Top 5 US Federal Agency Websites in 2011

Government agencies have not always been known as leaders of the web design industry. However, in recent years and even months, there have been a few that truly are on the cutting edge of quality design and user experience. Granted, not every agency requires a modern, flashy, public-facing website, but if your agency engages the public in any form, a clean and effective internet presence really needs to be a critical element of your mission. And the best part of the internet is that no matter what your agencies budget is, there is a web solution out there for you that won’t break the bank or have taxpayers up in arms against wasteful spending.

The way people search for and consume content has changed drastically even within the last couple of years. More and more people first and foremost go online for information and to conduct business, including citizen services, making the need for responsive, clean, and well designed websites even more of a necessity. While there are a number of agencies that have made enormous strides in updating their user interfaces, there are a few that stand in a league of their own when it comes to providing citizens with an excellent user experience and some pretty slick design to boot. The following are GovLoop’s top 5 picks (and 5 honorable mentions) for the best government agency websites.

1. Department of Energy

Built on Drupal, energy.gov demonstrates a pretty drastic shift in the world of government websites. They started rolling out big changes as early as January, which we reported here on GovLoop, but it was in August of this year that they launched their complete refresh. You can also read the ensuing GovLoop discussion here. While there were a few issues with things like formatting, aspect rations and accessibility at first, the new energy.gov has continued to evolve, and shows a clear dedication to becoming more interactive and overall just plain useful. From sleek photography, localized search returns, clean navigation (which persists as you scroll), and great presentation of data, energy.gov really is at the forefront of government websites

2. The Federal Communications Commission

I had the opportunity a few months ago to hear a few members of the FCC redesign team speak about their experience, so I have firsthand knowledge of the incredible amount of hard work that went into creating this beautiful website. All the difficulty dealing with budget restraints, drawn out approval requirements, and the dreaded “design by committee” surely paid off, as the FCC team really managed to keep the new site very streamlined, yet informative. Not to mention, the site itself is blazing fast. I also like how the FCC has kept the portal to their old website available for comparison’s sake. It’s pretty interesting to click back and forth to see just how drastic this redesign really was, and the impressive strides they made in design and usability. Check out just a few of the discussions we had here on GovLoop when the FCC reboot launched here and here.

3. The White House

The whitehouse.gov redesign team had a unique struggle in that they had the added challenge of reproducing arguably the more public facing government website of them all. The website itself basically needs to house all of the information that we Americans want and deserve to know, plus quite a large amount of sub sites that feature various legislation or other executive initiatives and programs. I actually got to hear a few members of this redesign team also speak about their experience and was highly impressed. The White House requires a much different design aesthetic and layout than most other websites, yet they managed to create something that is both modern and sleek yet conservative and professional. Overall just a stunning website, no matter what your political views are. Looking forward to seeing this one evolve over the years.

4. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NASA has a reputation for being one of the most innovative, genius, and also fun government organizations around. With their website, they surely don’t disappoint. They have a ton of useful information that they need to organize, and they’ve done a beautiful job at displaying it. While the content blocks are a bit thick in the lower half, the use of fun iconography, clean navigation, beautiful themeing and images (I’m a sucker for space photography) more than make up for the minimal design imperfections, and still puts them well ahead of most of their government counterparts. In addition to their homepage, NASA has some very impressive subpages for various programs and initiatives (such as this site that lets you track how space innovation has improved and affected our everyday lives).

5. The National Archives

The National Archives lands itself on our top 5 for its sheer simplicity in design, and usability. The Archives have a unique and challenging mission in organizing hundreds of years of government documents and information, and then some. Personally, it boggles my mind to even begin to think about organizing all of this information, and then how do you go about making it all accessible to the general public, and even let them interact freely in many instances. It’s a huge logistical and developmental challenge, and that makes their very basic, yet extremely useful homepage even more impressive. From a user’s perspective there is extreme potential for becoming overwhelmed when coming to the National Archives website, but the limited 5 choices, gets people headed in the right direction from the first point of contact. So kudos to the National Archives. I’m excited to see how this agency’s website continues to evolve.

After scouring just about every government agency’s website, there were a decent amount that had pretty impressive design and usability. The following are the government websites that didn’t make the Top 5, but still deserve to be honorably mentioned for their achievements in producing great government websites and citizen experiences:

Honorable Mentions

The House of Representatives

The Department of Justice

The Small Business Administration

The Department of the Treasury

The United States Postal Service

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Profile Photo David Fletcher

I’m pretty sure this article is saying that these are the top 5 U.S. Federal agency websites. There are some pretty good state agency websites around that country that might compete with these and also some good agency websites from foreign governments. The article doesn’t state that this is the case, but I’m pretty sure that it is.

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Profile Photo Jeff Ribeira

You are correct David. Thanks for pointing that out. There definitely are a number of really great websites out there that could potentially go on a list like this one (utah.gov and alpha.gov.uk immediately come to mind), but for the sake of time and scope with this article, we kept it to US Federal agencies only. Perhaps we’ll explore US state portals and international governments in another post. Thanks!

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Profile Photo Sue Webster

I like the websites that you have selected for the look and feel. I visit the VA website a great deal for information on what they are doing for Veterans. While the layout may not be as current, the information provided is awesome and I share that information often on my FB account. I visit others as well dependent upon the topic and where I may be visiting with respect to FEW, etc. There are so many!

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