18F will help Wisconsin fix its unemployment system

The federal agency will help Wisconsin conduct research and solicit a vendor to build a modern unemployment system.
18F in sticky notes
(Scoop News Group)

Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development on Thursday announced plans to partner with 18F, the federal government’s digital services consulting agency, to modernize its unemployment insurance system.

The state will break up procurement for the new system into modular contracts, according to the federal office, which will conduct research, identify qualified vendors and help draft a request for proposals. The RFP design and vendor selection process is expected to take less than 10 weeks, 18F said. The vendor will be tasked with building an integrated communications center for the workforce development department that can offer 24/7 customer service, along with analytics and performance monitoring tools.

The state will spend $1.2 million, acquired through a federal grant, for 18F’s services, and is moving forward on the project without any legislative funding approval.

“Typically, it can take over a year just to lay out the requirements for a full system overhaul of this scale,” Amy Pechacek, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ nominee to lead the workforce development agency, said in a press release. “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. 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.”


Wisconsin also signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this month to receive free consulting services from the nonprofit group U.S. Digital Response, which will set short- and long-term goals for the project.

Several legacy state unemployment insurance systems crashed over the past year when claims rose dramatically following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. California, Florida, New Jersey and New York were among those that struggled to keep up with spikes in claims at the onset of the pandemic.

Evers called a special legislative session earlier this year to address unemployment issues that have persisted through the pandemic.

“Our antiquated system isn’t quite as old as I am, but it has been around since Richard Nixon was president — this system isn’t new, and these problems aren’t, either,” Evers, 69, said during his State of the State address in January. “And Republicans and Democrats alike are to blame. The fact of the matter is that previous administrations and more than a decades’ worth of legislators have known this system was outdated and couldn’t handle an economic crisis like the one this pandemic presented, and they never took the time to fix it.”

As of January, Wisconsin had processed nearly nine million unemployment claims since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost two million more than the total amount of claims processed between 2016 and 2019.

Ryan Johnston

Written by Ryan Johnston

Ryan Johnston is a staff reporter for StateScoop, covering the intersection of local government and emerging technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence and 5G.

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