USCIS aims to deliver ‘unified experience’ online under recently passed digital-gov law

The digital service team at U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services said Thursday they’re taking steps to implement the 21st-Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA), a new law aimed at making “.gov” websites more mobile-friendly and more secure.

“I think the federal government is coming around to recognizing that our ways are fairly antiquated and we need to find ways to be more flexible, nimble and react quickly or even be proactive,” Courtney Winship, the chief of USCIS’s digital services division, said during a GovLoop webinar. “That’s certainly something I find with our teams and throughout our experience with our partners, is really ensuring that we try to build a workforce that will take us to the next level … when it comes to technology, when it comes to experience, and building that kind of digital environment or digital experience that we’re looking for.”

As the agency looks to implement the new law, Winship said USCIS looks to take a mobile-first approach, and has taken steps to ensure 508 compliance.

“Our goal is to empower individuals to navigate through their immigration journey and experience it in a way that best suits their needs,” she said. “We believe that through innovation and technology, we can create a positive experience for everyone that interacts with USCIS.”

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Over the last six-to-eight months, USCIS has consolidated some of the teams and departments focused on public-facing digital services.

“We are now one unit. And now we can really focus on how we build a unified experience that includes things like content and design, as well as how we look to integrate with our live-help services,” Winship said. “We are really aiming to create a 360-[degree] view, and help people navigate more smoothly through their interactions with USCIS.”

Each day, USCIS makes determinations on nearly 30,000 benefits requests and answers more than 50,000 public inquiries. The agency has more than 25 million users interacting with its digital tools each month, and its case status website alone receives 350,000 visits each day.

In order to streamline its service to the public, the agency has spent time and resources taking a closer look at use cases for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“We’re focused on the external-facing pieces right now, the public-facing side, but certainly there’s a ton of value internally as well,” Winship said. “I think ensuring that we’re sharing that kind of information or those services we’re building out, I think will be key in creating more efficiency and higher levels of transparency.”

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, in a review of 500 of the most popular federal websites in November 2017, found that 91 percent failed at least for metrics focused on accessibility and security. Only 63 percent of federal websites tested received a passing score for page-load speed, while 61 percent got a passing score for mobile-friendliness.

The President’s Management Agenda identifies USCIS as a high-impact service provider.

“That allows us to do some self-assessment right now,” Winship said. “I think we’re pretty fortunate where we are, and to have executive commitment to continuing to grow and achieve our goals … but there’s always room for improvement.”

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