Wisconsin Turns to Federal Help for UI Infrastructure Modernization

The state of Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is modernizing the IT infrastructure of its unemployment insurance (UI) system in concert with the U.S. Digital Response (USDR) and the General Service Administration’s (GSA) 18F.

The two collaborations will help guide DWD through the procurement process. The first modernization goal for DWD is to purchase an “integrated cloud-based communications system” that would allow for 24/7 access to claim information.

“Typically, it can take over a year just to lay out the requirements for a full system overhaul of this scale. The department is on an aggressive timeline to begin a full-scale modernization of the UI system, so we’ve worked to start this project as quickly as possible,” DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek said in a release. “Building on DWD’s success over the past four months, we are taking a nimbler approach to modernization that can provide faster results with the Federal funding that is available.”

The deal with USDR is a no-cost preliminary consult with the non-profit and nonpartisan organization, while DWD utilized half of $2.4 million in funding that became available in early March to sign a $1.2 million deal with 18F, housed in GSA’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS).

Specifically, USDR will help DWD develop short and long-term modernization plans. 18F will help DWD develop more specific requirements and help build out requests for proposals as DWD moves through the modernization process.

“DWD has long been calling attention to its antiquated system, which limited its customer service options and slowed the processing of unemployment claims both during the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic,” the public release says. “It also forced the Department to delay implementation of new Federal unemployment programs and extensions created in response to the pandemic.”

The modernization plan was authorized by the 2021 Wisconsin Act 4, signed by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, and enacted on Feb. 25. The initial drafting of the bill included funding, but that money was stripped out in a later version. In place of funding, the bill authorized DWD to seek Federal funding.

State UI systems have been in the spotlight recently, due to both how swamped UI infrastructures have been by the volume of claims and fraud taking place in the pandemic. Newly-confirmed Labor Secretary Marty Walsh brought up those shortcomings in a committee hearing last month, and the recently passed American Rescue Plan included $2 billion to help modernize state UI infrastructure and pursue fraud.

Lamar Johnson
About Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is MeriTalk SLG's Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.