Putting Data to Work for Workers: The Role of Information Technology in U.S. Worker Protection Agencies
The adoption by the Department of Labor (DOL) of new Strategic Goals in 2010 represented an important turning point in its history. In a more thoroughgoing fashion than ever before, DOL has embraced the principle that outcomes and impacts, not outputs, are the criteria by which its worker protection efforts should be judged. The Department’s recently adopted New Approach specifies that rigorous data analysis and program evaluation, informed by social scientific research methods, are now the preferred metrics for quantifying the Department’s effects on the regulated community. Notably absent from the Agency’s public documentation, however, is any detailed evaluation of the role of information technology in supporting its enforcement agenda. In this article, the author seeks to fill this void by describing how a comprehensive reevaluation of DOL’s data infrastructure and IT capabilities could further the principles embodied in the New Approach. She proposes four criteria – quality, scope, accessibility, and interconnectivity – for assessing the performance of each regulatory IT system; enumerates ways in which each criterion can be observed and measured; identifies ways in which DOL’s current data systems fall short; and suggests promising avenues for reform. The author also highlights important barriers that impede systemic IT change and suggests ways in which they might be overcome.