GERMANY: Implementation of the Online Access Act, case study on the federal digitisation programme


To better shape digital transformation and address the associated technological challenges and changes that affect everyday life of the citizens, in 2017, the German government adopted legislation to enhance online access to public services. This is the Act to Improve Access to Administrative Services, short title: Online Access Act. Legislation stipulates that by the year 2022, a total of 575 user-focused public services shall go online in Germany. Future public service users expect to manage their needs easily and in a user-friendly way.

The German SAI has selected digital transformation as a focus area for its work. In 2018 and 2019, we studied as to how the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Homeland Affairs (the Ministry) has implemented the law. On the one hand, the Ministry holds sole responsibility for offering federal government services online (federal digitisation programme). On the other hand, the Ministry synchronises service implementation across multiple government levels.

The Ministry listed 575 administrative services in an online catalogue. We found that the Ministry was not fully aware of sequence of operations for implementing such services. At central government level, the Ministry planned to enable citizens to submit and complete digital applications online and receive a confirmation via an electronic back channel. There was no assurance on timely implementation of the once-only principle in the federal digitisation programme. Nor had the Ministry carefully studied the organisational management processes following online submission of an application.

In particular, this is not in line with the European Union (EU) regulation on the establishment of a central digital access gateway (Single Digital Gateway - SDGR). The Ministry had also failed to adequately arrange for digitalising the 21 major services set out in the SDGR.

We recommended to the Ministry promptly concluding its plans for online public services. The SDGR strives for full online delivery of 21 services in accordance with EU requirements. In the medium term, the Ministry should also subscribe to that goal for the other services set out in the Online Access Act in an effort to increase acceptance among citizens. This effort also requires optimising and digitalising the related organisational management processes.

The Ministry stated that the steps proposed at domestic level met the SDGR requirements for full online delivery of the 21 basic services. The Ministry made the point that the once-only principle would not be complied with before 2023. The Ministry added that the purpose of implementing the Online Access Act merely was to make 575 public services accessible online. The Ministry concluded that although not expressly stated in the Online Access Act, it was an implicit goal to enhance internal organisational structures and processes.

We do not fully concur with this reasoning. We doubt especially that the target of implementing the once-only-principle for the 21 major public services included in the SDGR will be accomplished by 2023.