Creating a Digital Work Projects Administration

Authors: Philip Lippel, Hirotaka Miura, Yara Komaiha, and Thomas Malone


To address the massive unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden-Harris administration should establish a Digital Work Projects Administration (D-WPA), creating government-funded jobs that people can perform from their own homes or other safe locations. Inspired by the Depression-era Work Projects Administration, or WPA, the modern D-WPA would put millions of unemployed Americans to work serving the public good and speeding the country’s economic recovery.

In the D-WPA, work will be digital instead of physical. Digital tools allow many jobs to be done from anywhere good internet access is available. D-WPA participants could work safely and effectively no matter how long the pandemic limits in-person employment. Working remotely, D-WPA participants could help combat the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate its economic and societal impacts. At the same time, participants would learn, practice, and improve digital skills of increasing value in the modern workforce.

The D-WPA should be established within the Department of Labor, with sufficient funding to put up to 4 million Americans back to work quickly and safely. Funds for this program should be requested in the next COVID-19 recovery package. In the meantime, existing DOL employment and training programs could be used to support an initial cohort of workers for the D-WPA, demonstrating proof of concept while efforts are underway to secure full funding. The D-WPA should create both public- and private-sector positions supporting the national response to the pandemic’s health and economic impacts.

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About the Authors

Philip Lippel is the Assistant Director of the MIT Washington Office, representing the Institute’s research enterprise and educational mission to federal agencies and Congress. He is interested in the multifaceted role universities play in the innovation ecosystem: educating tomorrow’s workforce, driving discoveries, and helping transition emerging technologies to commerce. Philip received an A.B. in Physics and in Theatre from Williams College, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Physics from Brandeis University. He was a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow, and has worked on a variety of research, education, communication and policy issues nationally and internationally.

Hirotaka (Hiro) Miura is a doctoral student in Management Science at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He holds a master’s degree in Mathematics of Finance from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics-Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles. Hiro’s policy experience stems from his time covering foreign financial markets for the Federal Open Market Committee briefings at the San Francisco Federal Reserve. Hiro has deep technical experience working as an IT project manager at General Electric and as an analytics specialist for research computing and banking supervision & regulation operations at the New York Federal Reserve.

Yara Komaiha is an undergraduate at MIT majoring in Biological Engineering and has interned at the MIT Washington Office. Komaiha is interested in democratizing innovation and fostering community-led solutions. As a member of MIT Hacking Medicine, Yara has partnered with universities and organizations all over the world to lead healthcare hackathons. In response to COVID-19, Yara co-founded Amplify Inc., a nonprofit connecting individuals to local hospitals, organizations, and initiatives in order to mobilize community support against the pandemic.

Thomas Malone is Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School and founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. His research has consistently anticipated major business and technology trends, such as “gamification” and the “gig economy,” by decades. He published the critically acclaimed The Future of Work in 2004, long before that phrase became common. He holds 11 patents., a Ph.D. from Stanford University, an honorary doctorate from the University of Zurich, and other degrees in applied mathematics, engineering, and psychology. His newest book, Superminds (2018), describes the potential for future major developments.