As federal agencies check off boxes in the Office of Management and Budget’s digital-first public experience mandate, the White House is “doubling down” on the policy document’s callout for strengthened accessibility across platforms.
Jonathan Finch, the White House’s acting director for digital experience, said during a webinar Tuesday that the General Services Administration’s Technology Modernization Fund is staying especially busy with requests of that kind, which are coming in the aftermath of OMB M-23-22, released last September, and a December digital accessibility memo building off that guidance and the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act of 2018.
“One area that we are seeing a lot of interest in — I think it’s manifesting in what agencies are coming to TMF with — is the accessibility piece,” Finch said during the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center event. “And so we’re doubling down there.”
The September OMB guidance, intended to better help agencies with the implementation of 21st Century IDEA, was part of a governmentwide initiative to modernize federal websites, digitize services and forms, bolster customer service and templatize shared services. Accessibility, Finch said, is a “foundational piece to the bigger picture here.”
“We believe very strongly that you can’t improve digital experiences if they’re not made in an accessible fashion,” Finch said. “And so I think we are signaling the focus there, and I think agencies are starting to respond. I know that a lot of the conversations that the TMF team has had with agencies has been around, how can they take steps to improve accessibility? And we’re excited about that.”
Rachel Sauter, technical investment manager at TMF, said during a panel discussion later in the event that the funding vehicle’s board put out a call for proposals in August tied to projects aimed at implementing 21st Century IDEA.
That new streamlined process was targeted at addressing two pieces of the legislation’s requirements: digitizing paper in PDF forms and improving the accessibility of websites.
Sauter said the TMF made those particular selections because “they felt like projects that agencies could tackle with an infusion of funds, whereas other areas of the act may require more extensive planning and policy decision-making.” The Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management are among the agencies TMF is working with in this area, Sauter noted.
Kevin Hoffman, director of design and user experience in the VA’s Office of the CTO’s Community of Practice, said that TMF investment is helping the agency “supercharge” three modernization projects: improving forms on va.gov at scale, integrating personalized patterns across the digital customer experience, and investing in data visualization, with the goal of helping those involved in clinical decisions.
When thinking about modernization more broadly, Finch said that the perspective of the White House and agencies should ultimately be one of collaboration.
“It really does need to be an all-encompassing effort, for our industry partners, our agency delivery teams, across government initiatives like TMF, we each have a critical role to play here,” Finch said. “And when we come together, that’s really when we unlock the ability to deliver better digital experiences, and ultimately meet the expectations the public does have for us.”