Federal Websites Show Little Improvement Year Over Year, New Report Finds; One-Third Fail At Least One Important Security Test

November 27, 2017

WASHINGTON— A detailed review of hundreds of the most popular federal websites shows that, year over year, most continue to fall short of requirements set by the federal government, as well as industry standards for web design and development.

According to the second edition of the “Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites” report released today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a leading science and tech policy think tank, 91 percent of federal government websites fail at least one key performance measure, including one-third that fail on at least one important security measure.

“Despite the common acknowledgment that federal websites fall far short of federal requirements and industry standards, little progress has been made to improve and modernize them over the course of the past year,” said ITIF Vice President Daniel Castro, the report’s lead author. “The Trump administration should move quickly to address these failures and ensure the federal government is providing all Americans with secure, convenient access to online government services and information.”

The second edition of the “Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites” report builds on data first collected in November 2016 to provide a detailed analysis of how U.S. federal websites perform in four key areas: page-load speed, mobile-friendliness, security, and accessibility. The second edition reviewed 469 of the most popular federal websites, an increase from the 297 reviewed in the first edition.

Using publicly available tools to measure the four categories, the report finds that:

  • 63 percent of federal websites passed the desktop page-load speed test, compared to 73 percent in the initial report. For mobile page-load speed, 27 percent of federal websites passed the test compared to 36 percent in the initial report.
  • 61 percent of the websites were mobile friendly, versus 59 percent in the prior report.
  • 64 percent of the websites passed both security tests in the report, up from 61 percent in the intial report. However, 36 percent failed at least one of two security measures.
  • 60 percent of the websites were accessible for users with disabilities, compared to 58 percent in the initial report.

The ten highest-scoring federal websites in ITIF’s latest analysis were:

Domain

Agency

Overall
Score

Internet-Wide
Traffic Ranking

vote.gov

Vote.gov

95.5

658,543

ibwc.gov

International Boundary and Water Commission

87.3

935,804

nist.gov

National Institute of Standards and Technology

87.2

539

bop.gov

Federal Bureau of Prisons

86.3

13,840

science.gov

Science.gov

86.3

28,568

osti.gov

Office of Science and Technology Information

85.7

10,914

fbi.gov

Federal Bureau of Investigation

85.2

610

ameslab.gov

Ames Laboratory

85.1

42,697

fhfaoig.gov

Office of Inspector General Federal Housing Finance Agency

85.1

903,178

justice.gov

Department of Justice

84.4

824

 The ten lowest-scoring federal websites in ITIF’s latest analysis were:

Domain

Agency

Overall
Score

Internet-Wide
Traffic Ranking

pmi.gov

President’s Malaria Initiative

44.9

602,770

mspb.gov

U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board

44.8

215,030

nro.gov

National Reconnaissance Office

44.0

144,044

achp.gov

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

43.9

113,794

ars-grin.gov

Germplasm Resource Information Network

41.8

32,550

lanl.gov

Los Alamos National Laboratory

41.6

2,665

presidio.gov

Presidio

39.3

87,505

gsaauctions.gov

GSA Auctions

39.1

129,665

blm.gov

Bureau of Land Management

38.7

3,307

federalreserve.gov

Federal Reserve Board of Govs.

36.5

1,439

Federal websites that have shown the greatest improvement since last year in their overall scores include: irs.gov (Internal Revenue Service), dni.gov (Office of the Director of National Intelligence), and rrb.gov (U.S. Railroad Retirement Board). Each of these agencies conducted a major refresh of its website earlier this year, including updates to make the sites more mobile friendly.

The study offers a series of recommendations for the federal government to ensure that its websites continue to improve and optimize:

  • Launch a website modernization sprint to fix known problems;
  • Require federal websites to meet basic desktop and mobile page load speeds;
  • Launch a website consolidation initiative;
  • Require all federal agencies to report website analytics;
  • Appoint a federal CIO; and
  • Encourage nonexecutive agencies and branches of government to adopt federal website standards and practices

“Government websites get millions of visitors each day. As more people go online for public services and as security threats continue to evolve, it is important for federal websites to be more convenient, accessible, and secure,” said ITIF research fellow Galia Nurko. “This report shows a sigificant amount of work left to be done to modernize federal websites and ensure that, as technology advances, federal websites improve in turn.”

Read the report.

Note: This report was updated on November 28, 2017 to remove a website that should have been excluded from the analysis and correct minor grammatical errors.