Benchmarking Legislative Branch Websites

May 3, 2017

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In March, ITIF published a report that benchmarked the most popular federal websites using four metrics: page-load speed, mobile friendliness, security, and accessibility. In the report, we looked at nearly 300 federal government websites, including executive, legislative, judicial, and independent agencies. We found that 92 percent of federal websites failed at least one metric. We observed that nonexecutive branch websites seemed to score below executive branch websites, especially when it came to security. We surmised this was happening because websites from legislative, judicial, and independent agencies are not required to follow the same guidance as executive websites and often choose not to.

In the spirit of continuing the discussion about how to improve federal websites, this post further explores this concept by testing legislative branch websites to see how well they scored on each of the report’s metrics.

Methodology

We created a list of legislative branch websites by searching the Internet for the names of the committees, commissions, and agencies identified as being part of the legislative branch in the federal budget. We identified 94 legislative branch websites. We analyze both domains and subdomains (e.g. energycommerce.house.gov). Indeed, we analyzed 47 subdomains for the House of Representatives (house.gov) alone, as the websites on these subdomains appear to be managed independently. We did not analyze the websites of individual members of Congress.

We then repeated the methodology used in the ITIF report to calculate scores and rankings for each legislative website, with minor changes to the security section. For more details, please see the report and this post, which updated the methodology for scoring Domain Name System Security (DNSSEC) implementation.

Results and Discussion

We found that 99 percent of the legislative branch websites failed at least one of the metrics. Only 29 percent of websites had successfully implemented DNSSEC, a security feature which prevents attacks from directing users to malicious websites. In addition, only 34 percent of websites passed the mobile page-load speed test which means these sites are not optimized for a fast user experience on mobile devices. Legislative websites also performed poorly in regards to providing a site that is accessible to people with disabilities with only 52 percent passing this test.

Overall, legislative websites perform worse on these tests than other federal websites. Legislative websites only outperformed its peers on metrics for mobile friendliness and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) implementation. Table 1 below shows how the scores broke down across all 94 websites for each metric compared to the same scores across approximately 300 of the most popular websites from all branches of government. (Please note that the sample of approximately 300 popular websites includes a few legislative branch websites, so the comparison is not perfect):

Table 1: Percent of websites that passed tests for page-load speed, mobile friendliness, security, and accessibility for legislative branch and popular federal websites.

 

Legislative Websites

Popular Federal Websites

Desktop Page-Load Speed

69 percent

78 percent

Mobile Page-Load Speed

34 percent

36 percent

Mobile Friendliness

74 percent

59 percent

SSL Scores

85 percent

66 percent

DNSSEC Scores

29 percent

90 percent

Accessibility

52 percent

58 percent

And how did these scores breakdown along partisan lines? We compared 25 Democratic websites, such as the House Minority Leader (democraticleader.gov) and the minority staff website for the House Intelligence Committee (democrats-intelligence.house.gov) with 26 Republican websites, such as the Speaker of the House (speaker.gov) and the House Intelligence Committee (intelligence.house.gov). Republican websites included all major House of Representatives Committee websites, except the House Ethics Committee. We did not include Senate websites in this test because there are not separate majority and minority websites for Senate committees.

Table 2: Percent of legislative websites that passed tests for page-load speed, mobile friendliness, security, and accessibility by party affiliation.

 

Republican Websites

Democratic Websites

Desktop Page-Load Speed

62 percent

56 percent

Mobile Page-Load Speed

42 percent

40 percent

Mobile Friendliness

88 percent

76 percent

SSL Scores

100 percent

72 percent

DNSSEC Scores

0 percent

0 percent

Accessibility

42 percent

52 percent

Overall, we found that Democratic and Republican federal websites scored similarly on speed and domain security. However, we found Democratic websites scored lower on average than Republican websites on mobile friendliness and SSL scores. Regarding mobile friendliness, while 88 percent of Republican websites passed this test, only 76 percent of Democratic websites passed. Similarly, while all Republican websites passed the SSL score, only 72 percent of Democratic websites did the same. And Democratic websites scored higher on average for accessibility, with 52 percent of Democratic websites passing compared to 42 percent of Republican sites. 

Legislative Websites Should Follow Federal Standards and Best Practices

Many poorly performing federal websites are part of the legislative branch, and thus they are not bound by the same rules and guidelines as executive-branch websites. But that does not mean these websites are less important resources for the public or that users expect a different experience when visiting these sites. Because many individuals and businesses rely on these websites, they should adhere to the same standards as their executive counterparts. To that end, the House Administration Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee should require legislative agency and committee websites to follow the same standards for websites that executive-branch agencies follow. They should also leverage shared services, such as reporting website metrics to the federal data analytics program. Finally, Congress should establish, and participate in, an interagency working group on modernizing websites to share best practices, guidelines, and source code between the various agencies and branches of government.

By leading by example, Congress can send a signal to independent agencies, judicial agencies, and non-compliant executive branch agencies that they need to provide all Americans with secure and convenient access to online government services and information. 

Scores

The following table lists the overall score of each legislative branch website.

