The Frances Perkins Department of Labor Building in Washington, D.C. 

Sep 28 2021

Labor Department Focuses on New Paths to Modernization

The agency is looking to modernize its cybersecurity and also help states upgrade their unemployment insurance systems.

Two of the biggest drivers of federal IT activity this year — President Joe Biden’s May executive order on cybersecurity and changes to the Technology Modernization Fund’s priorities — are spurring a push for modernization at the Labor Department, according to the agency’s CIO.

Meanwhile, the agency is undertaking a significant effort outside of those realms to help state governments modernize their unemployment insurance systems. Taken together, it looks like a significant amount of technology modernization could get started at the agency in the coming months.

Labor Department CIO Gundeep Ahluwalia said in late August that the president’s executive order has accelerated efforts at his agency and others to modernize. Meanwhile, the TMF, which received a $1 billion appropriation as part of the American Rescue Plan Act — by far its largest annual allocation since the fund’s creation — is poised to fund a new raft of modernization projects, many likely focused on cybersecurity and modernizing high-value systems.

A Flurry of Technology Activity for the Labor Department

The cybersecurity order requires agencies to make quick progress on implementing encryption and multifactor authentication, and is driving a shift to zero-trust architectures for security across the government.

“This is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. We’ve been running this for a while,” Ahluwalia said at a MeriTalk event, according to FCW. “But now we have to use those tools, whether it’s data loss prevention, whether it’s two-factor authentication, whether it’s the [Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation] program … I think this just brings it together, and creates this urgency and impetus to deliver that capability.”

The cybersecurity order has forced agencies to accelerate their progress on modernizing security, and has also put a spotlight on training, the need to scale modern technologies and enabling agencies to hire more easily, according to Ahluwalia.

In addition to receiving sufficient funding through congressional appropriations and vehicles such as the TMF, Ahluwalia said staffing and “skilling up” IT and cybersecurity officials so that they can work with newer technologies is critical, according to FCW.

Labor Department CIO Gundeep Ahluwalia
This is a marathon, it’s not a sprint.”

Gundeep Ahluwalia Labor Department CIO

Meanwhile, in early September, the Labor Department announced the creation of the Office of Unemployment Insurance Modernization to “provide strategic leadership as the department works with state agencies and federal partners to modernize and reform the unemployment insurance system,” according to a release.

The office will spearhead the implementation of a new approach to UI systems, which the Labor Department announced in August. Those efforts include helping states modernize their antiquated UI systems.

Initiatives include unemployment insurance reform and providing oversight and management of $2 billion in funds in the American Rescue Plan Act “to prevent and detect fraud, promote equitable access, ensure timely payment of benefits and reduce backlogs,” the release states.

The Labor Department, as part of those efforts, has partnered with the U.S. Digital Service to “start the transformative project of centrally developing open, modular technology solutions that states may adopt as part of ongoing modernization and improvement efforts.”

The agencies are also working on “shared IT solutions designed to integrate with state systems and provide software to support end-to-end administration of UI, including benefit delivery, employer tools and appeals and working with states’ IT staff to develop and implement plans that build resilience in UI systems across the country.”

RELATED: Robotic process automation and hyperconvergence help the Labor Department be more efficient.

US Department of Labor/Flickr, Creative Commons