Getting your government site IDEA Act compliant

Creating government websites that “delight citizens” is difficult without the right digital tool.

Your content management system should have modern authoring tools, flexibility and a few other features standard. Find out here what those are.

Selecting a new content management system (CMS) for your agency or enterprise can seem overwhelming—especially when your organization must adhere to the recent 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (21st Century IDEA) legislation, which mandates the modernization of federal websites and intranets.

To help remove confusion from your decision-making process, in what follows, we’ll define terms and explore the various features to look for when selecting a compliant government CMS. The advice offered should empower you to make a more informed decision—one that will meet your agency’s needs today and scale to support your audience’s changing preferences as they continue to evolve.

What is a government content management system?

Due to consumer expectations and shifts in the digital landscape, government agencies can no longer produce websites that are little more than static online brochures. Instead, agencies must develop consumer-friendly, well-designed, device-agnostic digital hubs that boost transparency and help facilitate self-service functions related to their particular agency.

Creating such a website requires a government CMS, a tool that manages the digital publishing and storage of all the agency’s content. By using a CMS designed specifically for government, federal agencies are empowered to create the robust types of websites that citizens are accustomed to using. What’s more, a government CMS allows individuals across the agency to update content regularly—without IT involvement.

Benefits of a content management system purpose-built for government

Government content management systems must be able to manage, store, organize, retrieve and distribute digital assets, especially unstructured data—images, videos, audio, documents and social media—in an efficient, engaging, secure and compliant manner.

Legacy systems cannot handle the scale, complexity and security requirements of this new digital era. In stark contrast, modern CMS platforms offer robust search capabilities, and are natively mobile-ready and digital transaction-capable. And, of course, modern solutions help facilitate compliance with all government security and accessibility requirements.

When an agency’s website is backed by a modern CMS that’s purpose-built for government, the information presented to citizens on the front end will be easy to search and interact with. This ease of use and transparency, created with the citizen journey in mind, will ultimately result in citizens needing to make fewer office visits and fewer calls to the agency’s customer service line.

Brightspot is a member of the AWS Public Sector Partner Network.

Features to look for in a modern government content management system

When selecting a modern platform that’s purpose-built to be fully compliant with all relevant federal website laws, regulations and standards, be certain to consider the following important factors:

Ease of use

Ease of use is a great place to start when determining what functionality and specs you need in a new government CMS purchase.

Some organizations funnel everything through a few advanced users, while others want to open authoring up to a long list of casual contributors. Whatever your agency’s approach, the interface must be extremely easy to use to ensure an enhanced customer experience.

For the communications team who creates content, there is nothing more frustrating than waiting to publish until a developer or system admin is available. Simplifying the process and giving editors the power to publish changes the game and puts control back into their hands.

In the current climate, content creators don’t expect to need extensive training to use a publishing platform. Having an intuitive, customizable user interface will help align with these expectations. Consider a “what you see is what you get” authoring interface, plus the ability to preview real-time changes on the pages, which allows for content integrity and helps prevent errors.

Look for content syndication for social media channels and mobile apps, as well as pre-developed widgets that eliminate the need for custom development. This will take the burden off of your IT administrators and allow them to instead focus on mission work.

Compliance with accessibility laws and mandates

Part of being a government agency is compliance responsibility. In 2018, the 21st Century IDEA legislation passed, requirng websites to be accessible, scalable, secure and user-friendly.

As such, a government CMS must include tools that allow your agency to achieve compliance. Adhering to laws and regulations such as the 21st Century IDEA, Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGT), Section 508 and other mandates is necessary, but it can be challenging without the right platform. A modern CMS that’s purpose-built for government provides you with powerful tools to make compliance easier, while taking the burden off of your IT team.

Stability and security

Your agency takes on significant mission and productivity costs when a digital asset has downtime, shows sluggish performance or compromises security. That’s precisely why stability and security must be a focus.

Your CMS should provide individual authentication through SAML, Active directory, multi-factor, social network and custom authentication, as well as HTTPS SSL encryption. As the government is moving toward a single sign-on authentication login for the enterprise with, your CMS should be able to seamlessly integrate with to provide an enterprise-wide experience.

Using quantitative data to determine a front-end user’s goals and needs will, over time, help build trust in your government site. If a citizen uses a website repeatedly, and the website can articulate their needs based on their activity, that citizen is much more likely to return to the site.

