Ask Elaws

Roland G. Droitsch says the Labor Department is evaluating fuzzy logic programs to improve its online labor law guides.

Henrik G. DeGyor

Labor expands its online expert systems to manage knowledge

The next best thing to a live expert can be an expert system. That's the Labor Department's reasoning behind expanding its use of artificial intelligence to help 6.5 million U.S. businesses comply with labor laws and regulations.

The department so far has 22 online expert systems that guide users through laws and regulations concerning the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. The department administers about 100 labor laws.

This fall, the department will launch an umbrella system guide to its existing expert systems, the Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses, or elaws, at

Labor has dubbed the forthcoming overall guide the elaws Employment Laws Advisor.

'What this does is similar to the others,' said Roland Droitsch, deputy assistant secretary for policy. 'It asks a series of questions, gives users a list of statutes that apply to them and points to a link that opens a compliance assistance page.'

Step right this way

The compliance assistance page shows the statute, associated regulations and additional help, including links to the appropriate elaws adviser.

Results are tailored to various aspects of a business'for example, its size. 'There is a very big difference between an employer with 250 or more employees, or 50 employees, or a mom-and-pop operation,' Droitsch said.

The elaws Employment Laws Advisor uses decision tree reasoning embedded in an expert system. Because it covers several areas of labor law, it is under review by teams of attorneys at the department.

'The proof of the pudding is whether people use it. We are now approaching 8 million runs a year,' Droitsch said, referring to separate user consultations.

Elaws uses Microsoft Active Server Pages and Internet Information Services. It stores data in a SQL Server 6.5 database, and it uses Java scripting to control user inputs and Visual Basic scripting for decision tree support and report generation.

Droitsch said the department is evaluating more advanced technology such as fuzzy logic and case-based reasoning systems for future elaws projects.

'For example, in the case of a business seeking to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a fuzzy logic system could point to a range of accommodations for a particular employee,' Droitsch said.

In the case of the Family and Medical Leave Act, a case-based system could refer a user to a court ruling or opinion letter generated by the department that could guide an employer
in complying. The ruling or opinion might not be an exact match for the case submitted by the employer, but it would give useful guidance, Droitsch said.

A case-based system organizes the delivery of information but 'does not make new determinations, it packages knowledge,' Droitsch said.

Just a fad?

Droitsch noted that AI technology is popping up in agencies under a new guise. He said AI was a popular research field in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but then interest evaporated.

'The neat thing is that AI is alive under the name of knowledge management' and used in data mining and file control systems, he said.

Labor spends $1 million annually on elaws. Contractor Integrated Management Systems Inc. of Arlington, Va., helped build the expert systems.


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