Mobile Government Bill Moves Ahead in Wake of Hurricanes Irma, Harvey


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It’s hard to access government services when you’re fleeing a hurricane or wildfire.

It’s even harder when that government agency’s website isn’t mobile-friendly.

Millions of Americans have fled their homes and businesses in recent weeks as hurricanes Irma and Harvey battered Florida, Texas and other places, while a rash of wildfires swept over western parts of the U.S. The natural disasters have added a new level of urgency to a bill (H.R. 2331) by Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) that would mandate all new or updated government agency websites be mobile-friendly, Kelly and Rep. Fran Pallone (D-N.J.) said in a blog post

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved Kelly’s bill Sept. 13 by voice vote. The legislation would require new federal web sites to be configured so they are easily viewable on a smartphone, tablet, or mobile device.

“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,” Kelly and Pallone said in their post.

“Asking people to hunt down a working desktop computer right now is just unreasonable,” they added.

The legislation would codify a 2016 memo from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget that required agencies to make their public websites perform as well on mobile devices as they do on desktops within six months of issuance, a Kelly aide told Bloomberg BNA.

A March 2017 study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that 41 percent of the 297 most popular federal websites analyzed, including weather and disaster-focused sites, were not mobile-friendly. Websites ranking in the lowest 20th percentile included the National Weather Service (weather.gov), the U.S. Tsunami Warning System (tsunami.gov), and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (hud.gov), where citizens can apply for disaster assistance and a loan to rebuild their home.

It’s not clear whether or when the full House will take up the bill. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) introduced a companion bill (S. 1769) Sept. 7 in the Senate.