Imagine if, when The President addressed the nation in those spooky first days of March 2020, he had announced the launch of a user-friendly digital hub allowing citizens to access essential government services related to Covid-19. The site and the corresponding iOS and Android apps would seamlessly integrate the latest Covid data and content from several federal agencies, hospitals nationwide and private sector companies. It would be accessible to all Americans – supporting 62 languages, and those with visual impairments or limited internet access would have a phone number they could call to speak to a knowledgeable representative with no waiting time. You can easily find the latest data on confirmed cases, study interactive animations of how the virus is spread, find the times and location of your nearest test site, schedule a test, apply for an SBA loan, and check the approval status of your loan in The queue. The hub would integrate with state and local websites to keep you up to date on the latest terms of your governor and county officials. Today, you will be able to schedule an appointment for you and your family on the vaccine through the site. Throughout the pandemic, you would check the site daily, boosting your confidence in the government’s response efforts and its ability to protect your safety.
A site with these features is not technologically out of reach at all. And yet the federal government has provided no such resource to the American people.
As the vaccination effort continues across the country, reports buggy and confusing websites needlessly slow down the process have emerged. The rapid distribution of urgent medical supplies, loans for small businesses, stimulus checks and unemployment benefits have also been delayed by the government’s continued use of outdated technology and confusing digital resources. Our country’s inability to invest in federal and state information technology has severely limited our ability to respond effectively to the Covid-19 crisis. That’s why the country needs a new federal agent responsible for the digital experience of US citizens – a leader of the US experience.
The world’s most successful tech companies have shown us how vital the role of design is in the innovation process. In fact, it’s almost impossible to build a successful digital business without design and customer experience at its core. You won’t find a corporate roadmap that doesn’t have it – except, apparently, the US government.
Market research firm Forrester tracks the experience and satisfaction of clients in the private sector and the federal government. It is not surprising that the government systematically underperforms the private sector. Average Customer Experience (CX) score across federal agencies was fair 61.1 out of 100 in 2020. In other words, the percentage of people who thought federal services were easy to use was equivalent to the percentage of customers who enjoy the in-flight experience on planes.
The Centers for Disease Control website, CDC.gov/coronavirus, which required users to click minutely through 115 navigation links when looking for answers. It was one of many inconsistent, visually complex, and difficult to navigate government websites that left Americans unsure, confused, and fearful. The detrimental effect of the inefficiency of these sites was compounded by the administration’s delayed, decentralized and uncoordinated response to the pandemic.
Design and user experience aren’t political priorities for most agencies, but they should be. More than ever, digital services are essential to our national infrastructure. These are essential tools for continuing our response and our recovery in the face of the economic and health crises. The Internet is the primary source of information for most Americans. In March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control website received over a billion page views, more than 10 times the amount in the same month in 2019.
Investing in better digital infrastructure is the most efficient and cost-effective way to improve the delivery of government services to the American people. For example, the administration has promised that 20 million Americans will be vaccinated before the end of 2020. But so far Operation Warp Speed has distributed around 14 million doses of the vaccine, of which only about 4 million have been. used before the new year. The White House used all federal government resources to distribute the vaccines, but not to administer them. The difficult work of outreach and coordinating appointments has been relegated to overcrowded hospitals, local public health departments and state governments. Even the communication of these health statistics is delayed. How come, in the midst of a national health crisis, Amazon can track inventory in its warehouses in real time while CDC vaccine numbers delayed for more than a week?