Liberating Data for Mainstream America

by Seth Harris on October 27, 2011 · 16 comments

Screen shot of the "Where are the Jobs?" App

"Where are the Jobs?" an online application submitted by SymSoft Solutions in Sacramento, California was the winner of the Occupational Employment Statistics Challenge.

In July the Labor Department launched its first-ever contests to spur the software developer community to create “apps,” or smartphone and computer applications, that would be useful for the public. We launch these contests using the federal government’s innovative tool at www.challenge.gov.  The goal of these contests was simple: leverage developers’ technical expertise and creativity to package publicly-available DOL data and other resources and deliver ready-to-use information to workers, job seekers, and consumers.

DOL agencies regularly produce mountains of data on enforcement actions, employment, unemployment, wages, and other topics.  This information can be useful for those searching for a job, workers looking for ways improve their skills, and consumers who want to know that the businesses they use value safe, healthy, and fair workplaces.

We knew this data was valuable, but we also knew that we hadn’t considered every way to put it in the hands of the American people — at home, in the office, or on the go.

We ran two contests: the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Challenge and the InformAction Challenge.  And today, we’re announcing the winners of each and awarding $68,000 in prize money.

The OES Challenge asked developers to take data from DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and create applications that could help individuals plan their education or job training strategies, negotiate pay and benefits with employers, find places to update their skill sets, and make informed decisions about potential career changes.  The submissions creatively packaged these data and presented it in useful formats, and all of the competitors’ entries are highlighted on the OES Challenge page, but a few submissions stood out from the rest.

Where are the Jobs? received DOL’s first place prize.  This app allows users to retrieve average salaries of occupations and occupation groups by State and/or region and has a comparison function that allows users to find where job types or industries are centered and the best compensated.  This app will help workers make better choices about where to get training and education, apply for positions or, if necessary, move to find good jobs.  Again, the developer who created the application used data that DOL already publishes regularly.  But now, that data can be consumed, analyzed, and acted upon by almost anyone, not just economists and sophisticated users of  BLS statistics.

Our second and third-place, honorable mention and People’s Choice Award winners also produced innovative and useful applications.  You should judge them for yourself.  In addition, there were plenty of other submissions that caught our attention and showcased innovative approaches to using our data, and integrating it with other sources. All can be useful to users in different ways.

The winning submission for our InformAction App Challenge is just as exciting.  The Eat, Shop, Sleep App is already available in Apple’s App Store.  It integrates publicly-available enforcement data from the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Wage and Hour Division (WHD) with consumer ratings web sites like Yelp and other tools, like Google Maps.  When you want to know if the restaurant or hotel you’re planning to visit has received positive reviews from people like, you can also make sure that they pay their employees fair wages and provide safe and healthy working conditions.  Including this information as people make decisions about the businesses they want to visit will allow consumers to make informed decisions, and will keep businesses honest about how they treat their employees.  Again, I encourage you to peruse our second- and third-place finishers, as well, and the four honorable mention winners, including the People’s Choice Award.

These two challenges are just the beginning for the Labor Department.  We still have a dedicated site – http://developer.dol.gov/ – that includes Application Program Interfaces (APIs) and Software Development Kits (SDKs), both of which make it easier for developers to incorporate DOL data into their applications.  In the coming months, we’ll be launching more challenges for our various agencies that will deal with issues like disability employment, equal pay, and worker misclassification.  Like our first two contests, these challenges will engage developers by putting their expertise to work to create applications that turn raw DOL data into actionable tools for workers, job seekers, and employers across the country.  We’ll make prize money available to those who participate, and get some of the best developers in the country to help deliver this crucial information to the American public.  Stay tuned!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Edward Stern October 28, 2011 at 11:03 am

First, I congratulate the folks who thought of this contest, and I congratulate the winners. The apps are very interesting. I hope they will be put to good use.
Second, I would like to see more contests like this.
Third, I suggest a contest for an app that evaluates the dust in the air around a worker. Smart phones have cameras. Many can recognize faces and even smiles. Someone should be able to create an app that analyzes a photo of a worker in a cloud of dust and recognizes an unsafe and unhealthy work situation. It may be worth a try.

2 Gregg October 28, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I was wondering about the InformAction app and how it shows how employers treat there employees.Will it show for example things like how i was retaliated for protected activity by my employer on 4/20/09 accusing me of sending out on rent an unsafe forklift and yet how i provided DOL/OSHA documentation of how this employer rushed out on rent this forklift by gluing the metal radiator back together.
Or will this app show for example how i provided DOL/OSHA complete 100% indisputible company documentation of how my employer on 4/20/09 knowingly sent out on rent a five ton JLG scissor lift that i just locked out unsafe with a major mechanical problem with the steering including picturies of the lockout tags on these JLG lifts.Plus the JLG service bullitin and upgrade kit for this safety problem.
I think this would be great information to put on this app for if i was renting a scissor lift i would want a safe one.Take for instance where a JLG lift fliped over in center city Philadelphia on 10/13/09 killing the operator after he steered just a few inches onto a grate in the sidewalk.So i think steering is a safety item on these lifts.
Gregg S
PROUD NAVY DAD

3 Gregg October 28, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Another thing for this app that consumers and job seekers could use is where you could show how some of these lift were inspected incorectley.See my former employer came up with a code of Q.T.A that was to be written down on just the internal paperwork so as not for the customer to view a copy or recive a copy.Q.T.A stands for Quick Turn Around and this was for lifts that had just come in and were needed to go right back out on rent.This was neither the correct way or safe way of inspecting these lifts.There were some ocassions where these lifts were not even pulled of the trucks and were given a quick look over and just written up.The correct way is either a quarterly inspection or annual inspection and this is how it is written in the service manuels for these lifts.
So i think this would be great info to put on these apps for customers wanting to rent a safe aerial lift.
Also great for job seekers who might have to be faced with having to do this at this employer.
Gregg S
PROUD NAVY DAD

