially abusive crawlers is only appropriate in exceptional circumstances, such as an active denial-of-service attack, and, even then, is appropriate only on a temporary basis. If an agency detects significant public interest in scraping information from web pages, the agency should strongly consider making that information available as machine-readable data that can be accessed in bulk and optimized for automated access (such as through an API).

5. Secure by Design, Secure by Default

Federal agencies must ensure that every phase of the design and development lifecycle for their websites and digital services accounts for application security and its impact on users. Accordingly, OMB Memorandum M-22-09, Moving the U.S. Government Toward Zero Trust Cybersecurity Principles, establishes requirements for agencies to meet specific cybersecurity standards as part of the Federal Government’s zero trust architecture strategy.

  • Encrypt in transit: Agencies shall encrypt all web traffic across their websites and digital services as HTTPS, including both public-facing (internet-facing) and internal-facing traffic.31 Agencies shall “preload” all their registered .gov or .mil domains as HTTPS-only in modern web browsers.
  • Provide secure and usable authentication: Federal websites and digital services that require authentication should be both secure and easy to log into.
    • OMB M-22-09 establishes requirements for agencies’ use of multi-factor and phishing-resistant authentication. Public-facing agency systems that support multi-factor authentication (MFA) must give users the option to use phishing-resistant authentication.32 Agencies must require certain categories of users to employ phishing-resistant MFA to access agency-hosted accounts.33 These baseline requirements empower users that need high levels of security and ensure that the Federal Government is keeping pace with innovations in usability and security. However, to ensure a diversity of options for public access, agencies should permit a variety of authentication methods.
    • Agencies shall not require users to periodically rotate their passwords.
    • Following on from M-22-09, this memorandum requires additionally that:
      • Agencies shall not automatically deactivate user accounts, or otherwise penalize inactivity, within an expected schedule of use.34
      • Agencies shall ensure websites that require the public to authenticate are compatible with commonly-used password managers, and shall not prevent the “pasting” of passwords or other automated, client-side assistive mechanisms.

In addition to M-22-09, a variety of other authorities and this memorandum require or recommend additional security practices for agencies.

  • Design secure digital services and experiences: When developing software, agencies should follow and automate security best practices to ensure security is considered throughout all stages of the design and development lifecycle, to the greatest extent possible.35
  • Conduct regular security assessments and testing: Agencies should regularly assess the risk to websites and provide commensurate security testing of those sites based on that assessment. The assessment should consider the potential impact of a security incident on vital transactions or core services provided to the public, access to timely information, government and vital external operations, and public trust. Agencies should perform manual penetration testing, where appropriate, based on threat analysis and the criticality of the underlying system.
  • Allow users to safely report security issues: As required by Binding Operational Directive (BOD) 20-01, issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), each agency must have a vulnerability disclosure policy that applies to all its internet-accessible websites and digital services, even those that are not intentionally made available to the public. This policy must allow the public to report potential security vulnerabilities and provide that the agency will not pursue legal action based on activities that represent a good faith attempt to comply with the policy. While agencies may list their registered domains as a reference, they must not limit the scope of the policy to specific websites or use an allow list to restrict the range of users who may submit reports.36
  • Avoid unnecessary third-party resources: Agencies must not embed static, unchanging web assets, such as a specific version of a common and widely used code library (e.g., JavaScript, CSS, fonts) that are hosted on third-party services not under the control of the agency. Embedding static third-party assets is an outdated practice that no longer confers significant performance benefits, and it creates unnecessary security risks. This restriction only applies to static (unchanging) third-party assets37 and does not bar the practice of embedding dynamic third-party resources that are necessary for digital service delivery (e.g., analytics services).

6. User-Centered and Data-Driven Design

Federal websites and digital services should be designed and delivered with users at the center of the experience while also achieving an agency’s business or organizational goals. Every website and digital service should have a defined core customer, segmented group, or user. By identifying the core audience for each, and clarifying each audience’s specific needs through user research and design, agencies can best optimize the digital experience to help that audience meet their needs. Only after agencies have researched and validated the specific wants and needs of users should they create a new website or digital service. Agencies should have a continuous, user-centered design process for gathering and responding to user wants and needs, with both qualitative and quantitative research and data-driven analysis influencing design, technology, and related business decisions.

  • Start with users’ wants and needs: Agencies should conduct generative user research and business or market analysis, employing common user-centered research and design practices,38 before developing a new website or digital service. Agencies should proactively identify customer or user pain points and opportunities to make improvements to existing experiences or to design new digital solutions, and use research and data to validate their assumptions about how customers or users want to interact with their agency or service.
  • Engage users throughout design and development: Agencies should evaluate the user experience created by their websites and digital services from beginning to end to proactively reduce burden on the public. Agencies should seek actionable feedback from diverse user groups throughout the development process, including while researching an initial design concept, iterating on content and user interface design, conducting usability testing, and monitoring the performance of the website or digital service. Agencies should establish processes to get qualitative feedback from actual users and not rely solely on web analytics data or the perspectives of frontline agency staff. User research should be conducted directly with members of the real-life user base.39
  • Test with a representative cross-section of users: Agencies should conduct ongoing usability testing to validate websites and digital services, including iterations on existing designs or new features and functionality, for ease of use and overall user satisfaction. As new pain points and challenges are identified, agencies should make incremental, iterative changes to respond to real-time user needs and improve usability or functionality. Agencies should proactively engage users from underserved communities to ensure their perspectives are incorporated. Usability testing should incorporate persona40 groups that have been developed to capture the spectrum of user types for the website or digital service.
  • Incentivize participation: Agencies should compensate participants for their time and expertise when conducting user research, where appropriate. Compensation improves recruiting and ensures that agencies are gathering input from a diverse group of users, including those from underserved communities. Agencies should establish policies and processes to compensate research participants.41
  • Make data-driven design and development decisions: Agencies should enhance the functionality of their websites and digital services through data-driven decision-making. This should include, but is not limited to, measuring task completion, using web analytics to understand user flows and behavior, assessing user satisfaction through feedback surveys, optimizing web pages and content for performance, and conducting research on user burden.
  • Utilize web analytics: Agencies should use web analytics to better understand user behavior for the purpose of improving public-facing websites and digital services. The use of web measurement technologies (such as cookies, tracking pixels, tags, and other tracking technologies) is subject to limitations.42 Agencies are required to participate in GSA’s government-wide Digital Analytics Program (DAP).43 Participation in DAP does not preclude agencies from using other web analytics services.

7. Customized and Dynamic User Experiences

The public increasingly expects digital experiences to be customizable, which makes for a dynamic experience and reduces burden when completing tasks. Customization44 is controlled by users, who can make changes manually to a digital service or experience to meet their needs. Customization relies on user choice. Customization is different from personalization, which relies on data about the user and is not controlled by the user.

  • Design customizable experiences: Agencies should design websites and digital services with user-controlled options to customize users’ experience or to activate or deactivate certain features within an experience. For example, agencies could provide users with an option to configure the view they prefer, such as tiles or lists, while using a digital service or could develop a decision support tool with filtering and sorting options to help users make the most informed decision about an offered service. Agencies should prioritize customization that helps users complete more relevant tasks, and do so more quickly.
  • Respect user privacy: Agencies should consider privacy risks when utilizing customization or personalization technologies and should ensure that the design of the digital service incorporates appropriate privacy safeguards.45
  • Pre-populate with user data: Agencies should leverage data previously provided by users, where appropriate, to reduce the burden of future interactions. For example, when providing an authenticated experience, agencies should consider using existing information about the person to populate or pre-fill known form data about the person, as appropriate. Pre-population can help improve the user experience and save time. Agencies should consider privacy risks when assessing whether to pre-populate user data, particularly if users provided that data for a different purpose, and ensure that its deployment incorporates appropriate privacy safeguards.
  • Communicate to users through their preferred channels: Where appropriate, agencies are encouraged to develop multi-channel messaging (such as sending email and text/SMS notifications in addition to physical letters) to communicate timely, important, and personalized information to customers or users in the channel(s) they prefer. Agencies should also allow users to adjust online settings to establish their preferred channels and frequency for receiving notifications and communications.

