Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia testifies during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on June 9.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia testifies during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on June 9. Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call/Pool via AP

Three Steps the Labor Department Is Taking to Make Government More Effective

The wage earners, job seekers and retirees the department serves will benefit from ongoing management reforms. 

The management scholar Peter Drucker once said, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” At the Labor Department we are committed to doing the right things. We have increased accountability within our programs and have taken a hard look at the department’s processes and use of resources to ensure we are being as effective as possible in serving the nation’s workforce. At the core of this effective government is good management, and the department recently took three management actions that emphasize our commitment to operational effectiveness.

First, the department reviewed its debt collection systems and found room to improve. The department’s collection rates are significantly lower than the federal agency average. We have to do better. Debts such as these are owed after enforcement actions are taken by the department. Thorough follow-through on enforcement actions means receiving the money that is owed. It is not enough to perform an investigation, initiate and complete an enforcement action, only to rest before the money is obtained. Rather, the department must vigorously pursue payment where payment is owed. Anything less is a disservice to the workers we have a responsibility to protect and lessens the deterrent effect of enforcement actions.

As such, Secretary Eugene Scalia issued an order directing more responsibility for debt collection to the chief financial officer, who will establish a centralized debt management division with the mission to improve the debt management processes. By centralizing these processes, the department will enhance deterrence and effectiveness and provide consistency across programs, leading to increased collections.

Second, on May 20, Scalia reasserted the secretarial prerogative to review decisions of an adjudicatory body within the department, the Administrative Review Board. Even though review board decisions are issued in the name of the secretary, oversight of these decisions had been essentially delegated to the board itself because no further review was occurring. Now, the secretary will be able to step in and review cases where such review is warranted. This enables him to examine the decisions that are issued in his name, an important part of fulfilling his oath to “well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office.”

Third, we recently directed the department’s administrative trial court, the Office of Administrative Law Judges, to provide regular reports on the number and type of pending cases. With their mission to provide a neutral forum to resolve labor-related administrative disputes before the department, administrative law judges are often entrusted with significant authority in handling cases brought under the laws for which they have jurisdiction. Thus, the department must ensure that Office of Administrative Law Judges continues to produce high-quality work, and where possible, make improvements to case processing.

These regular reports will hold the office to a higher standard similar to the judicial process of Article III courts, which serves as a model for the fair and effective adjudication of disputes. This initiative also makes requested information about pending cases and dispositive motions publicly available, which is important not only for effectively managing the department’s work, but also for bringing increased public transparency to the process by providing the anticipated length of time for pending cases.

These three actions are part of our deliberate, ongoing strategy to drive progress that will result in more effective government for years to come. Positive effects flowing from these actions will benefit the wage earners, job seekers and retirees that the department serves.

Patrick Pizzella is the Deputy Secretary of Labor.