DHS sets ‘aggressive’ recruiting strategy to fill AI jobs

DHS is trying to woo up to 50 AI experts this year, but the department faces fierce competition for the tech talent.

The Department of Homeland Security’s top artificial intelligence official believes the DHS mission will compel technology experts to join the department’s recently announced “AI cadre.”

DHS announced plans this month to recruit 50 AI technology experts in 2024. They will join a cadre that DHS is modeling after the U.S. Digital Service, a White House organization that provides technology experts and consultation services to federal agencies.

Eric Hysen, DHS’s chief information officer and chief AI officer, said the department will leverage Office of Personnel Management direct-hire authorities to quickly build out the cadre. OPM issued those direct hire authorities in the wake of President Joe Biden’s AI executive order.

“We are taking a very aggressive recruitment approach partnering with organizations all around the country, and also rethinking the hiring process,” Hysen told Federal News Network after speaking at a Feb. 8 event hosted by the Homeland Security and Defense Forum in Washington.

“Our [Chief Human Capital Officer] has been really outstanding at leveraging OPM’s new direct hire authority and setting up a process that is going to move quickly and let us do the right reviews to get these in-demand candidates through the process as quickly as we can,” Hysen added.

The AI corps will be comprised of “pretty senior level talent,” Hysen said at the event. DHS’s job description shows members of the corps will be paid at the GS-15 General Schedule annual salary, which ranges from $123,000 to $191,900. The jobs are also remote positions, with “some travel and onsite presence required for project-based needs.”

While AI experts can command far higher salaries in the private sector, Hysen said he believes DHS’s mission will be a major draw.

“It’s an in-demand skill set,” Hysen said. “But when you think about the opportunity that you have at DHS, where else are you going to go where you can not just get to work on cutting edge technology, but you can apply it to missions, like combating the flow of fentanyl into the United States, like combating child sexual abuse and exploitation, like making it easier to become an American citizen?

These are just such critical activities. And we think that the appeal of the mission is going to be huge combined with the aggressive recruiting work that we’re putting forward.”

Members of the AI corps will initially join Hysen’s office at DHS headquarters, which will then “farm them out across the department as needed,” Hysen said. The new personnel will work on discrete DHS missions, such as countering fentanyl networks, combating child sexual exploitation and abuse, and delivering immigration services.

DHS says it’s already using machine learning for tasks like fentanyl detection. Department officials expect the use of AI-related technologies to only grow across all DHS mission areas.

In October, DHS issued a policy on the use of commercial generative AI that allows employees to use such tools, so long as they follow certain rules, including by not putting any protected DHS data into those systems.

Hysen said DHS’s employees “at all levels” are now using tools like ChatGPT. “It’s already starting to shift how we think about and understand what this technology can do,” Hysen said.

Hysen said he recently used a large language model to help analyze the initial Senate supplemental spending and border security bill released earlier this month.

“It was such a long bill that took some massaging to get it into the model,” he said. “But the value that you see in interacting with things that we do every day at DHS, like thinking about legislation, is really tremendous. So I think we’re seeing more and more of our employees understanding what value can play and can bring and how they might leverage it.”

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