8. Mobile-First Design That Scales Across Varying Device Sizes

Federal websites and digital services targeted at the public should be available, accessible, and usable on a wide range of devices and platforms. A majority of the public accesses Federal information and services online, increasingly from mobile devices.46

  • Design mobile-friendly and device-agnostic websites and digital services: To the greatest extent practicable, agencies must ensure that public-facing websites and digital services are mobile-friendly and developed in such a way that the website may be navigated, viewed, and accessed on a smartphone, tablet computer, or other mobile device.47
  • Design mobile-first experiences: Agencies should draw on mobile-first design principles48 when developing (or redeveloping) public-facing websites and digital services so that they are responsive on a variety of devices and window or screen sizes as well as popular mobile device browsers. For websites or digital services where the majority of users are on mobile devices or tablets, mobile-first design should be a priority.
  • Test on mobile and tablet devices: Agencies should ensure that websites and digital services are functionally tested not only on desktop and laptop computers, but also on mobile and tablet devices, for both usability and performance. Modern browsers contain emulators and the ability to constrain both viewport size and internet speed. While it is recommended to test on actual mobile devices, these browser-based tools are acceptable substitutes during development if resources are limited.
  • Leverage device usage patterns: Agencies should measure and analyze the device usage patterns of their users in the aggregate to optimize the design and experience based on the most commonly used browsers and devices. Agencies should also ensure that websites and digital services are designed and tested proportionately based on device usage patterns.
  • Optimize for performance: Agencies should routinely analyze websites and digital services for load speed and continually strive to optimize for performance (e.g., high page speeds, low page load times, small load page size). Agencies are encouraged to use techniques such as minification and image optimization, and eliminate any unnecessary plugins.49 Agencies should give special consideration to low-bandwidth users whose mobile devices and cellular connectivity are often their only means to interact with the government online.
  • Use modern protocols: Agencies must employ the latest stable versions of HTTP (i.e., HTTP/2, HTTP/3, and any successor versions), HTML, and other relevant standards. In recent years, the web platform and its associated technical protocols have prioritized making the mobile web more responsive and resilient to network disruption. Agencies must keep pace with these developments and optimize for real-world situations (such as intermittent connectivity or throttled bandwidth).
  • Avoid building or maintaining unnecessary mobile apps: An agency should avoid building native mobile applications50 unless it has validated a compelling user need through research, and has balanced the need against additional long-term cost implications. Agencies should evaluate their existing mobile apps and retire those that are not continuing to provide significant user or business value. Instead, agencies should prioritize the design, development, and management of web applications that can be used on mobile devices.

9. Other Digital Experience Requirements

9 a. Privacy

The Federal Government must consider and protect an individual’s privacy throughout the information lifecycle.51 Integrating privacy into agency websites and digital services takes two primary forms: (1) addressing privacy risks related to these products, and (2) providing clear and accessible notice through these products about how an agency creates, collects, uses, processes, stores, maintains, disseminates, discloses, and disposes of personally identifiable information (PII).52 Clear communication and transparency with the public are critical to both activities—whether internal to the agency, when agency officials communicate early and often about privacy considerations, or external to the agency, when its websites inform the public about how it handles PII.

  • Design with privacy in mind: To ensure appropriate risk management and compliance with applicable law and policy, agencies should consult their privacy programs led by Senior Agency Officials for Privacy (SAOPs)53 at the earliest planning and development stages for websites and digital services that involve PII, and they should continue the review of privacy risks throughout both the development and information lifecycles.54

  • Maintain a clear, up-to-date Privacy Policy: Agencies must post Privacy Policies on all public-facing websites and digital services (including their principal, sub-agency, component, and program websites and digital services). For each website, agencies must post a link to that website’s Privacy Policy on any known, major entry points to the website as well as any webpage that collects PII.55 A Privacy Policy must:

    • Be written in plain language and organized in a way that is easy to understand and navigate;
    • Provide useful information that the public would need to make an informed decision about whether and how to interact with the agency;56
    • Be updated whenever the agency makes a substantive change to the practices it describes;
    • Include a time-and-date stamp to inform users of the last time the agency made a substantive change to the practices the Privacy Policy describes;
    • Adhere to all other applicable OMB requirements; and
    • Include a link to the agency’s Privacy Program Page.
  • Provide appropriate notice for online collections of information: A Privacy Act statement is required whenever an agency asks individuals to supply information that will become part of a system of records under the Privacy Act.57 Agencies must provide a privacy notice, whenever feasible, where a Privacy Act statement is not required but members of the public nonetheless could provide PII to the agency using a website or digital service. The privacy notice should include a brief description of the agency’s practices with respect to the PII that the agency is collecting, maintaining, using, or disseminating.

