Agencies see demand for AI in government in 2024. What will it take to pull it off?

The Biden administration is calling on the federal government to step up its use of artificial intelligence. For most agencies, that work will start in 2024.

The Biden administration is calling on the federal government to step up its use of artificial intelligence. For most agencies, that work will start in 2024.

President Joe Biden, in a recent executive order, is calling for a “governmentwide AI talent surge” across the federal workforce to build up its capacity to lead on this emerging technology.

Former Deputy Federal Chief Information Officer Maria Roat told Federal News Network in a recent interview that agencies will need to keep aggressively recruiting data and computer scientists to bring AI into their mission.

“As the federal government looks to hire, I think they need to talk about the mission, to get people into the federal government to work,” Roat said. “It’s getting to people – college graduates, or people coming out of the military – with skill sets that could work in these areas.”

The Office of Management and Budget is in the process of finalizing guidance to agencies, meant to accelerate the use of AI in government.

OMB accepted comments through Dec. 5, and received nearly 200 comments on its draft policy.

Federal agencies see lots of possibilities for using artificial intelligence tools in their day-to-day work. But they’ve only put a fraction of those ideas into practice.

The Government Accountability Office, in a recent report, found 20 nondefense agencies identified more than 1,200 use cases for AI in government.

According to GAO, these agencies have implemented about 16% of all the AI use cases they’ve submitted to OMB.

NASA, the Commerce Department, the Energy Department and the Department of Health and Human Services topped the charts with the most AI use cases.

Roat said those agencies have been leaders in advancing AI in government for years — and will continue to set the course of adopting this technology.

“I wasn’t surprised by the chart, because those four agencies, they are critical infrastructure, health care, research – and significant amounts of data lends itself to use cases that meet their mission and to leverage AI,” Roat said.

The Office of Personnel Management is using AI to provide job seekers on USAJobs with recommendations for positions, based on the skills they’ve identified.

HHS is also using an AI chatbot to give automated email responses to general physical security questions, which allows its help desk team to better assist employees and contractors.

Federal CIO Clare Martorana said recently said AI tools are already being used to rewrite federal website content for search engine optimization.

GAO said most of the reported AI use cases are “in the planning phase, and not yet in production.” The report states agencies are also using AI to combat fraud, identify cybersecurity threats and review large datasets more quickly.

The report states that AI “holds substantial promise for improving the operations of government agencies.”

But auditors also warned AI poses risks to the public — such as producing biased outcomes that can “amplify existing inequity” among historically underserved populations.

“I think the agencies are on the right track. They’re starting small,” Roat said. “You see lots of pilots, a lot of kicking the tires, if you will. Taking that to the next step in this is where some of the policy comes in — looking at your cybersecurity considerations [and] the data. What are in the data elements, especially if you’re working across the federal government. Are there privacy concerns?”

She added: “How do they enhance the agency’s mission? Where does cybersecurity fit in? And as they’re bringing in some of the technologies, certainly there’s a funding tail that goes with it. So, they need to think through, certainly in times of continuing resolutions and budget cuts, how do they incorporate new technology,” Roat said.

As far as implementation, Chief data officers across the federal government see their work as the key to accelerating the adoption of artificial intelligence tools across the federal government.

More than half of federal CDOs who took a survey conducted by the Data Foundation and Deloitte said they’re already using basic or advanced AI tools.

Nearly all CDOs who took the survey said they expect their agency to adopt AI tools next year.

In a 2022 survey,  45% of CDOs said they had no responsibility for AI tools at their agencies.

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