The Office of Management and Budget sent its fourth memo in eight years telling agencies to be aware of and include Section 508 requirements in technology and acquisitions. The difference this time is OMB included a strategic plan with deadlines for agencies to meet.
“The attached strategic plan, which was developed based on extensive community feedback and stakeholder input, provides a more comprehensive and structured approach to further improve agencies’ management of the requirements of Section 508,” wrote Steve VanRoekel, the federal chief information officer, and Joe Jordan, the administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, in a joint memo to agency chief acquisition officers, senior procurement executives and CIOs dated Jan. 24, but not posted until earlier this week. “The information and guidance provided in the strategic plan will help agencies create the framework to make these necessary improvements to their EIT accessibility programs and increase transparency.”
Section 508 refers to the provisions in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was later amended in 1998, to require agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.
Previous efforts have struggled to make a difference
Previous memos and calls of attention have been less than impactful over the last decade. The Justice Department’s first 508 compliance survey in more than 10 years found while nearly 70 percent of agencies said they had 508-compliance coordinators, less than 50 percent said they include 508 requirements in each request for proposals.
Additionally, the Access Board is in the home stretch of preparing new regulations for Section 508 and is scheduled to vote on them in March. If they are approved, the new rules would go on to OMB for review.
David Capozzi, executive director of the Access Board, told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp on Monday that the new rules will include significant changes.
“The biggest change is in our first iteration of Section 508 standards we issued in 2000. We created our own standards for Web accessibility, based closely on standards that were developed in the private sector, but they weren’t exactly the same,” he said. “This time, what we’ve proposed to do and public comment supported it, is to do a straight reference to the Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines Version 2.0, which are finalized, which have been followed by many countries around the world. It makes sense to harmonize our efforts. One of the reasons our rulemaking has taken longer is we’ve slowed down at one point to issue our second advanced notice of proposed rulemaking so that the European Commission, which is in the process of developing its own standards, could see our process so we could harmonize with them and them with us.”
Capozzi said the other change is in terminology— moving to information and communication technology and away from electronic and information technology.
“We will seek public comment on the effective date of the new standards. We would need to give agencies time to implement the changes,” he said.
“Many agencies are already following the Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 for Web accessibility so that will not come as a surprise,” he added.
New goals, deadlines for agencies
In the meantime, OMB and OFPP want agencies to once again apply some focus and resources to meeting the goals of 508.
The DoJ survey and other meetings found “agency Section 508 programs vary widely in maturity, with the primary challenges focused in three areas: understanding and applying standards; defining and measuring program success; and developing the workforce.”
To address those challenges, OMB laid out 11 goals for agencies:
The General Services Administration will develop a plan to improve the Section508.gov portal to be a “one-stop shop” for information.
Agencies will include an accessibility statement on all inter- and intranet websites.
By March 24, each agency CIO shall give GSA the name of their Section 508 coordinator, and when a new coordinator is named, the agency CIO has 90 days to update GSA on the change.
By March 1, the CIO Council’s Accessibility Committee will develop a standard governmentwide template for agencies to report baseline compliance of key measures for websites and procurements.
The committee will create a template for agencies to do a baseline assessment of their 508 programs. The committee then will use the baseline to identify high-risk areas or common areas of needs across the government.
Assessments are due from each agency by Dec. 31.
Starting in third quarter of fiscal 2014, agencies tell OMB how they are improving their baseline 508 assessments.
By June, GSA will update the reference manual for Section 508 coordinators to help them improve their job skills.
By June, GSA will share with the CIO and CAO councils plans to improve buyaccessible.gov, and to increase its awareness across the government.
By October, GSA will update 508 learning courses for acquisition workers.
GSA and the Access Board will collaborate on the best way to get the word out about the new 508 standards once they are finalized.
“A comprehensive approach to managing Section 508 along the full IT and acquisition lifecycles of an investment requires a long-term, consistent approach,” the memo stated. “The steps identified in this strategic plan … are the first steps to improving management of Section 508.”
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 8-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.