  • Maintain an up-to-date Privacy Program Page: Each agency must maintain a central resource page dedicated to the privacy program on the agency’s principal website, located at [agency].gov/privacy,58 to serve as a central source for information about the agency’s practices with respect to PII. At the discretion of the SAOP, sub-agencies, components, and programs may maintain a sub-agency-, component-, or program-specific privacy program page. At a minimum, agencies must include the following on the Privacy Program Page:

    • System of records notices (SORNs), matching notices and agreements, exemptions to the Privacy Act, Privacy Act implementation rules, and instructions for submitting a Privacy Act request.59
    • Privacy impact assessments (PIAs). Agencies must list and provide links to PIAs. However, agencies may determine not to include a link to a PIA if doing so would raise security concerns or reveal classified or sensitive information (sensitive information may include information that is potentially damaging to a national interest, law enforcement effort, or competitive business interest). Agencies must have a specific, compelling justification in order to decline to post a link to a PIA. If deciding not to post a link to a PIA, agencies should produce a summary or a modified version of the PIA that is suitable for posting.
    • Publicly available agency policies on privacy. Agencies must list and provide links to all publicly available agency policies on privacy, including any directives, instructions, handbooks, manuals, or other guidance.
    • Publicly available agency reports on privacy. Agencies must list and provide links to all publicly available agency reports on privacy (e.g., annual matching reports submitted pursuant to the Privacy Act, Section 803 reports submitted pursuant to the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007). These reports need not include agencies’ Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 (FISMA) reports or reports provided to OMB and Congress pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552a(r).
    • Contact information for submitting a privacy question or complaint. Agencies must provide appropriate agency contact information for individuals who wish to submit a privacy-related question or complaint.
    • Contact information for the SAOP. Agencies must identify their SAOP and provide contact information for the SAOP’s office. Agencies may also identify and provide contact information for any component-level privacy officials.

    9 b. Software Development Principles

Complex systems can make websites and digital services costly and difficult to manage and maintain over time. Building around principles of agility, reliability, scalability, maintainability, interoperability, and simplicity can reduce these burdens.

  • Prefer loose coupling: When building websites and digital services, agencies should prefer loose coupling60 as a design pattern over monolithic architecture patterns, where appropriate. Monolithic architecture typically involves tight coupling between components, especially in large, complex systems. Tightly coupled systems can be more difficult to scale and maintain, and may introduce unnecessary business risk.

  • Decouple front-end and back-end systems: When developing websites and digital services, especially around large, complex systems, agencies should consider decoupling front-end (e.g., presentation, client-side layer) user interfaces from back-end (e.g., server-side, data access layer) systems.

  • Default to static websites: Where a website or digital service does not require a dynamic back-end service to provide necessary functionality, agencies should prefer “static” website architectures. Static website architectures are designed to serve static files at specified URLs, rather than dynamically executing code to assemble content on a web request. Since static sites do not execute server-side code, their attack surface is dramatically smaller than dynamic applications. In addition, static websites are generally much more cost-effective to operate than dynamic applications and load faster for users, especially those with low-bandwidth internet.

  • Promote interoperability by leveraging standard interfaces: Agencies should build and share standardized interfaces (e.g., web APIs with industry-standard exchange formats), to the greatest extent possible, where appropriate. Standard interfaces enable easy data exchange functionality without additional work to integrate and promote interoperability between different systems and components.

  • Follow open standards and be browser neutral: The internet is built on a robust ecosystem of open standards. To ensure websites and web applications work well in this ecosystem, agencies should follow appropriate web standards61 to the greatest extent practicable. Agencies should avoid building or maintaining websites or web applications that only work in a specific browser by design. Agencies should ensure that websites and web applications are generally compatible and functional across a wide range of common browsers.62

  • Default to HTML: HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the standard for publishing documents designed to be displayed in a web browser. HTML provides numerous advantages (e.g., easier to make accessible, friendlier to assistive technology, more dynamic and responsive, easier to maintain). When developing information for the web, agencies should default to creating and publishing content in an HTML format in lieu of publishing content in other electronic document formats that are designed for printing or preserving and protecting the content and layout of the document (e.g., PDF and DOCX formats). An agency should develop online content in a non-HTML format only if necessitated by a specific user need.

  • Promote resources to developers: Agencies should maintain a developer page (e.g., [agency].gov/developer or developer.[agency].gov) to centralize information about relevant technical materials for external developers. This should include information on how to access and use public web APIs, public source code or code repositories, and any other appropriate developer tools or technical documentation that could help developers build integrated digital experiences.

