WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, about improving state unemployment system technology to get benefits out faster, as well as building out our STEM and cybersecurity workforce. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.
ROSEN: Mayor Walsh, thank you for being with us, for all of your answers, and for your commitment to serving our nation. I appreciated our productive meeting and look forward to learning more about your plans to support working families, revive our nation’s economy, create jobs, and, of course, train America’s workforce.
In my home state of Nevada, working families are the backbone of Nevada. Our strong labor unions are what make our world-class hospitality center, entertainment, our stages, our tourism-based economy are all possible because of our labor unions. Amidst a global pandemic that has devastated our workforce and led to record unemployment, I urge this committee’s swift nomination of Mayor Walsh so we can get him to work.
COVID-19 has devastated communities across this country and strained the systems that we use to deliver relief to struggling families. My home state of Nevada has seen one of the highest rates of unemployment. In December of last year, 1.5 million initial unemployment claims had been filed since the start of the pandemic. Our state unemployment agency went from processing 20,000 claims each week in February 2020, to more than 300,000 [claims per week] by August. I’m grateful to the agency’s employees who worked nights and weekends to plow through all of that to get benefits out to Nevadans. But I’m frustrated that it took so long to get financial support out. Our personnel had to use outdated technology and without adequate federal government support.
Mr. Walsh, how can the Department of Labor really support our state unemployment agencies who are weathering this crisis – they’re going to continue to weather this -- so they can get workers, quickly and efficiently, the benefits they are entitled? How do we invest in technology and upgrades to make this happen for all 50 states?
WALSH: Thank you very much, Senator. The first way we do it is by working collaboratively together with the Senate and the Congress to think about what the commitment is to upgrading the technology system. I know that in Massachusetts we’re one of I believe 30 states that have upgraded the technology over the last decade for the UI system, but that system probably needs an upgrade again. When I became the Mayor of Boston in 2014. We started to invest in technology and IT. We started to invest in the capital side of IT, and We’ve made investments with the police and fire [departments] with their radio systems. We’ve made investments across the board, and really what we have to do is make further investments as a government in technology.
UI is one of those areas that there’s obviously a big spotlight on today, and shows one of the glaring shortfalls, if you will, in technology for government as a whole. But, there are many other areas that there is a shortfall as well in technology for government as a whole. I can’t speak really articulately about the federal government yet, because I’m not here yet, but I’m just making an assumption that the Federal government’s IT system is no further along than states and cities all across this country.
So, I really think that we have to work collaboratively together to fix the system that needs upgrading. I know that this is a priority as well of the President and the Vice President, and certainly of all the folks. We bring all these young people in to work in government, and when they get here they laugh at where we are as far as technology is. So, maybe we should start listening to some of these young people around us to understand how do we advance our technology better.
Ranking Member Burr is now looking at me and shaking his head, so the two of us are on the same page I think right now.
ROSEN: Well, I want to keep in this vein, because I’m actually a former computer programmer and systems analyst. I make the joke that I was an applications programmer. I wrote apps before they were called apps. But, I’m passionate about improving IT and our STEM workforce and our cyber-workforce. They’re good paying jobs right now that are available – More than half a million at least across this country. And, we’ve seen many cyber-attacks that are crippling our schools, our hospitals. I know you’ve seen the ransomware attacks, Solar Winds attacks. So, again working on the seam of IT and security, I was hoping that you would commit to really helping us build this technology workforce, this cyber strength within our Department of Labor to protect all of that. I was hoping you’d commit to work on that with us as well.
WALSH: Absolutely, Senator. That certainly will make our agency more efficient and be able to carry out on behalf of workers more effectively. I forgot for a moment that you and I spoke the other day about technology. So, certainly you have a better knowledge than I do on this, and a lot of people have on this. But, I do think if we can become an agency that is more effective on the ground level with OSHA requirements, but also with technology it will only help and advance the American worker and the American industry.
ROSEN: Just as I close, We’re going to try to get those apprenticeships, internships, returnships, all the things we talked about to get people trained into these great good-paying jobs that will move us forward. So, thank you.