Creating an Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-L) for the Department of Labor

Authors: Joshua Schoop, Arati Prabhakar, Jeff Kaplan, and Andrew Sosanya


To create fresh and powerful new approaches to the complex challenges that America’s workers face, Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration should invest $100 million per year for 5 years to launch an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Labor (ARPA-L). ARPA-L’s mission will be to conduct high-impact R&D programs that create breakthroughs to meet America’s workforce challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply exacerbated longstanding problems for America's workers. Mismatches between workers’ skills and employers’ needs alongside persistent racial and gender inequities have long undercut opportunity. Moreover, work has continued to change due to technology and automation, globalization, and shifting relationships between workers and employers. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, many millions of Americans were not earning enough to support themselves and their families. These Americans are missing out on gainful work, while our economy and our society are missing out on their full contribution.

With current advances in information technology, data science, applied social sciences, and learning science, this moment calls for an ambitious initiative to tackle the longstanding challenges for America’s workers. The Federal Government should launch an ARPA-L to research, develop, and test breakthrough approaches that boost workers’ skills and harness data to open new opportunities. By drawing from the operating model of prior ARPA organizations and adapting it to these challenges, ARPA-L’s programs can make it possible to ameliorate underemployment and unemployment and transform the future of work.

To initiate ARPA-L, Congress should provide a budget of $100 million per year over a five-year period. The Biden-Harris Administration and the Secretary of Labor should appoint a highly qualified director and provide that individual with the support needed to succeed. By creating this independent agency at the Department of Labor (DOL), Congress, the White House, and DOL can create opportunity for the U.S. workforce for decades to come.

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About the Authors

Joshua Schoop is the Deputy Director for the Day One Project. Dr. Schoop has worked with various public sector and international organizations developing innovation strategies, conducting mixed methods program and impact evaluations, and researching and developing innovation policy. He holds a M.S. and Ph.D. in International Development from Tulane Law School.

Arati Prabhakar is the founder and CEO of Actuate, a nonprofit organization to research and demonstrate breakthrough solutions for societal challenges. Dr. Prabhakar has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in President Barack Obama’s Administration, a partner at U.S. Venture Partners, and director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in President Bill Clinton’s Administration. She holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University and an M.S. in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology. She is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Jeff Kaplan an executive at Coursera, a leading online learning platform serving over 77 million learners around the world. As one of its leads on government partnerships, he spearheaded a Workforce Recovery Initiative with labor departments and workforce boards across the U.S. that helped upskill over 1.1 million unemployed and dislocated workers. Previously, Jeff led business and technical teams at two data platform companies, CARTO and Socrata, and was a senior technology advisor at the World Bank guiding governments on open data, skill development, emerging technology policies, and entrepreneurship.For most of 2020 Jeff was a member of candidate Joe Biden’s Innovation Policy Committee. He led the Working Group on Skills, Work-Based Learning, and Apprenticeships in its work to generate policies to drive a national skills mobilization, expand equitable access to training and entrepreneurship education, and finance R&D for skill development.



Andrew Sosanya is a Policy Analyst for the Day One Project. He also works as an artificial intelligence researcher. Prior to joining the team, he conducted astrophysics research as a fellow at Caltech. Andrew grew up in Newark, NJ and holds a B.A. in Physics & Government from Dartmouth College.