    9 c. Required Links

Agencies may need to convey information about legal compliance, points of contact, or other topics of interest to the public on their websites.63 In the footer of each agency’s principal website or principal sub-agency websites,64 the agency must include links to:

  • The agency’s “about” page, which contains descriptions of the mission and statutory authority of the agency, information about the organizational structure of the agency, and the agency’s strategic plan.65
  • The agency’s Freedom of Information Act page.66
  • The agency’s accessibility statement.67
  • The agency’s vulnerability disclosure policy, which must include a security contact for the public to report observed or suspected information security issues.
  • The equal employment opportunity data required to be posted by each agency under Title III of the Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act).68
  • The agency’s Privacy Program Page.

In the footer of each agency’s website, or the entry point for a digital service, the agency must include links to the website’s privacy policy.

Agencies should consult USWDS and Digital.gov for more specific recommendations on how to best display required links and other relevant information on websites and digital services.69

View the full policy guidance as a web page

Note

OMB Memorandum M-23-22 rescinds M-17-06, Policies for Federal Agency Public Websites and Digital Services, published by OMB on November 8, 2016.

M-23-22 also supersedes guidance in the digital government strategy, Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People, released by OMB in 2012.

What does it mean to digitize forms and services?

OMB’s policy guidance (M-23-22) requires to the greatest extent practicable that agencies:

  • Make forms available to the public in a digital format
  • Make services provided to the public available in a digital channel and in a manner that maximizes self-service task or transaction completion
  • Not require a handwritten signature (“wet signature”) or other in-person identity proofing requirements as a requirement for completing a public-facing form or service without providing the public with an equivalent digital method

Note: For footnotes, view the full policy guidance as a web page.

Section III. DELIVERING A DIGITAL-FIRST PUBLIC EXPERIENCE

B. Digitization of Forms and Services

Reliance on paper-based processes, forms, and services precludes a digital experience, which is what the majority of the public now expects. Forms, services, and associated processes should be designed and modernized with digital service delivery in mind for the public and agencies to fully reap the transformational benefits and promises of a digital government, including increased convenience of online transactions, greater cost savings, and higher levels of public satisfaction with and trust in government.

1. Forms

Forms are an essential component of government and often a prerequisite to obtaining Federal Government services or benefits. Web-based forms, also called digital forms, provide numerous advantages when compared to paper-based forms. As a web application, a digital form has the capability to capture, validate, submit, and process structured information digitally and in an automated manner. 70 Digital forms, when designed correctly, can help improve information collection accuracy and usability, reduce business inefficiency, enhance security, and reduce costs and labor associated with managing and reviewing paper-based documents.

  • Provide a digital option for forms: Agencies should make forms available to the public in a digital format to the greatest extent practicable. The design and development of digital forms should be prioritized over the creation of paper forms or electronic forms, whenever feasible. With limited resources, agencies should prioritize providing digital options for those forms that directly support the delivery of those services or benefits that have the greatest impact on the public.
  • Design digital forms first: When agencies need to revise forms that have both digital and paper versions, agencies should design the digital form first and then use the digital form as a baseline for the redesign of the paper form.
  • Digitize paper forms: Agencies should establish internal review processes to routinely identify non-digital forms and expedite the digitization of forms related to serving the public. Agencies should prioritize the digitization of those forms that have the greatest impact on the public. Consistent with section 4(d) of the 21st Century IDEA and as described in OMB Memorandum M-22-10, Improving Access to Public Benefits Program Through the Paperwork Reduction Act, if a particular form cannot be made available in a digital format, an agency is expected to document through its Paperwork Reduction Act approval process: (1) the office responsible for receiving the form, (2) the reasons the form cannot be made available in a digital format, and (3) any potential solutions, such as implementing existing technologies or making procedural, regulatory, or legislative changes, that could allow the form to be made available to the public in a digital format.
  • Build adaptable and resilient digital forms: In building new or upgraded digital forms, agencies should prioritize designing platforms that allow for efficient future alterations to question sets or response options. Similarly, agencies should prioritize building digital forms that can be scaled or replicated for use in similar information collections or transactions that an agency administers.
  • Keep digital forms digital, end-to-end: Agencies should ensure that information collected via a digital form remains digital throughout the information lifecycle. For example, if information is collected from a digital form, it should not be converted or transformed into a paper or electronic format and then back into a digital format, unless strictly necessary.

2. Services

While websites, digital services, and other digital interactions should make up the majority of the public’s interactions with the Federal Government, services can and should be provided over different channels to best meet the needs of the public. The public increasingly expects to complete tasks and transactions using omni-channel and multi-channel offerings. Omni-channel means customers can start a task or transaction in one channel (e.g., online) and seamlessly continue or finish the same task or transaction in another channel (e.g., in person). Multi-channel means customers have the option to complete a task or transaction, from start to finish, in the channel that works best for them (e.g., online, in person, over the phone, through the mail).

