It’s time to give the government an upgrade for the mobile world
By Frank Pallone, Jr. and Robin Kelly
In the wake of the natural disasters devastating so much of the country, millions of Americans are turning to federal agencies for help — but the government’s websites don’t always make it easy. We’ve introduced legislation in the House that would change that, and it’s moving forward at a time when it can help a lot of Americans who are suffering.
For people who were forced from their homes or are without power because of hurricanes, storms or wildfires, their only connection to necessities of survival — food, water, fuel, and shelter — is through their mobile phones. It’s the device they could take with them when they had to flee their homes. But while private websites and charities have developed new mobile websites and apps to help those who are still struggling, many of the essential government websites on which people depend are essentially unusable on a phone.
During any natural disaster, we expect the government to be at its best. But for people whose homes have been flooded, burned out, or leveled, trying to navigate government websites on their phones likely feels like a waste of time. For instance, if you need to start looking for a loan to rebuild your home, good luck trying to use your phone to navigate the website for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. If you need to reach state or local authorities, the problems get worse. And asking people to hunt down a working desktop computer right now is just unreasonable.
Although these natural disasters are making this problem more acute, the need for a government-wide upgrade is only growing more important every day. That’s because the people who need the most help are often on mobile devices. If you are young, if you have a lower income, or if you are a minority, you are much more likely to use a smartphone as your only entry point to the internet.
The gap is significant — people earning less than $30,000 were 13 times more likely in 2015 to depend on a smartphone than people earning more than $75,000. Yet websites that are intended to strengthen the social safety net like programs providing food assistance are nearly inaccessible on a phone.
A smart government brings services to people when they need them most — not the other way around.
Last year we crossed a significant threshold — Americans are now more likely to access the internet on their mobile device than on their desktop computer. If people rely on mobile devices, our services should be designed for mobile devices, and that’s why agencies with consumer-facing websites should be designed with an eye towards mobile first. These mobile sites can make it easier for people who may not have the time to wait in line at a government office.
In order to bring government up to speed, we have introduced the Connected Government Act, which ensures that all new federal agency websites are designed to work well on mobile devices. These federal sites would serve as an example to the states who need to do more to modernize their own technology. This simple change can have a big impact — from shorter lines and faster service, to providing more help to more people. Mobile friendly websites will ultimately help build a stronger democracy.
Today, our bill is expected to clear a crucial committee vote in the House. And our colleagues Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) recently introduced a companion bill in the Senate. With this progress, our path to a smarter government is within reach. Congress should act soon to get this bill passed.
In the wake of these recent disasters, we need to ensure that anyone looking for assistance from a federal agency can get the information they need through their mobile device. This is the least we can do to help alleviate some of the stress people feel in times of need.