The Labor Department is getting into the contest business, announcing $70,000 in prizes for software developers who can help get its often-arcane but important data to consumers.

Information about both contests, which will be announced Thursday, can be found at http://www.challenge.gov.

The Occupational Employment Statistics challenge asks developers to imagine using a trove of employment and wage data that is compiled every year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on hundreds of professions. The idea is to give job-seekers a way to use the data as they search.

For example, if someone moving to an area is looking for a new job, they might want to know about big industries in that area and local average salaries for various occupations. The Labor Department has this data but, simply put, doesn’t know how to get them in the hands of real people.

The other challenge asks developers to use compliance data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its Wage and Hour Division that, like job data, doesn’t get out to the public.

Say you’re looking for a hotel or restaurant job. You could plug in the address of your potential employer and check out its safety history. Or, as Labor Department spokesman David Roberts puts it, “If you’re the person in the grocery store that's making sure you buy fair trade coffee and organic produce, don't you also want to know that the restaurant you go to has a strong safety history and treats their employees fairly? The data is out there; what we're looking for is help finding better ways for normal people to use it."

Developers can submit any kind of software, including a tool designed for the Web, an application for a personal computer, a handheld device or another platform.

The challenges will be open for submissions until Sept. 14. Judges from the Labor Department will select the winners by Sept. 30, and they will be announced around Oct. 17.