18F launches tool to build static government websites

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The General Services Administration’s digital services team 18F introduced a tool this week to make it a cinch for federal agencies to build secure and modern websites.

Called Federalist, the White House already used the platform — which is in “alpha” release — to launch a website for its new Social and Behavioral Sciences Team this week. The team at 18F developed the tool for overwhelmed developers who need a quick way to build static sites and federal teams that don’t have the ready assistance of a developer, according to an 18F blog post.

“You can think of Federalist as the glue that ties a lot of already-existing platforms together,” 18F member Melody Kramer wrote in the post. “Federalist automates common tasks for integrating GitHub, a content editor, and Amazon Web Services, providing a simple way for developers to launch new websites or more easily manage existing ones.” The tool also supports cloud computing platform Microsoft Azure through open source contributions.

With the tool, a user doesn’t need to be tech-savvy to build an effective and good-looking website. The Federalist — using the same content delivery strategy employed by NotAlone.gov, an 18F-built informational website devoted to preventing sexual assault — gives agencies templates and a content editor, which make “for simple, Section 508-compliant content creation, and eliminates the need for expensive development and design efforts.”

“Federalist provides a way for people who are creating this information to get it out to the public quickly and easily, and edit it when they need to,” Gail Swanson, the lead researcher and designer on the project, said in the post. “It allows them to build a site that is accessible for people on mobile, 508 compliant, and secure.”

SBST isn’t the only group to use Federalist. The Education Department used Federalist to build its recently announced College Scorecard website and ensure it could handle heavy traffic.

“This is a platform that’s as easy to use as posting to a social media site, but has the flexibility and scalability that the federal government requires to manage humongous traffic,” Swanson said. “If the government needs to put out a text-heavy document, it can do that. If there’s something that has videos and illustrations, it can do that too.”

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