Two and a half years ago, the Labor Department (DOL) didn’t have WiFi, and people were working on old laptops. DOL Chief Information Officer (CIO) Gundeep Ahluwalia asserts that those days are behind the agency.
“The commodities of IT, which we often take for granted, have been resolved,” Ahluwalia said at DOL’s 2019 Tech Day.
The event brought together thousands in-person and via livestream and featured dozens of demos, training and presentations highlighting IT solutions that support the government workforce. Attendees learned how Bureau of Labor Statistics staff are using machine learning and artificial intelligence to automatically and more accurately code work-related illnesses. They also saw how the Mine Safety and Health Administration is using virtual reality to prototype miner training.
Over the past year, the Labor Department has been looking at how to improve IT operations to align with its mission. Agency employees have acquired the tools necessary to drive change and have shifted their focus on how to alter the dynamics around change to better deliver on DOL’s mission.
Labor’s IT modernization progress is evident in how drastically the agency’s Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) score has changed. The agency went from a D to a B in its overall FITARA score, and in one of the categories, it received the only A in the federal space. Cybersecurity posture is also the best it has been at this point in time from the past decade, Ahluwalia said.
However, a problem arises when people immediately shift their attention to emerging technologies on the heels of this progress in other areas of IT modernization. Ahluwalia makes sure to remind his team that the purpose of the agency is to protect American workers and serve them through all of the programs in the Labor Department. “In order for new technologies to be useful, it is key for us to connect all of those technologies and make solutions based on them,” Ahluwalia explained.
Ahluwalia urged Tech Day attendees to maximize value by acquiring the mindset of innovative thinking around how they can save or generate $50,000 for their agency.
“If every attendee comes in with this mindset, a lot of value comes out of events like this one,” Ahluwalia said.
The federal workforce of the future expects the same internal capabilities as that of the private sector, and agencies should be ready to meet those demands. For example, if an employee easily orders an Uber to work, but at work is still working on legacy systems, they aren’t performing optimally. Ahluwalia pointed to the lack of video conferencing capability in the federal workforce and suggested that internal processes should be improved and mirror the private sector. Of course, technologies like 3D printing should still be considered as agencies work to modernize, but there is a balance between improving basic workplace capabilities and exploring emerging technologies.
The point is to connect the use of exciting technology with the mission of a particular agency. A crucial component of that process is to look at the successes of other agencies.
“The way that we ensure that we’re world leaders and moving as quickly as possible is not reinventing the wheel but standing on the shoulders of our collective experiences,” Suzette Kent, Federal Chief Information Officer and Administrator at the White House, said.
As Tech Day showed us, federal employees are innovative.
— Dominic Sale (@domsale) May 16, 2019
Don’t let the rain slow you down! Tech Day is kicking off at Department of Labor. This is @USDOL CIO Gundeep Ahluwalua and I examining Ollie the 3D printed, autonomous trolley. So many great mission demonstrations to see today. @ciodotgov pic.twitter.com/kILeiTKu4S
— Suzette Kent (@SuzetteKent45) May 16, 2019
Where will that innovation take us as a nation?
Photo Credit: Suzette Kent’s Twitter