You don’t have to be a UI designer to spot a low quality site. Hell, anyone who spent time on the internet in the pre-Facebook days might remember bland, white web pages, tiny font, and links upon links upon links like a black hole slowly sucking you into the great whirlwind of incomprehensible electronic quagmire.
Standards have improved since then, or at least they have improved for most sites. Government websites have long been known to lag behind the rest of the world in both usability and appearance.
A 2017 report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation found that a grand total of 92% of the 297 most popular government websites failed to meet the basic standards for even a passable site. The study used four basic criteria to judge these sites: page load speed, mobile friendliness, security, and accessibility.
These government sites of the time failed in multiple ways. Just under 60% of them were mobile friendly. Only 36% loaded relatively quickly on mobile devices because they don’t automatically compress images or load the first viewable parts of the site first. Only 58% were accessible to users with disabilities, especially those with sight problems.
The last time Gizmodo pressed this topic was in 2014and although some of these sites have received an “update” since then, you don’t have to look far to find an awful, slow, convoluted webpage with UI choices that actually appear to be designed for an alien being with six tentacles instead of thumbs, who only sees in gamma radiation and hates readable fonts.
The government has had some problems with the creation of new sites in the past, such as the infamous deployment of Healthcare.gov in 2013. However, the federal government saw some relative success with government sites in the pandemic. Both vaccines.gov and covidtests.gov show that there are enough heads within the executive branch to get a jump on some of these cruder-looking sites, bringing them up to standard.
For this list, we’ve limited ourselves to federal sites, because browsing the huge number of bad state and local sites would likely drive the bravest individual to utter insanity. Please feel free to send us a link to what you, dear reader, think is the worst government site you have ever seen. Click through some of the worst we encountered during our reporting, in no particular order.