Legislative Agency or Committee

Domain

Overall Score

Senate Finance Committee

finance.senate.gov

86.4

Senate Commerce Committee

commerce.senate.gov

84.8

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission

macpac.gov

84.8

U.S.-China Economic and Security Commission

uscc.gov

83.4

Senate Agricultural Committee

agriculture.senate.gov

83.2

Open World Leadership Center

openworld.gov

83.1

U.S. Congress

congress.gov

82.9

Congressional Budget Office

cbo.gov

82.4

Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs

hsgac.senate.gov

82.3

Senate Veterans Committee

veterans.senate.gov

82.3

House Benghazi Minority Staff

democrats-benghazi.house.gov

80.9

House Veterans Committee

veterans.house.gov

80.8

U.S. Copyright Office

copyright.gov

80.2

House Intelligence Minority Staff

democrats-intelligence.house.gov

79.8

House Intelligence Committee

intelligence.house.gov

79.7

Senate Banking Committee

banking.senate.gov

79.5

House Homeland Security Minority Staff

democrats-homeland.house.gov

79.4

U.S. Capitol Police

uscp.gov

79.2

Senate Judiciary Committee

judiciary.senate.gov

79.1

House Veterans' Affairs Minority Staff

democrats-veterans.house.gov

78.8

Joint Economic Committee

jec.senate.gov

78.7

House Oversight Minority Staff

democrats-oversight.house.gov

78.6

House Small Business Committee

smallbusiness.house.gov

78.4

Senate Appropriations Committee

appropriations.senate.gov

78.0

House Armed Services Committee

armedservices.house.gov

77.5

Senate Help Committee

help.senate.gov

77.2

U.S. Commission on Int'l Religious Freedom

uscirf.gov

77.1

Library of Congress

loc.gov

76.9

U.S. Senate

senate.gov

76.8

Republican Policy Committee

policy.house.gov

76.6

House Natural Resources Committee

naturalresources.house.gov

75.6

House Education and the Workforce

edworkforce.house.gov

75.1

House Energy Committee

energycommerce.house.gov

74.9

House Judiciary Minority Staff

democrats-judiciary.house.gov

74.9

Office of Compliance

compliance.gov

74.7

House Energy and Commerce Minority Staff

democrats-energycommerce.house.gov

73.7

House Science Committee

science.house.gov

73.1

House Natural Resources Minority Staff

democrats-naturalresources.house.gov

72.6

House Budget Committee

budget.house.gov

72.4

House Judicial Committee

judiciary.house.gov

72.1

U.S. House

house.gov

71.0

Senate Budget Committee

budget.senate.gov

70.9

Majority Leader

majorityleader.house.gov

70.8

Capitol Visitor Center

visitthecapitol.gov

70.5

House Homeland Committee

homeland.house.gov

70.1

House Foreign Affairs Minority Staff

democrats-foreignaffairs.house.gov

68.3

Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership

stennis.gov

68.1

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

csce.gov

67.8

Republican Congressional

gop.gov

67.7

Majority Whip

majoritywhip.gov

66.9

Senate Rules Committee

rules.senate.gov

66.7

Speaker of the House

speaker.gov

66.4

House Foreign Affairs Committee

foreignaffairs.house.gov

66.2

House Education Minority Staff

democrats-edworkforce.house.gov

65.5

House Transportation Committee

transportation.house.gov

64.5

Ways and Means Committee

waysandmeans.house.gov

64.0

House Oversight Committee

oversight.house.gov

63.9

Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship

sbc.senate.gov

63.8

Senate Energy Committee

energy.senate.gov

63.6

House Rules Committee

rules.house.gov

63.5

U.S. Botanical Gardens

usbg.gov

63.5

Senate Environment and Public Works

epw.senate.gov

63.4

House Financial Services Committee

financialservices.house.gov

63.1

House Administration Minority Staff

democrats-cha.house.gov

62.7

House Benghazi Committee

benghazi.house.gov

61.5

Senate Armed Services Committee

armed-services.senate.gov

60.6

Assistant Democratic Leader

assistantdemocraticleader.house.gov

60.5

Government Publishing Office

gpo.gov

59.4

House Appropriations Minority Staff

democrats.appropriations.house.gov

59.1

House Ethics Committee

ethics.house.gov

58.8

Committee on House Administration

cha.house.gov

58.6

Joint Committee on Taxation

jct.gov

57.5

Clerk of the House

clerk.house.gov

55.9

Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial

eisenhowermemorial.gov

55.2

Democratic Whip

democraticwhip.gov

54.8

Congressional Democrats

dems.gov

54.1

House Financial Services Minority Staff

democrats.financialservices.house.gov

52.5

Democratic Leader

democraticleader.gov

51.3

Government Accountability Office

gao.gov

50.9

House Transportation Minority Staff

democrats.transportation.house.gov

49.9

Architect of the Capitol

aoc.gov

49.7

House Rules Minority Staff

democrats.rules.house.gov

48.5

House Ways and Means Minority Staff

democrats-waysandmeans.house.gov

47.7

House Armed Services Minority Staff

democrats-armedservices.house.gov

47.4

House Agricultural Committee

agriculture.house.gov

47.3

Senate Foreign Committee

foreign.senate.gov

47.3

House Small Business Minority Staff

democrats.smallbusiness.house.gov

46.8

Congressional-Executive Commission on China

cecc.gov

46.7

House Budget Minority Staff

democrats-budget.house.gov

45.6

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission

medpac.gov

45.3

House Appropriations Committee

appropriations.house.gov

45.1

House Science Minority Staff

democrats.science.house.gov

42.3

U.S. Code

uscode.house.gov

41.3

House Agriculture Minority Staff

democrats.agriculture.house.gov

41.2

For a full spreadsheet of the legislative website data, including each website’s score on individual metrics, please visit this Google doc.