Why are government and court websites so bad?

I was delighted that one of my favorite new podcasts, Reply All, spent an episode in August all about horrible government websites (see Sam.gov as prime example 1) — and how they got that way.

why are govt websites so bad - open law lab

When we talk about terrible websites, it’s not just that they look like they’re from 1999 (though that’s definitely a part of it). It’s also that the processes are burdensome, unclear, and made even more so with bad web experience and interaction design.

The podcast goes into the regulatory environment around procurement and IT, that leads

  • to bad purchasing decisions (not enough young, cutting-edge vendors can make it through all the requirements and procedures to submit a bid),
  • to out-of-date tech (the yearslong lags between RFPs and roll-outs),
  • to dysfunctional govt-vendor relationships (not enough of the right kinds of requirements or metrics to actually lead to usable, useful sites — or to coordinate the many sub-contractors into a unified project).

All of it adds up to hugely expensive sites that are not usable for the target audiences, and that aren’t flexible enough to adapt to changing times’ standards of what good, trustworthy, engaging, confidence-inspiring websites look like.

This certainly isn’t just a federal government agency problem. The same bad-outdated-confusing website criticism applies to most every court website I have experienced.

Now my question is what kinds of regulations & organization structures need to be changed to get courts to make better purchasing decisions — that could make for more agile development processes, that mean more guarantees of interfaces & tools that the users can actually use, and that are flexible enough to stay current easily.