Revitalizing Federal Jobs Data: Unleashing the Potential of Emerging Roles

Emerging technologies and creative innovation are pivotal economic pillars for the future of the United States. These sectors not only promise economic growth but also offer avenues for social inclusion and environmental sustainability. However, the federal government lacks reliable and comprehensive data on these sectors, which hampers its ability to design and implement effective policies and programs. A key reason for this data gap is the outdated and inadequate job categories and classifications used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The BLS is the main source of official statistics on employment, wages, and occupations in the U.S. Part of the agency’s role is to categorize different industries, which helps states, researchers and other outside parties measure and understand the size of certain industries or segments of the economy. Another BLS purpose is to use the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system to categorize and define jobs based on their duties, skills, and education requirements. This is how all federal workers and contracted federal workers are classified. For an agency to create and fill a role, it needs a classification or SOC. State and private employers also use the classifications and data to allocate funding and determine benefits related to different kinds of positions. 

Where no classification (SOC) or job exists, it is unclear whether hiring and contracting happen according to programmatic intent and in a timely manner. This is particularly concerning to some employers and federal agencies that need  to align numerous jobs with the provisions of Justice 40, the Inflation Reduction Act and the newly created American Climate Corps. Many of the roles imagined by the American Climate Corps do not have classifications. This poses a significant barrier for effective program and policy design related to green and tech jobs.

The SOC system is updated roughly once every 10 years. There is not a set comprehensive review schedule for that or the industry categories. Updates are topical, with the last broad revision taking place in 2018. Unemployment reports and data related to wages are updated annually, and other topics less predictably. Updates and work on the SOC systems and categories for what are broadly defined as “green jobs” stopped in 2013 due to sequestration. This means that the BLS data may not capture the current and future trends and dynamics of the green and innovation economies, which are constantly evolving and growing.Because the BLS does not have a separate category for green jobs, it identifies them based on a variety of  industry and occupation codes. The range spans restaurant industry SOCs to construction. Classifying positions this way cannot reflect the cross-cutting and interdisciplinary nature of green jobs. Moreover, the process may not account for the variations and nuances of green jobs, such as their environmental impact, social value, and skill level. For example, if you want to work with solar panels, there is a construction classification, but nothing for community design, specialized finance, nor any complementary typographies needed for projects at scale.

Similarly, the BLS does not have a separate category for tech jobs. It identifies them based on the “Information and Communication Technologies” occupational groups of the SOC system. Again, this approach may not adequately reflect the diversity and complexity of tech jobs, which may involve new and emerging skills and technologies that are not yet recognized by the BLS. There are no classifications for roles associated with machine learning or artificial intelligence. Where the private sector has a much-discussed large language model trainer role, the federal system has no such classification. Appropriate skills matching, resource allocation, and the ability to measure the numbers and impacts of these jobs on the economy will be difficult if not impossible to fully understand. Classifying tech jobs in this manner may not account for the interplay and integration of tech jobs with other sectors, such as health care, education, and manufacturing.

These data limitations have serious implications for policy design and evaluation. Without accurate and timely data on green and tech jobs, the federal government may not be able to assess the demand and supply of these jobs, identify skill gaps and training needs, allocate resources, and measure the outcomes and impacts of its policies and programs. This will  result in missed opportunities, wasted resources, and suboptimal outcomes.

There is a need to update the BLS job categories and classifications to better reflect the realities and potentials of the green and innovation economies. This can be achieved by implementing the following strategic policy measures:

By updating the BLS job categories and classifications, the federal government can ensure that its data and statistics accurately reflect the current and future job market, thereby supporting effective policy design and evaluation related to green and tech jobs. Accurate and current data that mirrors the ever-evolving job market will also lay the foundation for effective policy design and evaluation in the realms of green and tech jobs. This commitment can contribute to the development of a workforce that not only meets economic needs but also aligns with the nation’s environmental aspirations.

