Agencies should make internal workforce investments to improve AI implementation, experts say

Many agencies struggle with antiquated digital architecture and a lack of skills and talent to implement AI, a chief data scientist at the Commerce Department's...

As the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act nears its two-year anniversary, some federal leaders are looking at more ways to invest in their agency’s workforce to better implement AI tools.

For agencies looking to use AI more often, first understanding the talent and skills needed is key. But there are some barriers to implementation.

“What we have is a large number of federal agencies that are struggling with antiquated architectures and a lack of skills and talent,” said Chakib Chraibi, the National Technical Information Service’s Chief Data Scientist at the Commerce Department, at an Advanced Technology Academic Research Center (ATARC) event on Oct. 6.

AI has a crucial role for federal agencies, if they are able to implement it effectively. That means creating responsible guardrails like privacy, transparency and fairness in the use of AI, Chraibi said.

“It’s helped us make evidence-based decisions, improve on customer experience, perform intelligent automation, enhance data privacy and ethical data practices, as well as strengthen our cybersecurity systems,” he added.

Some agencies are already aiming to make more internal investments to boost their workforce’s understanding of AI, as well as train current employees on best practices. The Army, for instance, is looking to do more internal upskilling and recruiting, while also working to maintain industry partnerships.

“It’s key for anybody embarking on an AI journey, know and understand your organization’s mission and how AI can enable it,” said Army Forces Command Chief Data Officer Jock Padgett at the ATARC event. “You don’t always want to outsource your data and AI talent, so invest in your people upfront.”

Padgett said the Army is also looking to add to its internal workforce that deals directly with AI-related work. Although the Army can make direct hires for software developers and data engineers, the service still relies heavily on the private sector to hire data scientists.

“Data scientist talent is very weighted on the industry side right now. What I do see happening over the course of several years is that scale will end up balancing itself out to some degree, as DoD as a whole starts taking on the training tasks, new skill sets [and] upskilling,” Padgett said.

For the Defense Department overall, Jaret Riddick, DoD’s acting principal director for trusted AI and autonomy, said that diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility also play a role in the recruitment process.

The Navy, for example, recently invested roughly $27 million to expand its Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Minority Institutions (HBCU/MI) Program, Riddick said. These types of investments help DoD with “expanding the aperture to look for talent.”

“Down the road, there will be a critical need to grow the talent base and to maintain an eye on the capacity of the industrial base in the future, to produce these technologies that we’ll need,” Riddick said at the ATARC event.

AI is not the only area where the Defense Department is looking to expand its connections with HBCUs. In June, DoD and the Air Force created and funded a new institute, partnering with 11 minority institutions to create the research organization.

Along with these types of minority institution partnerships, DoD is adding other industry partnerships as well.

“We are promoting the growth of new companies, startups and small businesses [and] we are, of course, engaging with the traditional players,” Riddick said.

To best implement and use AI, at least some understanding of the technology is necessary at all levels of an agency’s workforce, Chraibi said. By assessing the internal resources and skills that are currently available, agency leaders can then focus on upskilling and training where it’s needed the most. They can also identify what they still need to obtain from external sources.

“It’s important to have leadership understand this technology, understand what are the needs, what are the requirements, and of course, supply the skills and resources that are needed to be successful,” Chraibi said.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    Amelia Brust/Federal News NetworkFederal Acquisition, GSA

    Army launches several new initiatives to incorporate small firms’ technologies into its systems

    Read more
    Federal News Radio pinwheel icon

    Army plans new $1B contract to move systems to cloud

    Read more