  • Increase digital channels and self-service: Agencies should, to the greatest extent practicable, make services provided to the public available in a digital channel and in a manner that maximizes self-service task or transaction completion.
  • Meet people where they are: For each service, agencies should determine the channels that are most appropriate for the intended customer or user group(s), considering the accessibility, language, and technology needs of that audience. Multi-channel services may include in-person offices, phone and contact centers, websites and web applications, mobile applications, postal mail, email, text/SMS, chat, and social media.
  • Design a seamless, unified customer experience: Agencies are strongly encouraged, where appropriate, to take an omni-channel approach to service design and delivery. With that approach, customers have a consistent, high-quality experience regardless of channel and are allowed to advance toward task or transaction completion using the channel that is most convenient to them.
  • Maintain non-digital interaction options: Agencies must always maintain an accessible method (i.e., physical availability) for completing a digital service through in-person, paper-based, or other means, so customers without the ability to use a digital service are not deprived of or impeded in their ability to access it. This means that agencies should afford the public the ability to complete a transaction over at least one traditional service channel (e.g., in person, postal mail, or phone).

3. Signatures

Signature requirements are common for Federal Government forms and services. Signatures are typically the means by which a person indicates an intent to associate themselves with a document in a manner that has legal significance. This often constitutes legally-binding evidence of the signer’s intention with regard to a document. The reasons for signing a document will vary with the transaction.

There are many different types of signatures (e.g., handwritten or wet signatures, electronic signatures, and digital signatures). As used in this memorandum, an “electronic signature” is a method of signing an electronic message that identifies and authenticates a particular person as the source of the message, and indicates the person’s approval of the information in the message. 71 Electronic signatures are typically used for the signing of electronic documents and are common in online transactions. Electronic signatures are a generic, technology neutral concept. This means that there is not a particular prescribed technology, process, or user interaction that must be used to generate an electronic signature. There are various methods by which a user can indicate the intent to “sign” electronically (e.g., typing their name, checking a check box, drawing a signature, scanning a wet signature). A digital signature is a specific type of electronic signature that uses a cryptographic mechanism to verify the authenticity of the message or document. Digital signatures, when implemented properly and used in conjunction with identity proofing processes, can provide assurance of an individual’s identity and authenticity.

The use of signatures may not be appropriate for every scenario involving a public-facing form or service. Unnecessary signature requirements and poorly implemented signature requirements can prevent adoption of digital services and add unnecessary customer friction, cost, and burden on the public. Agencies should strive to find a balance between the convenience and usability of the service and any signature requirement and associated processes.

  • Accept electronic signatures: Agencies are required, when practicable, to provide for the use and acceptance of electronic signatures. 72 Agencies have flexibility in implementing electronic signature processes, but must ensure that the use of electronic signatures and the associated signing process satisfy all applicable legal and security requirements. When used in accordance with the procedures established by OMB under the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, 73 electronic signatures cannot be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability merely because they are in electronic form. 74
  • Avoid unnecessary signature requirements for forms and services: Agencies should avoid establishing unnecessary signature or identity proofing requirements that create user friction and prevent or impede an individual from successfully utilizing a form or service. 75 When signatures or identity verification are required for a transaction, agencies should not collect more information from the user than is required to securely complete the transaction. 76
  • Maintain a digital equivalent method: To the greatest extent practicable, agencies should not require a handwritten signature (i.e., wet signature) or other in-person identity proofing requirements as a requirement for completing a public-facing form or service without providing the public with a comparable digital equivalent method for submitting information or transacting with an agency. To the greatest extent practicable, agencies should ensure that any public-facing form or service can be provided and completed by the user over different channels, preferably over at least one traditional service channel (e.g., in person) and one digital service channel (e.g., web application) and ideally in the channel that is most convenient to the user.
  • Use identity verification when greater assurance of identity is needed: Agencies should use appropriate identity verification processes for online transactions, commensurate with the agency’s risk assessment, when there is a need for assurance of the identity of the user or the authenticity and integrity of the transaction. Signatures alone do not provide identity assurance and should not be used by themselves for identity verification, identity proofing, or non-repudiation purposes when identity assurance is required.

View the full policy guidance as a web page

What are the implementation timelines?