4 Gregg October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Could i add to this app about an employer and how they treat there employees?For example where my employer was forcing a coworker to take numerous physicals to try and force him out.They did not like him and even management tried to get me involved to state i felt unsafe working around him but i refused.The company felt he was old slow and cranky.This was due to him having severe arthrits and yes he was cranky but he would help you with a technical problem or lend you a tool at an instant and if he felt he was unsafe due to his medication he would go home.He has been at this employer for about 13 years or more.Even the second coworker who came forward in my whistleblower case stated after i was illegaly terminated telling me they forced this guy to take five physicals in one year and he passed them every time.This was even given to my OSHA 11(c) investigator who stated that i have too much information that he will need to interview me more at a later date (Never happened). So do you think this kinda shows retaliation for protected activity for whistleblowing in my case by the way they treat this guy?
This would be helpful to job seekers on this app right?
Gregg S
PROUD NAVY DAD

5 Jim Jones October 28, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Back in the good old days when Seth Harris and Roland Droitsch ran OASP, we never would have gotten away with using the word “data” as a singular noun. See the third paragraph of the article: “We knew THIS data was valuable, but we also knew that we hadn’t considered every way to put IT in the hands of the American people — at home, in the office, or on the go.”

6 Web Video Production October 30, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Nice video

7 caiwrigh October 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm

So many benefits can come out of a unique contest like this: the Department of Labor can begin a dialogue with the American people by sharing the numbers they so diligently collect in a straightforward, workable way that Americans can understand and utilize. Innovative companies and individuals get the opportunity to showcase their ideas and technological capabilities in a more public forum. The Department of Labor can forge partnerships with the winning companies that serve as a springboard to job creation and investments. I believe this is a solid use of the Department of Labor’s monies and I am excited to see what other ways the Department will utilize all the new technology available to them to support their goals. The next step is to promote these tools, so that more people, not just individuals who look at the Department of Labor’s website are aware of these awesome applications.

8 Gregg November 1, 2011 at 8:26 am

Another incident that could be put on this app in reguards to how employers treat their employees.
One of my coworkers at this former employer that i worked at there was a mechanic and also a friend was inspecting a scissor lift and had missed a problem with the stear axle and was given a suspension for missing this problem. But how is it that i provided DOL/OSHA complete 100% indisputible compant documentation of how this employer knowingly sent out on rent a five ton JLG scissor lift that i had just locked out unsafe with a major steering problem on the stear axle and they walked away? The lift that i locked out was triple the size of the lift that the coworker missed the problem with the stear axle .
You would think this shows retaliation for protected activity right?
This information was given to my 11(c) investigator.
I think this would be good information to job seekers who might not want to be subjected to this type of unjust treatment by an employer or OSHA 11(c).
Gregg.S
PROUD NAVY DAD

9 Gregg November 2, 2011 at 5:24 pm

How about an app titled “Suspisious activity at DOL”
We could use the incident where i had a meeting with the area director OSHA Philadelphia in reguards to the JLG lifts my employer knowingly sent out on rent unsafe.When i arrived at OSHA’s office i was met at the front desk by an 11(c) investigator who informed me that i was given the wrong date and the area director was out of the office for the day.This investigator cautiously looked around the office and said follow me.We went into a side area where there was no one in and on the desk was an open file.The investigator while facing me reached behind his back and pointed to a name on the file and stated “This guy is claiming those lift’s were safe to go on rent ,I’m not supposed to show you his name if you know what i mean ,because your not supposed to write it down if you know what i mean” Got that real quick and wrote it down for it turned out to be head of JLG tech service department. So i called him and he stated “no there not safe ,that’s why JLG has a service bullitin out on this safety problem,They don’t put out service bullitins if there not having any problems”
But the way this investigator conducted himself raised a red flag with me and i was now wondering what’s going on here.Could it be thetre is some deep pocket action going on and he did’nt get a cut or maybe he knows there is something suspisious going on here.Alot of diffrent angles here to look at.
This investigator even handed me his card and i still have it.
But i think this would make a great app or even swap stories about others with similer incidents with 11(c),right?
Gregg S
PROUD NAVY DAD

10 Marketing Consultant November 17, 2011 at 8:04 pm

What a smart idea – a contest to encourage developers’ technical expertise and creativity – and one that also helps and informs workers, job seekers, and consumers. I look forward to see what initiatives are used to help and support disabled employees in the future.

11 clara fernandez-como disminuir el colesterol November 27, 2011 at 4:04 pm

great contest and good tools to get started.
Clara Fernandez

12 Ralph Miller December 17, 2011 at 3:31 pm

First, congratulations to the winners! The challenge concept is a great idea and one I wish I had known about from the beginning. I’m not sure how you were promoting this, but it slipped past me. I personally know many developers who would be interested in participating in these challenges, so I’ll definitely spread the word, and I encourage others to do the same. We need more public developers involved with government initiatives to promote greater change through technology!

13 Michael January 16, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Great idea; I love the “win-win” aspect of the concept. This program epitomizes how the private sector and government can collaborate for the pubic good.

14 Charleston Appliance Repair January 19, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Congratulations to all award winners AND everyone who participated.

In a few years, smartphone usage to access the internet and databases will rival home computers. These apps are the little engines that facilitate this.

15 Hearing Aid January 23, 2012 at 9:34 am

Looking forward to your next competition, maybe it could have a disability theme and ask for hearing loss, blindness, mobility issues to be addressed. If the app is good, it WILL get to market and get used.

16 habitat mitigation February 25, 2013 at 12:00 am

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Open Government. Regards

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: