Department of Labor announces new modernization effort for UI programs

IT systems for unemployment insurance came under particular scrutiny during the pandemic.
A view of the Department of Labor building in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)

The Department of Labor plans to work with state agencies to boost the reliability of the country’s unemployment insurance systems. 

The new program, called the OpenUI Initiative, aims to promote modular unemployment insurance technology. The idea is that “states can choose to use or adapt software developed by others or make software they’ve created on their own available for others to use via the platform,” the DOL website explains. 

The quality of software used to facilitate unemployment payments has remained an ongoing frustration, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people were supposed to be receiving enhanced benefits. The goal now is to change states’ approach to procuring UI systems, the agency said. 

Next steps for the Open UI Initiative program include the creation of a technical advisory group by the UI Information Technology Support Center (UI ITSC) — a body held under the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) that’s also assisting the DOL. Once that group has formed an “Open UI framework,” the ITSC is supposed to begin helping states and vendors source software. Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation is also involved in the effort. 


The hope, the DOL press release says, is for early adopters to contribute to or use the system before the end of next year. 

The announcement comes after the DOL revealed in May a new IT modernization strategy for these systems. That strategy highlighted several goals, including helping states with the implementation of credentials, replacing legacy IT systems, and deploying robotic process automation. 

Earlier this fall, the department also said it would award more than $200 million to improve state UI systems. That money is supposed to help states segment their UI systems into “smaller components” that can more easily be replaced. 

Rebecca Heilweil

Written by Rebecca Heilweil

Rebecca Heilweil is an investigative reporter for FedScoop. She writes about the intersection of government, tech policy, and emerging technologies. Previously she was a reporter at Vox's tech site, Recode. She’s also written for Slate, Wired, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. You can reach her at Message her if you’d like to chat on Signal.

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