Since the passage of the law, agencies have taken steps to improve and better integrate their digital experiences.

OMB’s policy guidance (M-23-22) further clarifies requirements and sets specific timelines and priorities for implementation

  • For new or redesigned websites, digital services, and forms: Within 180 days of issuance, any new or redesigned website, service, and form is expected to meet the requirements outlined in guidance

  • For existing websites, digital services, and forms: Agencies are expected to prioritize remediation and/or digitization based on the criteria outlined in Section IV of the guidance

Section IV. Ensuring Agencies Deliver Integrated Digital Experiences

OMB recommends that agencies prioritize remediation of websites and digital services based on the following criteria:

  1. Public-facing websites and digital services that directly support the delivery of information or a service or benefit to the public, prioritizing those with the highest volume (e.g., transactions, customers served) or those with an outsized impact in the lives of the population served (e.g., services designed for Tribal members to access and manage trust assets).
  2. Public-facing websites and digital services with the highest volume (e.g., average monthly unique users, average daily visits).
  3. Severity of website or digital service issue (e.g., security or privacy risk, complaints or litigation due to non-accessible design).

OMB recommends that agencies prioritize developing digital options for existing paper forms and non-digital services based on the following criteria:

  1. Forms directly supporting the delivery of a service or benefit to the public, starting with those forms associated with the highest volume of annual transactions or highest average adjudication times.
  2. Forms directly supporting the delivery of a service or benefit to the public that, if provided digitally, would address user needs, reduce public burden, or improve public impact, as determined based on user research or business analysis.
  3. Assistance provided through customer call center support that could be designed as self-service digital tasks for customers to reach resolution on their own.

View the full policy guidance as a web page

What are the agency reporting requirements?

21st Century IDEA requires agencies to send an annual report to OMB on the progress of implementing the requirements of the law. This reporting requirement concludes after 2023 and will be replaced by the below actions.

OMB’s policy guidance (M-23-22) requires agencies to complete a series of reporting actions within one year of issuance. This section will continually be updated with additional instructions and resources to help agencies in completing the required actions.

Unlock more resources: Access Max.gov collaboration space

Max.gov login required: Collaboration space for M-23-22, Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience

Federal employees can visit Max.gov to discover more governmentwide resources available to implement the action items from M-23-22. The collaboration space includes:

  • Answers to frequently asked questions about the agency action items
  • Points of contact for the agency Digital Experience Leads
  • Dates and times of upcoming OMB office hours

While this space is primarily for the agency Digital Experience Leads, it can be accessed by any federal employee.

For questions on reporting actions, please email the Office of the Federal CIO at ofcio@omb.eop.gov.

Action 1. Identify digital experience delivery lead

Within 30 days of issuance (due October 22, 2023; submit overdue information as soon as possible)

  • Purpose: Each agency must identify a single lead. This lead will be responsible for communicating information to the relevant stakeholders across the agency, providing requested information to OMB, engaging with other agencies to share best practices for implementation, and overseeing delivery of the requirements and recommendations of this memorandum. Once designated, leads from larger agencies may work with OMB to designate secondary points of contact for agency subcomponents, but the overall lead will remain responsible for the above.

  • Instructions: Submit name and contact information using the online form, Agency action #1: Identify digital experience delivery lead.

Action 2. Identify public-facing websites

Within 90 days of issuance (originally due December 23, 2023; deadline extended to January 19, 2024)

  • Purpose: Each agency must identify their public-facing websites. This inventory will allow the digital experience delivery leads (identified in action 1 above) and OMB to establish an accurate baseline and assess progress in implementing the policy guidance requirements.

  • Instructions: Coordinate with your agency digital experience delivery lead to submit the agency response. Additional review and submission instructions are available via the online tool, Agency action #2: Identify public-facing websites (requires a Max.gov account). This tool includes a pre-populated list of federal websites, and it can be accessed by any federal employee.

Action 3. Identify and assess top websites

Within 180 days of issuance (due March 20, 2024)

  • Purpose: Each agency must identify its top websites using web traffic data. This list of top websites will determine relative public engagement across each agency’s websites and help inform how agencies and OMB prioritize digital experience improvements across the federal government.

  • Instructions: Coordinate with your agency digital experience delivery lead (identified in action 1 above) to submit the agency response. Additional review and submission instructions are available via the online tool, Agency Action Item #3: Identify and Assess Top Facing Sites (requires a Max.gov account). This inventory provides a pre-populated list of all public-facing federal websites, and it can be accessed by any federal employee with a Max.gov account. For websites that participate in the Digital Analytics Program (DAP), website traffic data is pre-populated.

