The Technology Modernization Fund award for the Labor Department was used to supplement the modernization of the Foreign Labor Application Gateway (FLAG) system, which launched in January 2019. FLAG replaced the previous system used to certify temporary work visas, resulting in the creation of a digital boarding pass to easily share information across federal agencies, save costs and streamline the overall process. DOL is the first step in the entire visa certification process.
In particular, the TMF funding supported the implementation of the data hub that enables sharing of user information and case data across multiple government systems. The FLAG system uses Login.gov as a common authentication system to share and display user information and authoritative data between the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Agriculture. In July 2020, USDA’s Farmers.gov portal was integrated with the FLAG system using the data hub. Now farmers are able to access in near real-time the status of their applications no matter which portal they login to — FLAG or Farmers.gov. As a result, agencies can “subscribe” to different data streams from FLAG and become consumers or producers of data, allowing them to push or pull data from the data hub directly. This new architecture streamlines data sharing across multiple agencies in an efficient manner, and provides employers and applicants access to the same information in real-time.
DOL issued a contract to Booz Allen Hamilton on April 29, 2019, to build the IT infrastructure to support the creation of a data hub, which shares data across other government agencies in near real time. The data hub also allows for the sharing of information across employers and applicants across all five temporary work visa certification programs.
The TMF funding allowed DOL to accelerate the modernization of the temporary work visa certification system in a condensed time frame, and without it, the project would have become a multi-year long project. It also allowed DOL to ensure the continuity of visa certifications for seasonal workers during the pandemic, which could have been interrupted and affected the economy as the previously used printing offices would have been closed.
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The previous system was a 10-year old legacy system and modernizing it with the new FLAG system enabled DOL to deploy a digital labor certification process across all five visa application programs throughout 2019:
For instance, the SeasonalJobs.dol.gov website, which is FLAG’s advertising platform for seasonal job openings, deployed in December 2018 replacing the previous public job registry website. FLAG’s data hub infrastructure also went live in May 2020, sharing H-2A agricultural worker certification data with Farmers.gov, the Agriculture Department’s portal to streamline American farmers’ access to the labor certification process.
The department has begun to repay the TMF loan, submitting the first payment on June 25, and expects to complete repayment in fiscal 2025.
The previous legacy system for temporary labor certifications utilized expensive and specialized blue security paper, which was used to mail certifications between DOL printing offices. The new FLAG system for temporary visa labor certifications digitized the entire process and eliminated the use of the blue security paper allowing for a more efficient and effective process for employers and applicants. The FLAG system improves data accuracy, streamlines processes, shares data across federal agencies, and provides an improved user application experience. As a result, FLAG saves millions of dollars annually by eliminating the special-order blue security paper and associated mailing costs, and permits certification issuance from any worksite, no matter how remote. FLAG also reduces manual reviews of applications by 67%, automatically processes 97% of H-1B applications; and handles peak filing seasons without overload, having issued over 600,000 foreign labor certifications decisions in 2019.
The department shares lessons learned with other government agencies through a variety of avenues and channels including CIO Council meetings, public speaking engagements and social media. Additionally, the Department of Labor has engaged interfacing agencies such as U.S. Digital Service, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and State to share TMF project capabilities and lessons learned with their functional and technical audience. Labor also discussed its IT strategy and lessons learned through media interviews, podcasts and website articles on DOL.gov surrounding their IT modernization efforts.
The Technology Modernization Fund Program Management Office (PMO) is a major asset to organizations considering TMF funding. The PMO can assist agencies in proposal development and building a strong business case to secure TMF funding. It also assists with project transition and execution. TMF funding is a very valuable tool for agencies as it can be used to fund IT modernization projects and position them for success, while also offering budget flexibility with a five-year repayment window. The TMF funding process is incremental in nature as it ensures certain milestones are met before the next phase of funding occurs for awarded projects. It also provides access to talent to enhance project teams and help overcome challenges.