Labor's site sets up virtual meetings

While many agency World Wide Web sites are simply electronic brochures describing missions and services, the Labor Department has launched a site that provides users with nearly the same service they would receive if they were to meet personally with a Labor representative.

Labor uses a Web-based electronic tool that uses artificial intelligence-based systems to mimic the type of relationship someone would have in a meeting. Announced last week at the FOSE conference, Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses (ELAWS) uses systems that simulate the problem-solving behavior of humans to give advice to the public on compliance issues, work place laws, rights and responsibilities.

With ELAWS, Labor has joined the growing number of agencies that are tapping the power of the Internet to provide interactive service to citizens. ELAWS provides an efficient virtual tour guide to lead users through a maze of bureaucratic regulations to find an answer that might take a caller on the phone or an individual fingering through documents hours or even days.

Point your browser to www.dol.gov/elaws to access the first page. The site, designed for individuals and small businesses, leads users to nine virtual advisers, including those for the Employment Standards Administration's Family Medical Leave Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's rules and regulations on asbestos, fire safety and confined spaces.

Some advisers can be run interactively over the Internet, while others must be downloaded, installed and run on a PC. Additional advisers will be made available throughout the year.

The site uses emerging technology in expert systems, and it is designed to mimic the interaction a human might have with a Labor employee. The expert systems embed complex information, such as the detailed requirements of a regulation, into a computer model. The model, in the form of an "Advisor," asks questions, provides information and directs the user to the appropriate solution based on the user's responses.

For example, once it is installed on a PC, the "Asbestos Advisor" will interview a user about buildings and work sites and the kinds of tasks workers perform at those locations. Or, point your browser to the "Veterans' Preference Advisor" to find out about the types of federal job preferences to which veterans are entitled.

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