AHRQ Publishing and Communications Guidelines

Section 2: Web Products and Website Development and Redesign

Contents

Web Products
Clearances
Accessibility (508)
Linking
Web Development and Redesign
Technical Assistance for Web Tools
Source Code
Usability
Browsers
Domain Names
Privacy Considerations
Electronic Freedom of Information Act
Security

The Office of Communications (OC) maintains the AHRQ website and oversees a number of additional AHRQ sites, some of which are managed by contractors. All websites must be fully accessible to users, comply with applicable laws and regulations, adhere to web standards and best practices, and display AHRQ’s brand.

This section highlights issues contractors must address when developing websites and products that will be publicly available. For guidance on application and systems development, refer to Appendix 2-A.

  • Direct all questions and requests for guidance about developing or redesigning websites or tools to Randie Siegel.
  • Contact your managing editor for guidance on any web products, such as PDFs and webinars, you will be posting. If you are uncertain as to the managing editor for your project, contact Karen Fleming-Michael.

The Grantee Guidelines section contains legal and policy requirements for grant products.

Web Products

All AHRQ-funded websites must identify AHRQ as the primary sponsor, through the:

  • Website URL. The URL must contain AHRQ unless the contractor obtains a domain name waiver from the HHS Secretary. A web resource should either be a folder on the main AHRQ website (for example, www.ahrq.gov/x/) or a third-level domain of the website (for example, https://x.ahrq.gov).
  • HHS and AHRQ logos. The HHS and AHRQ logos will be featured prominently on the website and in materials used to market the site. The OC Web Quality Assurance Lead, Biff LeVee, will provide a standard web banner and footer.
  • Home page format. The website home page has common design and navigation elements so all AHRQ websites look as though they belong to HHS and AHRQ. AHRQ sites must include the standard banner and footer. The header and footer contain mandatory elements and links, and contractors cannot modify their content. The AHRQ web team will provide technical specifications and templates for developers designing web resources that will appear on the AHRQ main site.

Contractors must submit all new or updated content for AHRQ websites to a managing editor for review before it is posted on an AHRQ website.

Nothing marked "draft" or “under construction” will appear on the AHRQ site, nor will placeholders be used for content that does not exist.

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Clearances

AHRQ and HHS must approve new and redesigned websites prior to launch. AHRQ Offices and Centers must coordinate AHRQ review through Biff LeVee, who will coordinate HHS review and approval.

Contractors who maintain AHRQ third-level domains must review web postings twice a year for appropriateness and currency. If you have questions about whether material is appropriate, contact your OC managing editor.

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Accessibility (508)

All websites and material posted on AHRQ websites must be fully accessible to people with disabilities and comply with requirements under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Contractors must provide equivalent alternatives for audio and visual information, such as providing alternative descriptive text for images for visually impaired people and captioned video files for hearing impaired people. Contractors must provide online transcripts for all audio. For standards and guidance, visit the HHS site on Section 508. For more information about accessibility, go to Appendix 2-B, Accessibility and the Revised 508 Standards.

The HHS 508 Team reviews all new and redesigned sites for 508 compliance and approval before launch. Biff LeVee coordinates this process. Both OC and HHS can review sites during the development stage. For details, contact the managing editor.

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Linking

Links to websites outside the .gov domain constitute an implied endorsement and create a business advantage for the linked sites. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requires agencies to conduct a risk assessment of external links, and potential links need to be assessed against HHS and AHRQ linking policies and criteria. Contractors must assess links according to the AHRQ linking policy in Appendix 2-C and must comply with the HHS web standard for external link disclaimers and icons.

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Web Development and Redesign

AHRQ can provide technical assistance to ensure deliverables meet the requirements outlined in this section. Please work with the project officer, managing editor, and web team to begin development. For guidance on websites, visit the Checklist of Requirements for Federal Websites and Digital Services. Also refer to HHS Web Standards.

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Technical Assistance for Web Tools

If a tool posted to the website requires users to seek technical assistance, provide the following information:

  • Instructions on how to use the tool
  • Name, telephone number, and email address for the individual to contact for technical assistance
  • Mechanism for future updates and revisions, if applicable

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Source Code

Software and products resulting from AHRQ projects must be easily available to other users and developers. The best way to ensure adoption and implementation is to have a web-based final product that is platform independent. Contractors must coordinate with AHRQ on infrastructure requirements for housing any robust back-end applications before development.

