A Christmas Story: Sharing Educational Resources at the Department of Labor

Not too much happens over the holidays in Washington, D.C. — unless it’s yet another showdown over the federal budget. But this year, a few days before the New Year, the Department of Labor (DOL) made a small change in its regulations that was more in keeping with the holiday spirit. Tis the season for giving (and sharing), and DOL is doing just that, adopting an open licensing requirement for educational resources developed through its competitive grant programs.

For those following along with the Department of Education’s proposal (and ongoing rulemaking) for a similar requirement, it may seem that DOL is following in its footsteps. In fact, though, it has been moving in this direction for years. Starting with its Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grants announced in 2011 (which were jointly administered by the Department of Education), DOL has added open licensing requirements in several competitive programs announced over the past few years.

Keeping with this trend, DOL’s new licensing requirement specifies that, “Intellectual property developed under a competitive Federal award process to be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. This license allows subsequent users to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt the copyrighted work.” Effective as of December 20, 2015, this requirement will apply to several competitive programs DOL has announced for the upcoming year. This includes $25 million in competitive funding for its Strengthening Working Families Initiative grants which invests in education and skills training in combination with customized participant supportive services; $20 million for Training to Work Adult Reentry grants that build out career pathways programs in high-demand sectors for individuals signed up for work release programs; and $5 million for the America Job Centers program that provides incarcerated individuals with workforce services prior to release.

What educational materials (i.e. intellectual property) are produced through these kinds of grants, and what is the value in sharing those resources with others?

Take, for example, the November 17, 2015 announcement of DOL’s new $100 million TechHire Partnership Grants. The program, designed to increase the pipeline of highly qualified information technology workers into the U.S. workforce, will fund more cost-effective, timely, and flexible training options for entry into the field. While there are a number of allowable grant activities, three are notable in light of DOL’s new open licensing regulation:

  1. Designing innovative programs in order to improve customer experience and outcomes;
  2. Adapting existing industry-recognized curricula to support direct education and training provided through the grant;
  3. Incorporating entrepreneurial skills training into an overall training strategy.

These three grant activities fund the development of new programs, curricula, and skills training that, under DOL’s new regulation, will now carry one of the Creative Commons attribution licenses — CC BY. With a CC BY license, the materials produced by grantees can be used by others in the field, and can be adapted to suit local contexts.

It is challenging to determine the total amount of DOL’s grant funding impacted annually by this rule. First, over the past ten years DOL has seen an influx in discretionary appropriations — first through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and then through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act of 2011 — which have together added billions to DOL’s competitive grant programs. After the last of the trade adjustment assistance was distributed in 2014, there was a drop of more than half a billion dollars in competitive grants awarded the following year.

Further, outside of annual congressional appropriations, the Department of Labor also maintains a separate revenue stream used to fund competitive programs: H-1B visa fees. The H-1B program allows employers to temporarily hire foreign workers for high-skill job openings, where there are no qualified U.S. workers to fill those positions. The fees collected along with the visa application forms are then used by DOL to fund workforce training programs — for instance, the TechHire Partnership Grants — to help close these skills gaps within the U.S. workforce.

A Christmas Story: Sharing Educational Resources at the Department of Labor
(New America)

Keeping in mind the irregularities over the past several years, the chart above presents a rough picture of DOL competitive grant funding since 2009 (data compiled from grants.gov). The funds are listed in the year during which they were awarded, not necessarily the year in which funds were appropriated. Absent additional congressional appropriations, it seems likely that the rule change will impact somewhere between $300 and $400 million annually. Compared to DOL’s nearly $12 billion discretionary appropriation for fiscal year 2015 this may not seem like much; however, the programs targeted are those that would be most likely to fund the development of intellectual property.

Changing regulations is only the beginning toward ensuring these publicly funded educational resources can be shared widely. DOL still has a great deal of work to do in order to implement this new requirement. It will need to help its grantees understand the new licensing requirements and identify the best ways to share the resources produced. For now, though, this is a good first step and should lead the Department of Education and other federal agencies to do the same."


Lindsey Tepe is a senior policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. She is a member of the Learning Technologies project and PreK-12 team, where she focuses primarily on innovation and new technologies in public schools.