Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu shares ambitions for open data over lunch

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Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu, center, poses with FiscalNote CSO Gerald Yao and CEO Tim Hwang following a Lunch and Learn event for FiscalNote employees. (Photo by Mandy Shen)

Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu, center, poses with FiscalNote CSO Gerald Yao and CEO Tim Hwang following a Lunch and Learn event for FiscalNote employees. (Photo by Mandy Shen)

The FiscalNote team welcomed a familiar face to the office recently as it shared a Lunch and Learn with Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu. After arriving from the White House, Lu grabbed a taco and sat down for a direct and engaging conversation about his career, the potential of data and the role of the Department of Labor in the global workspace.

Open government data was a major driver of conversation. The White House’s mandate to release vast new quantities of data has brought a wealth of information to the private sector and opened up opportunities for the growth of new industries. Lu gave a compelling example of the power of information: when the National Climatic Data Center decided to release data collected by the government, an entire industry was born with the proliferation of weather apps and the Weather Channel. As more data is released, there are more areas for the private sector to transform raw information into compelling products and insights.

“Find a mental checklist of what you want in a job. If an opportunity arises that checks more of the boxes than not, take it.”

Chris Lu, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor

Lu paused during the middle of his talk to commend the growth of FiscalNote and reflect on his first conversations with our CEO, Tim Hwang. Lu served on the FiscalNote Board of Directors before the Obama Administration called him to his current position. Today more than ever, the deputy secretary has a significant interest in our mission of making open data useful. Data analytics is the key to deriving future insights about the government’s successes and failures, he shared.

One statistic stood out, both for Lu and the assorted crowd. With current resources, it would take the DOL 100 years to inspect every workplace in America. As government’s workload increases, the number of bodies in the room will not multiply accordingly. Analyzing data efficiently is the key to making informed decisions about where to target your limited resources.

“We’re trying to build a sports car and the roads are unpaved. Because of this, we’re trying to build both at the same time.”

Chris Lu, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor

Some of the biggest daily challenges for the DOL include targeting unsafe workplaces and sifting through the tens of thousands of comments that follow any significant regulation. The workforce has to take on these struggles in a massive and often outdated infrastructure. Lu had an apt metaphor for the challenge of his job: “We’re trying to build a sports car and the roads are unpaved. Because of this, we’re trying to build both at the same time.”

Despite the enormity of the obstacles, significant advances have already been made. The department released an app that tracks working conditions across the world. Instead of carrying a manual that “puts all phone books to shame,” international development professionals and concerned citizens can reference an app. The app signals a trend toward modernization and open access to critical information.

After outlining his vision for the DOL and speaking to the challenges of today, Lu leaned back in his chair and opened the talk up to general questions. He fielded a few policy-specific questions with honesty and brevity, but his most interesting insights were not political in nature. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the deputy secretary gave great career advice.

“Find a mental checklist of what you want in a job. If an opportunity arises that checks more of the boxes than not, take it… I’m doing what I love. If my job becomes not fun, I’ll do something else,” he said.

This attitude found a receptive audience in an office of policy wonks and data enthusiasts who are working at a turning point for technology on Capitol Hill.