FAS Senior Fellow Jen Pahlka testifies on Using AI to Improve Government Services

Jennifer Pahlka (@pahlkadot) is a FAS Senior Fellow and the author of Recoding America: Why Government is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better. Here is Pahlka’s testimony about artificial intelligence presented today, January 10, 2024, to the full Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing on “Harnessing AI to Improve Government Services and Customer Experience”. More can be found here, here, and here.

How the U.S. government chooses to respond to the changes AI brings is indeed critical, especially in its use to improve government services and customer experience. If the change is going to be for the better (and we can’t afford otherwise) it will not be primarily because of how much or how little we constrain AI’s use. Constraints are an important conversation, and AI safety experts are better suited to discuss these than me. But we could constrain agencies significantly and still get exactly the bad outcomes that those arguing for risk mitigation want to avoid. We could instead direct agencies to dive headlong into AI solutions, and still fail to get the benefit that the optimists expect. The difference will come down to how much or how little capacity and competency we have to deploy these technologies thoughtfully.

There are really two ways to build capacity: having more of the right people doing the right things (including but not limited to leveraging technology like AI) and safely reducing the burdens we place on those people. AI, of course, could help reduce those burdens, but not without the workforce we need – one that understands the systems we have today, the policy goals we have set, and the technology we are bringing to bear to achieve those goals. Our biggest priority as a government should be building that capacity, working both sides of that equation (more people, less burden.)

Building that capacity will require bodies like the US Senate to use a wide range of the tools at its disposal to shape our future, and use them in a specific way. Those tools can be used to create mandates and controls on the institutions that deliver for the American people, adding more rules and processes for administrative agencies and others to comply with. Or they can be used to enable these institutions to develop the capacity they so desperately need and to use their judgment in the service of agreed-upon goals, often by asking what mandates and controls might be removed, rather than added. This critical AI moment calls for enablement.

The recent executive order on AI already provides some new controls and safeguards. The order strikes a reasonable balance between encouragement and caution, but I worry that some of its guidance will be applied inappropriately. For example, some government agencies have long been using AI for day to day functions like handwriting recognition on envelopes or improved search to retrieve evidence more easily, and agencies may now subject these benign, low-risk uses to red tape based on the order. Caution is merited in some places, and dangerous in others, where we risk moving backwards, not forward. What we need to navigate these frameworks of safeguard and control are people in agencies who can tell the difference, and who have the authority to act accordingly.

Moreover, in many areas of government service delivery, the status quo is frankly not worth protecting. We understandably want to make sure, for instance, that applicants for government benefits aren’t unfairly denied because of bias in algorithms. The reality is that, to take just one benefit, one in six determinations of eligibility for SNAP is substantively incorrect today. If you count procedural errors, the rate is 44%. Worse are the applications and adjudications that haven’t been decided at all, the ones sitting in backlogs, causing enormous distress to the public and wasting taxpayer dollars. Poor application of AI in these contexts could indeed make a bad situation worse, but for people who are fed up and just want someone to get back to them about their tax return, their unemployment insurance check, or even their company’s permit to build infrastructure, something has to change. We may be able to make progress by applying AI, but not if we double down on the remedies that failed in the Internet Age and hope they somehow work in the age of AI. We must finally commit to the hard work of building digital capacity.

Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Announces a New Collaboration with Experts Cristin Dorgelo, Jennifer Pahlka, Kathy Stack and Peter Bonner as Senior Fellows

These experienced policymakers will shape the Federation’s work supporting a more innovative federal government with the capacity to deliver.

Washington, DCNovember 2, 2023 – The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) today announced a collaboration with four exceptional senior scientific policy fellows: Cristin Dorgelo, Jennifer Pahlka, Kathy Stack, and Peter Bonner.  The fellows will bring combined 60+ years of technology innovation and government service. They will help grow FAS’ government capacity and innovation portfolio

Building federal capacity, with particular focus on financial mechanisms, evidence and data, talent and hiring, and culture, will equip the US government to solve the most pressing challenges facing our nation. FAS supports the federal government through scoping and diagnosing research, convening key stakeholders to identify opportunities and build community and momentum, and partnering with agencies to address bottlenecks and identify promising pathways for progress. 

