Government services must go digital, lawmakers urge in new bill

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. (Flickr/ Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies)

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Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., wants federal agencies to deliver more government services online.

Together with Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, Khanna introduced a bill Thursday that would give agencies two years to ensure there is a digital option for every in-person government service. The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) cites modern citizen exceptions and reduced cost as two compelling reasons for moving online.

The bill text points to an Internal Revenue Service report in which the agency shares that, for the fiscal 2014, live assistance cost between $42 and $53 per inbound correspondence. Digital transactions in the same time period, in contrast, cost the IRS just $0.22.

“The federal government exists to serve American people, and the 21st Century IDEA will ensure we’re meeting our citizens’ needs in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible,” Ratcliffe said in a statement. “Our bill takes advantage of new and emerging technologies that can drastically improve the way our federal agencies provide critical services to folks across the country, including people with disabilities or those who live in rural areas with limited access to traditional, in-person assistance services.”

The bill would also give agencies just one year from enactment to make sure that any paper-based government form has a “digital (intuitive and adaptive)” counterpart, and 180 days to submit a plan for increasing the use of digital signatures. It would also help “coordinate and ensure executive agency compliance” with the Connected Government Act — a Rep. Robin Kelly bill that President Trump signed into law in January and will require agencies to have mobile friendly websites.

IDEA has 14 other co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

“The 21st Century IDEA enables accessible and efficient government resources, reduces production costs, and encourages continuous digital enhancement,” Khanna said in a statement.

The Software & Information Industry Association has already expressed its support for the bill. “While the government is making substantial progress towards embracing cloud computing and replacing legacy IT systems, many citizen services remain trapped in a 20th Century analog world,” SIIA Vice President for Public Policy Mark MacCarthy said in a statement. “This legislation will help to modernize federal agency websites, support the increasing use of mobile devices, digitize government processes, transition away paper-based forms and in-person interactions, and leverage electronic signatures, and create a 21st Century digital experience for citizens.”

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21st Century IDEA, digital services, John Ratcliffe, Ro Khanna, software & information industry association