The Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) is playing an integral role in driving digitization and data modernization at the Department of Labor (DOL), the agency’s chief information officer Gundeep Ahluwalia explained during a recent event.
COVID-19 created both challenges and new opportunities for federal agencies, serving as a catalyst to drive digital transformation. Many agencies ramped up digitization efforts to make information electronically accessible, reducing unnecessary contact and supporting an increasingly virtual environment.
“I want to acknowledge all my colleagues and other departments who have done a phenomenal amount of work to cater to the post-pandemic IT digitization needs that every department has needed for mission delivery and mission outcomes during this very hard time over the last two years,” Ahluwalia said.
When DOL began its digitization journey, the agency divided its entire IT portfolio into two different parts: the commodities of IT, such as infrastructure, compute power and cybersecurity; and application of IT, such as funding and workforce.
“[The commodities of IT] was one area that was important, and I almost feel like you cannot talk about applications and emerging technologies, unless your basic needs are met on the commodity side. We fixed that, so to speak, over the first two to three years,” Ahluwalia said. “Because of those investments, we fared very well during the pandemic.”
To improve the application of IT, Ahluwalia explained that DOL deployed a multi-pronged approach to funding its modernization strategy. In addition to DOL’s direct appropriation from Congress for IT, the agency has leveraged the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act to build out a working capital fund.
“Leveraging that capability in conjunction with what is called as the expiring funds authority, where we can sweep expiring funds for doing IT modernization projects, that was another strategy that we deployed in order to improve our velocity of digitization in the department,” Ahluwalia said. “We were chipping away at it using multiple different funding tools or mechanisms.”
TMF also played a key role in DOL’s modernization and funding strategy. The agency has currently been awarded funds for two projects: digitization and data modernization. The agency has also applied for additional TMF funds that are currently pending for cybersecurity, accessibility in 508 efforts and more.
The agency has used TMF funding to transition its labor certifications from paper-based processes to what the agency calls "e-Certifications," reducing manual workloads and costs. These digitization efforts have enabled DOL to issue certifications securely and electronically to employer applicants through an electronic document. DOL’s project has also streamlined data accessibility, sharing and reporting by creating a data hub at the agency to securely transmit labor certifications and other necessary documentation to other agencies, creating a more “seamless” process.
"There's a temp worker visa program, which transcends the Department of Labor, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), USCIS, CBP and the Department of State. It was fragmented across these various organizations,” Ahluwalia explained. “I am pleased to report that we got that TMF funding, and, before the pandemic, we had digitized that entire process.”
DOL also used TMF funding to invest in its data infrastructure to help improve availability and accessibility of the agency’s data. The agency has faced several challenges when it comes to data, including quality, consistency and availability, which has limited DOL’s ability to use it to drive organizational performance improvements.
“We are data rich, but information poor sometimes. So, this technology modernization fund loan that has been awarded to the department will be utilized to turn that data into meaningful information, break the silos and serve it to the right person at the right time, in a secure manner without infringing on people's privacy,” Ahluwalia said.
Under the second project, DOL will incorporate enterprise-standard predictive analytics and reporting capabilities into the DOL IT Platform, implement enterprise data management capabilities and support an API and public-facing data portal to improve both internal and external data sharing.
DOL also aims to improve its cybersecurity posture in accordance with President Biden’s Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity. Ahluwalia outlined some of DOL’s recent cybersecurity enhancements, including launching a 24/7 Security Operation Center (SOC), creating new tools for data loss prevention and investing in zero trust.
“These are all improvements that secure our ability to do mission delivery,” Ahluwalia said. “We get about 300 million potential attacks in a month from a cybersecurity perspective, so you can imagine why these investments are necessary and must be a made as a companion to our digitization strategy.”