Is a government agency really transparent, if the average American struggles to find the information that makes that agency “transparent”?
In today’s era, simply providing digital access to documents is not sufficient. Government agencies should work to ensure their websites and digital resources meet the demands of users on the internet in 2020, not in 1996. The digital presence should cross social media platforms, utilize convenient filtering and searching techniques, leverage the use of tagging and provide fast-facts of long reports to comply with a fast-paced world. In short, they should be intuitive and user-friendly. The two primary government watchdogs, the Inspectors General (IGs) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), have vastly different takes on what a digital platform should be — and, perhaps, one could learn from the other.
Logging onto ignet.gov or Oversight.gov, the repository for all IG reports, one is met with a dated, cumbersome experience. The website looks like it belongs on an old oversized desktop, not a smart device. Although the site allows the user to search and filter, it’s not very intuitive. It almost seems that you need to know what you’re looking for before you can find it. Oversight.gov recently launched a beta-test site for open recommendations, but to get to the page, you have to wait for it to appear on a scrolling banner. This is not very user-friendly. (Though, I suppose we should be thankful to have a single oversight page to search from, instead of seeking out each individual agency).
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have the GAO.
GAO’s website is highly intuitive; it allows you to filter reports by several categories including topic area. On the GAO’s website, the reports include “quick look” tabs, that allow the user to view fast facts of the report, highlights and recommendations. This feature allows the concerned citizen to digest reports that are more than a hundred pages long in just a few moments, and it allows them to decide if they’d like to read further. To further create accessibility on the website, many of the reports have an accompanying podcast or video, which allows consumption by a variety of learners. If any one of these tools sparks a user’s interest, they can easily learn more about the subject; the bottom of the page links to similar reports and related key issues. Finally, the website also includes a link that allow users to easily share the report across multiple social media platforms.
GAO’s handle of the various social media platforms is admirable. In addition to a strong twitter feed (@USGAO, more than fifty thousand followers), GAO has a Youtube channel, a Facebook page, Instagram feed, Podcast, Blog, Flickr, LinkedIn, RSS feed and a newsletter; all of which are easily accessible from the GAO homepage. Users can also sign up to receive updates on reports they find interesting or valuable. Meanwhile, CIGIE (ignet.gov) has none of those things, Oversight.gov operates a twitter feed (@Oversightgov), and the various other IG offices have a LinkedIn page and sometimes a Twitter account. More outreach on platforms used by connected citizens would help do more to engage the public and promote the important work these IG offices do.
The GAO’s user-friendly website is on the right track, but it is worth noting that no one beats the communication and outreach of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (Twitter: @USCPSC, ninety thousand followers). @USCPSC takes a humorous, Gen-Z approach to sharing product recall and safety information, which has given it a cult-like following. With adequate Congressional funding and dedicated staff, Oversight.gov might try giving @USCPSC a run for its money.