Built-in citizen engagement features

A clean, visually appealing website with reliable, informative content is a must for agencies. But what good is great content if citizens can’t find the information or services they’re looking for, or if the content isn’t available through the channels they use?

A user-friendly website is searchable and provides a way to investigate content. As you consider the best ways to engage your audience, it’s important to understand where citizens look for information. How do they like to digest it? With what channels will your CMS need to integrate? Options include social media, email, SMS messages, search, podcasts, video services and even traditional channels like press releases, newspaper ads and mailers.

Presenting this information in a digestible format and integrating with the channels your audience utilizes can help ensure that your information gets into their hands. Assessing the integrations available to enhance citizen engagement is a top requirement when looking to purchase a new CMS.

Omnichannel delivery and mobile-ready

When it comes to publishing, where you choose to distribute your content is almost as important as the content itself. And expectations are higher than ever, with 87% of people wanting companies to provide a more seamless multi-channel experience.

Being able to deliver your content and engage audiences across devices and channels can be a struggle for any organization—private or public—that’s utilizing an older CMS.

When evaluating a new CMS, consider one that helps your agency evolve from text and still-image based content to delivering dynamic multimedia experiences that utilize high-quality audio and premium-quality video. The omnichannel delivery of these experiences is made possible with a modern CMS that simplifies publishing, making it seamless to distribute any content type, to any device or channel.

Digital transactions-capable

Look for a customized digital experience that allows users to complete digital transactions in an efficient and accurate manner. Ideally, you’ll want an open API platform that easily integrates with third-party applications.


Personalization tools allow CMS users to identify new audiences, remember their website activity, anticipate their future needs and present relevant content on their next visit. Personalization has been proven to increase citizen engagement and satisfaction.

Evaluating CMS partners

Beyond the technology itself, another important consideration is the team you’ll be working with to implement the solution that fits your government agency’s requirements. Identifying a technology partner who meets your specific needs—a partner who knows your business inside and out and is invested in helping you—is your top priority. Also, look for a partner who offers ongoing support and who understands the landscape of the public sector.

Successful organizations are known for listening closely to users and relying on that information to build their roadmap. You should feel confident that your chosen vendor listens to their clients. Look to the company to work with you on the product roadmap and take your ongoing feedback once your government CMS is in use. One of the best outcomes in customer/developer relationships is one where the users win, and user experience provides direction for future updates and upgrades.

Lastly, look for a CMS platform from a company where the product is core to their business, and not just one of many software products. This tends to be a good indicator of the reliability and longevity of a company.

Brightspot CMS for Government

The Brightspot CMS for Government is a fully customizable, API-first, out-of-the-box enterprise CMS solution that meets the needs of all new or redesigned federal websites, intranets, applications and digital services. Our user-friendly CMS solution enables users to manage digital information without prior knowledge of web programming or markup languages, while providing citizens with a modern, consistent, user-friendly experience.

The default templates map to all of the U.S. Web Design Standards, so administrators can be assured that CMS users can quickly and confidently build out a modern website that is not only engaging to audiences but also consistent with GSA standards and compliant with current USG laws and regulations.

The Brightspot platform provides robust search capabilities, is natively mobile-ready and digital transaction-capable. And, of course, it complies with all government security and accessibility requirements, including:

  • 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act
  • Mobile Ready Act
  • Connected Government Act
  • Modernizing Government Technology Act
  • OMB Guidance: OMB Circular A-11, Section 280
  • GSA U.S. Web Design Standards

Traditional digital platforms were designed in a webpage-centric era, with editorial experiences structured around files and folders. In contrast, Brightspot CMS for Government is designed as a content-first platform, with a rich editorial experience powered by a unified and contextual search experience. This enables Brightspot to power any new digital experiences (and future evolutions thereof), across any digital channel, without legacy constraints.

As detailed above, Brightspot CMS for Government is the ideal CMS platform for modern, compliant government websites. Purpose-built for government, with USWDS templates that are compliant with the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act and Section 508, the Brightspot platform allows you to rapidly build, launch and manage engaging and relevant digital experiences in as little as 90 days. Leveraging our experiences building websites for some of the world’s best brands, Brightspot CMS for Government brings commercial best practices to the government sector.

To learn more about what the Brightspot CMS for Government can do for your agency, visit Brightspot CMS for Government.

Start building in a free trial environment, see a demo, or talk to an expert—select one of these paths and start however you would like to!


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