Contractors must deliver source code for any technical application to the AHRQ Contracting Officer’s Representative or Task Order Officer with the product. Doing so provides AHRQ with the knowledge of how the application was created and enables the Agency to make corrections, updates, or conversions to keep pace with technological changes once the product is released.

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Usability

Contractors must include usability testing, evaluation, and modification as an integral and recurring part of the development effort. HHS provides a set of research-based web design and usability guidelines.

Websites and applications, including mobile sites and apps, must be available for evaluation using usability heuristics before release. Contractors must document feedback and coordinate issue resolution with OC.

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Browsers

The latest list of supported browsers and platforms follows:

  • Chrome 62.x (Windows 7, Windows 10, Samsung Galaxy S7 with Android 7.x)
  • Internet Explorer 11.x (Windows 7)
  • Firefox 56.x (Windows 10)
  • Safari 11.x (iPhone 6 with iOS 11, Mac OSX10.11)
  • Microsoft Edge 16 (Windows 10).

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Domain Names

The OMB issued a freeze on new .gov domain names (X.gov) in 2011. Third-level .gov domain names (X.ahrq.gov) can be requested through Biff LeVee.

Domain names for any web resource paid for in whole or in part by AHRQ must be registered as .gov domains by AHRQ through HHS with the General Services Administration (GSA) unless AHRQ obtains a waiver from the HHS Secretary. The .gov domain name will be indexed by USA.gov, the GSA portal for Government-funded resources.

Contractors and nongovernment employees cannot register domain names for an AHRQ site. Contractors must coordinate domain name requests with Biff LeVee, who can advise on current policy.

Domain names other than .gov can be used only if the HHS Secretary grants a waiver to existing policy. If an AHRQ site uses other domains, such as .org, .net, .edu, and .com, the .gov domain must be registered and be the primary domain.

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Privacy Considerations

Privacy policy. Each AHRQ site will display the standard AHRQ footer, which includes a link to AHRQ’s privacy policy. OC staff members periodically audit AHRQ sites to ensure they observe the privacy policy.

Privacy impact assessment. AHRQ conducts a privacy impact assessment to determine what kind of personal information is contained within AHRQ systems and how that information is used and protected. Contractors may need to prepare and publish a Privacy Act system notice when users must register on a site if the registrations represent a group of records under the control of the Agency or the contractor that can be retrieved by a personal identifier. This system notice goes through several levels of review, including the HHS Office of General Counsel, and is published in the Federal Register. Contractors must work in coordination with AHRQ staff for submission of the Privacy Act system notice, to adopt or modify the general privacy policy of the AHRQ main website, and to respond to questions on the privacy impact assessment worksheet. Contact Tim Erny in AHRQ’s Office of Management Services’ Division of Information Technology for more information on the privacy impact assessment.

Use of cookies. AHRQ sites can use persistent cookies and other measurement and customization techniques if certain issues, such as privacy, are addressed (refer to OMB Memo M-10-22).

Website mailbox and records management. Each AHRQ website must include a "Contact Us" link for customers to submit comments or questions. Website email is subject to the same privacy and records management considerations that affect the overall website, as well as HHS standards for handling inquiries and customer feedback. Each AHRQ website must also provide relevant frequently asked questions.

Contractors who manage AHRQ sites must maintain the site’s website mailbox, update the site’s frequently asked questions, and maintain an electronic archive of responses. Per HHS recordkeeping standards, all emails must be archived for 2 years. After 2 years, the contractor will review the archive to determine if the contents should be retained. Contractors must submit the number of inquiries handled during each fiscal year to Biff LeVee for inclusion in web metrics for Agency reporting under the Government Performance Reporting Act.

For guidance on records management requirements, go to HHS Web Records Policy & Guidance.

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Electronic Freedom of Information Act

AHRQ’s standard footer provides a link to the AHRQ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) page. This link is mandatory and provides access to AHRQ’s electronic FOIA library and materials that can be requested under FOIA in electronic form.

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Security

Contractors must protect AHRQ websites against intrusion, corruption, and compromise of content. GSA periodically audits and evaluates web resources for security. Contractors must document and report any attack on AHRQ web resources to their project officer, who will report them to the HHS Inspector General via AHRQ Information Security & Privacy Team.

Contractors must establish and maintain security for AHRQ websites according to AHRQ and HHS policies and procedures. Biff LeVee can assist in defining and implementing applicable security requirements.

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Page last reviewed November 2018
Page originally created April 2009
Internet Citation: Section 2: Web Products and Website Development and Redesign. Content last reviewed November 2018. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. https://www.ahrq.gov/research/publications/pubcomguide/pcguide2.html
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