Sponsored by Tyler Technologies

Labor Department enterprise data strategy unlocks data as its ‘superpower’

Through more intensely looking at data, Labor finds its can “identify things you might not have caught previously,” which can help drive changes in services...

The Labor Department is looking to get even more value out of the wealth of data it already produces through its first-ever Enterprise Data Strategy, a requirement under the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act.

DOL Chief Data Officer Scott Gibbons said the three-year data strategy focuses on the four FAIR principles: make data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.

“These are principles that guide making our own data more optimal, but they’re also really keyed on letting external users get the most out of our data,” Gibbons said an interview with Federal News Network. “It’s about thinking about the lifecycle of data and really embracing these ideas that are encapsulated in the Evidence Act around making our data a strategic asset for the public to use.”

Among its goals, the strategy directs the agency to analyze its data to understand how and when its programs don’t make an impact on underserved communities.

DOL Chief Innovation Officer Chike Aguh said sometimes those insights can only happen if disparate offices within the agency can share and access each other’s data.

Real-world scenarios show why data sharing matters

The Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA) for example, which inspects all 13,000 mines in the U.S. four times a year, can better meet its mission by pulling data from Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, which enforces federal labor laws.

“Usually companies that don’t pay people well also have safety violations,” Aguh said. “If MSHA could more readily know who those people are, they can potentially, frankly, keep workers alive, on the job, so they can go home to their families. Part of this strategy, by inlaying these principles, we make that more likely.”

Given the Biden administration’s push to promote diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility throughout government, Labor is using the strategy to make sure that department organizations use data to understand which populations don’t yet benefit from its programs.

“One of the things that we scrambled to get done was to actually create some environments where, as people were asking these kinds of questions, we could use data as a strategic asset to answer those kinds of questions,” Gibbons said.

The agency, for example, found that women and people of color were more likely to face challenges accessing unemployment benefits, especially during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To address this issue, Labor launched $15 million in Unemployment Insurance Navigator Grants for states to work with community organizations to improve their UI systems in ways that will improve access.

Labor, as part of its Summer Equity Data Challenge, found black unemployed workers were 30% less likely to receive unemployment benefits, compared to white workers throughout the pandemic.

“The term ‘underserved community’ is used often. But the key here is to actually leverage data so that the nature of that underserved community is actually understood. ,” Gibbons said. “We can identify geographies and groups with that term, and we can target activities in a much more meaningful way.”

Labor plans future data evolution

In terms of next steps under the strategy, Aguh said DOL is looking to further disaggregate its data sets to pinpoint when certain demographics require further attention.

“Inequities hide in averages. When you look at data, whether on a program or anything else, looking at averages, things can look good. When you actually break it out by group, you see very different realities,” he said.

The department under the Biden administration, for example, has begun disaggregating unemployment data for Native Americans on a monthly basis to fully understand the severity of the economic challenges relative to the rest of the U.S. population.

“They had to change the Y axis for unemployment, because it was not high enough to encapsulate what is happening in terms of unemployment to the Native American community,” Aguh said. “We knew the situation was bad, but to know how bad it was — compared to other parts of the population — we would never have known that if we did not disaggregate that data and put it out on a regular basis. Now, the question is, how do we make that readily available, and put it in the hands of folks who can do something about it within the government?”

The strategy’s principles also allow the DOL to pinpoint where its programs are most urgently needed.

In the case of its Veterans Employment Training Service, which helps expedite the reintegration of homeless veterans into the labor force, Aguh said it helps to know that roughly half of homeless veterans live in about 10 states.

“It sounds very basic, but it is very important to be able to have that data geo-located, you’re actually throwing money and resources at the right part of the problem,” he said.

Using data to pinpoint service weaknesses and failures

The data strategy also helps DOL officials know when its programs fall short of their intended goals.

Aguh said the department’s Employment Training Administration, which provides federally funded job training, found that Black workers who found a job through the program received lower wages and benefits compared to people from other demographics who enrolled in training.

“That points to a place where we need to focus to make sure that every worker is getting the right and equitable experience,” Aguh said. “When you know better, you can do better.”

The data strategy also directs the agency to identify opportunities where it can pull in external data sources and link them with its own data sets to create greater insights.

“This idea of using external data to give you the widest possible and best possible perspective on your regulated community, or your stakeholders, or the people who are program beneficiaries, gives you the ability to … identify things you might not have caught previously,” Gibbons said.

Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su, in the strategy’s foreword, noted that the document reflects the “tremendous power” DOL holds with its data and a recognition of the “many ways we are not fully utilizing it in service to our mission.”

Su said: “Data is truly one of the superpowers of the Department of Labor. That superpower allows us to move the needle on critical goals for American workers.”

To discover more digital transformation insights and tactics, visit The Evidence Act: Actionable Insights With Data series.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    Getty Images/iStockphoto/master1305overworked graphic

    A quarter of federal employees feel burnout, causing high turnover and low morale, study finds

    Read more