GSA takes the lead on making federal websites mobile friendly

7 ways to avoid mobile app design failure

In January, President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan Connected Government Act, which requires agencies to make sure new citizen-facing websites are mobile friendly. The statue codifies existing governmentwide guidance, but also has a schedule to push agencies to adopt mobile-friendly design practices.

More than 40 percent of traffic to federal websites is generated by mobile users, according to analytics data. According to Jacob Parcell, director of the Technology Transformation Service's Mobile Program Management Office, that proportion has been steady for some time, and he says it's essential to make sure that mobile and desktop experiences are comparable.

The first deliverables under the new law are landing soon. By about July 4, new government websites will have to be mobile friendly, meaning that they load quickly, offer mobile-optimized navigation and supply the same basic services as a desktop site.

Parcell is leading the General Services Administration team charged with making agency web development comport with the Connected Government Act's mobile-friendly requirements. The effort includes people at TTS and elsewhere inside GSA.

For the past seven years, Parcell has been nurturing a mobile community of practice inside the federal government that has reached 1,100 feds who have developed or are developing mobile apps. He's also been able to recruit a volunteer group of more than 250 who test mobile sites in development across the range of devices and operating systems to troubleshoot potential problems and design bugs.

Currently, Parcell said, his group is talking to agencies to see what questions they have about the Connected Government Act, and what standards are going to be put in place to prove out whether a site qualifies as mobile friendly. Legacy sites aren't required to update to conform to the law unless they come out with a redesign.

Parcell said more guidance on this score should be coming out in March. He expects to take existing mobile guidance "and hone it and make it more specific to the requirements of the law," including some detail on what constitutes a redesign versus an iterative update.

The law is also an opportunity to examine what mobile users truly want from a website. Parcell said the best practice is "to really look at analytics and look at what mobile users are coming to the website for and design mobile versions of the website that actually meet those needs."

Under the law, GSA is tasked with producing a report by July 2019 to detail implementation on an agency by agency basis.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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