FAS is in a unique position to support the federal government in building federal capacity. Since delivering 100 implementation-ready policy proposals for the 2020 presidential transition, FAS has grown, expanding capabilities as an organization. Since the outset of the current administration, FAS has focused on building internal organizational infrastructure to support a variety of federal initiatives. 

“Each of these fellows bring tremendous expertise and government service experience to FAS, and a perspective that how government works is as important as what it works on. Their perspectives will guide our work on enhancing government capacity to meet our biggest science and technology challenges” says Dan Correa, CEO of FAS.

Cristin Dorgelo is an independent consultant with more than 25 years of executive leadership experience. She was most recently the senior advisor for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget in the Biden-Harris Administration, and she served as team lead for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Agency Review Team for the Biden-Harris Transition. She was President and CEO of the Association of Science and Technology Centers from 2018-2020. She served in the Obama-Biden Administration’s OSTP from 2012-2017. There, she was the agency’s Chief of Staff and also led the White House “Grand Challenges” and open innovation initiatives, aiming to catalyze breakthroughs towards national priorities.

“An effective and responsive government is essential to addressing urgent problems such as climate change and delivering on priorities such as our national infrastructure,” says Dorgelo. “I appreciate that FAS values a research-driven approach to understand the root causes of barriers and bottlenecks and evaluate new ideas rapidly, and then propose those solutions to agency leaders and policymakers who can put them into practice.”  

Jennifer Pahlka is author of the book, Recoding America: Why Government Is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better.  She is the founder and former Executive Director of Code for America. She served as U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer from June 2013 to June 2014 and helped found the United States Digital Service. Forbes recognized her as among “America’s Top 50 Women in Tech”, among other accolades. 

“As I detail in my book, Americans need to reexamine how we build the systems that give ordinary citizens access to government services. In short, we need to modernize so that we reduce our threat surface and provide better services. I see my work at FAS as a continuation of this important need, making sure that Americans have the digital infrastructure they deserve,” says Pahlka.

Kathy Stack is an independent consultant who advises non-profit organizations, foundations, research organizations, and government officials on strategies to advance cross-program innovation and evidence-based decision-making in health, human services, education, and other social programs. She spent nearly three decades in government service in the White House Office of Management and Budget. She is also a Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Tobin Center for Economic Policy and a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. 

“Too many promising policy initiatives have stumbled in recent decades because policymakers haven’t anticipated the bureaucratic and cultural barriers that stand in their way.  To succeed, bold and necessary policy reforms require creative collaboration between policymakers and savvy civil servants who know how government rules and processes can become enablers, not blockers, of innovation,” says Stack.

Peter Bonner is a public, non-profit, and private sector innovator. He led federal agencies tasked with hiring the technical, management, and staff talent to implement the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act from his role as the Associate Director, HR Solutions at Office of Personnel Management. This resulted in hiring, in less than two years, more than 5,500 specialists to help build roads, bridges, cell towers, water treatment facilities, and semiconductor plants. As OPM’s HR Solutions team executive, Peter led customer experience innovation that helped federal agencies recruit, hire, train, and manage the performance of the federal workforce.

“Federal workers are the heroes of our society. The work they do every day keeps us safe, helps us get to where we want to go, keeps our economy moving forward, provides us safe food, pharmaceuticals and drinking water, and combats the threats of climate change. The quality of our lives is better because of them. It is an honor to support them in everything they do,” says Bonner.


The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) works to advance progress on a broad suite of contemporary issues where science, technology, and innovation policy can deliver dramatic progress, and seeks to ensure that scientific and technical expertise have a seat at the policymaking table. Established in 1945 by scientists in response to the atomic bomb, FAS continues to work on behalf of a safer, more equitable, and more peaceful world. More information at