Note that agencies must complete action 2 above before action 3.

Action 4. Assess common questions and top content for deduplication and SEO

Within 180 days of issuance (originally due March 20, 2024; deadline extended to April 19, 2024. Additional details and instructions are forthcoming)

  • Purpose: Each agency must identify its top content and common questions based on web analytics and customer feedback. This information will help agencies identify opportunities for deduplication and search engine optimization (SEO). It will also inform inter- and intra-agency strategies.

  • Instructions: Coordinate with your agency digital experience delivery lead (identified in action 1 above) to submit the agency response. Additional review and submission instructions are available via the online tool, Agency Action Item #4: Assess common questions and top content for deduplication and SEO (requires a Max.gov account). This tool can be accessed by any federal employee with a Max.gov account.

Note that agencies must complete action 3 above before completing action item 4.

Action 5. Assess top tasks for self-service optimization

Within 180 days of issuance (originally due March 20, 2024; deadline extended to April 19, 2024. Additional details and instructions are forthcoming).

Action 6. Inventory public services

Within 180 days of the launch of the Federal Services Index (date to be determined; additional details and instructions are forthcoming).

Note: For footnotes, view the full policy guidance as a web page.

IV. Ensuring Agencies Deliver Integrated Digital Experiences

A. Immediate Agency Actions

  1. Identify digital experience delivery lead: Within 30 days of the date of this memorandum, agencies shall identify a primary point-of-contact within their organization responsible for communicating information to the relevant stakeholders across the agency, providing requested information to OMB, engaging with other agencies to share best practices for implementation, and overseeing efforts to align with the requirements and recommendations of this memorandum. 83
  2. Identify public-facing websites: Within 90 days, agencies shall review data maintained by GSA’s Site Scanning Program 84 and identify public-facing websites to OMB. 85
  3. Identify and assess top websites: Within 180 days, agencies shall analyze available web metrics (e.g., through GSA’s Digital Analytics Program) to identify the public-facing websites that generate the top 80 percent of traffic (based on average monthly users) and provide this list to OMB. Agencies should review available automated scanning data (e.g., through GSA’s Site Scanning Program) for these sites to assess conformance and prioritize actions related to the requirements and recommendations of this memorandum.
  4. Assess common questions and top web content for deduplication and SEO: Within180 days, agencies shall identify the most common questions received across all channels (e.g., online search, social media, message boards, chat, email, phone, in person); review available web metrics to identify top pages for common searches; and conduct a highlevel review of potentially duplicative or substantively similar content across websites within the agency or across agencies. Agencies shall provide to OMB a list, in aggregate across channels, of the 25 to 50 most commonly asked questions and a list of no less than 10 opportunities to retire, consolidate, or explain duplicative web content; redesign or rewrite underperforming web content; or further optimize web content to improve search engine results.
  5. Assess top tasks for self-service optimization: Within 180 days, agencies that provide services to the public shall review the highest volume public-facing services and identify the tasks required to access each service as well as the channels available to complete each task (e.g., online, phone, mail, in person). Agencies shall provide to OMB a list of opportunities for no less than 5 top tasks that can be newly designed or further optimized as self-service digital options.
  6. Inventory public-facing services: Within 180 days of the release of the Federal Services Index, each agency shall develop and submit a preliminary inventory to the Federal Services Index 86 of all public-facing services. For each service that cannot be made available in a digital format, the agency must provide the information specified by section 4(d) of the 21st Century IDEA. 87 Within one year of the release of the Federal Services Index, agencies shall finalize the inventory and make it publicly available online.

View the full policy guidance as a web page

Resources

Connect with others interested in delivering a digital-first public experience

Join the Web Managers Community to learn about other related best practices and share your knowledge. We encourage everyone to join this community — whether you are already familiar with how to deliver a digital-first public experience or just getting started.

Also, reach out to your agency’s Federal Web Council representative and get involved in your agency’s digital services working group or guild. If one doesn’t exist, consider setting one up in your agency.

Note

Digital.gov provides information and resources for federal agencies related to web and digital policies. However, we cannot interpret the statutes or specific requirements.

Contact OMB’s Office of the Federal CIO at ofcio@omb.eop.gov with any questions about interpretations of the law and guidance, which collectively establish a framework and the requirements for a digital-first public experience.