Employees at the Department of Labor, like their counterparts at other federal organizations, spend countless hours manually filling out forms, filing reports, acquiring goods and services, and completing other time-consuming administrative tasks to help accomplish their agency’s mission.
Krista Kinnard, 34, the department’s chief of emerging technologies, is helping automate many of these repetitive processes by using modern technology, saving time and money, reducing errors and creating greater efficiencies in areas ranging from human resources and procurement to basic services provided to the public.
“Krista’s innovative work has improved services for American workers, empowered DOL’s workforce with modern skills, and helped the department realize benefits of the latest technologies,” said Susan Wool, a Labor branch chief for strategic outreach and communications.
Kinnard, as a young leader relatively new to the department, has successfully focused on the use of artificial intelligence, automation and machine learning to reduce the time employees spend doing certain repetitive tasks.
Using robotic process automation, or bots, for example, Kinnard helped cut the amount of time from hours to mere minutes for formatting and organizing government-mandated personnel performance reviews for delivery to the Office of Personnel Management.
In another example, she and her small, agile team streamlined the procurement process at the department, which spends $2.4 billion annually on goods and services. Through the use of acquisition-related bots, Kinnard transformed work that once took 40 hours to complete, requiring searches through multiple webpages and databases to populate reports, and reduced the time to less than three minutes.
“Krista’s work has freed up employees to do higher-level, mission-oriented work that is so important,” said Lou Charlier, Labor’s deputy chief information officer. “Her work is setting up the department for the future.”
But Kinnard is doing more than improving administrative processes. Though in the early stages, her small team could eventually make job searching and skill matching easier and more accurate for military veterans and others who use Labor’s web tools, automatically identifying common connections between job openings and applicants’ backgrounds and skills.
This is just one of the projects that Kinnard is working on in a Labor technology incubator that the department established under her guidance. Like a private incubator that helps small startups develop ideas and scale up to become full-fledged businesses, the department’s incubator invites staffers to propose ideas that could benefit agencies and the public in new, smart ways. Other federal agencies are now looking to her expertise to implement technology similar to what the Labor Department has done.
“Krista has really been able to champion a culture change at the department,” said Sanjay Koyani, the department’s chief technology officer. “Her approach has been to raise awareness, start with some early wins and create momentum around this work. She has found creative ways to “get organization-wide buy-in, which ultimately has led to a culture shift at DOL.”
Automation and artificial intelligence work best when the people who are handed these tools accept the promises of technology. Resistance is common, especially when employees fear that automation will replace their jobs. This is also where Kinnard shines, explaining that the bots are there to modernize work, not replace people.
“She is leading at Labor by reaching out to everyone and introducing them to technology,” Wool said. “Because technology is scary for some people, having a dynamic advocate for the technology is very refreshing. She has the personality of someone you want to gravitate to. She invites you in to learn and to share her knowledge and to make things accessible.”
When Kinnard proposed a “Bot-a-thon” to train employees on using bots and brainstorm ideas, she assumed about 20 people might show up for the initial session, Labor leaders said. Instead, more than 800 people took the course over three days.
As a result, 30 ideas were submitted for exploration, and seven were selected as projects for team development. It is too soon to say how many will make it through rigorous stages before testing and more review. But department leaders said the mere evolution of such a brainstorming and training process, and the promise it brings, are both remarkable and hopeful for all of government.
“The work that Krista is piloting is enabling the agency’s employees to do their jobs faster and better for things that the American public is relying on us for,” Koyani said.
Kinnard started her public service career in the Peace Corps, where she served in rural Ecuador. After receiving a master’s degree in data analytics and public policy, she worked for a health care system in Pittsburgh, next at IBM and then moved to the government—to direct the General Service Administration’s AI Center for Excellence—before going to Labor in April 2021.
Kinnard said her goal has been to “create a safe and structured space for the Department of Labor to explore new technologies as a means of “improving government services and helping the people of this country.”
“Public service has been a part of everything I’ve ever wanted to do,” Kinnard said. “I really wanted to be a part of how we can use this technology to make an impact in people’s lives, and I love helping government become more effective and efficient.”