The Department of Labor has emerged as a leader in transforming crucial information buried in online PDF files or impenetrable government websites into new applications that widely distribute government data.

Joining HHS, EPA, and DOT, in collaboration with the White House Office of Science and Technology, the department has gleaned innovative ideas via contests in which winners receive cash prizes, prestige or the opportunity to attend a conference and learn how to market their products.

Seth Harris, DOL’s Deputy Secretary of Labor, said the effort expands the government’s role to “deliver services the community wants and needs, those things that citizens have difficulty securing for themselves.

“So, it makes perfect sense that the Labor Department would enlist the community in helping to solve big problems like connecting workers to middle-class jobs, making workplaces safe and healthy, and ensuring equal pay for women, among others,” he said. “We’ve tapped the community’s creativity and expertise through our challenges, and the response has been overwhelming. This is participatory government at its very best.”

For the Department of Labor, the effort led to an app called “Eat, Shop, Sleep,” from designer, Rachel Moore, of Alexandria, Va., who won the department’s challenge contest and its $15,000 prize.

The app (video demonstration above) combines consumer information similar to Yelp regarding price, service, and menu, with government information such as wage and hour disputes and OSHA violations.

The information allows consumers to choose which places to patronize based not only on taste, location and price, but also on moral questions of how they treat their employees. And it actually led to a wage and hour dispute settlement on the West Coast.

Xavier Hughes, DOL’s Chief Innovation Officer, said one of his Wage and Hour officers got a call from the business owner.

“He says we’ve been going back and forth on back wages violations and I want to settle it. They said ‘what made you change your mind?’ He said, ‘That app out there, it’s ruining my reputation’,” Hughes said.

The application, Hughes added, is a “wonderful example of how an effective public/private partnership can help fulfill our mission at the Department of Labor. It is important to note that we have taken significant steps at DOL to liberate our data and capitalize on the open government model.”

Hughes said that the contests don’t end the process of getting data out into the broader world, they just start it.

“Technology won’t solve the problem; technology will help spread information,” he said. “So, we collect ideas to help solve the problems.”