OPM leads governmentwide data scientist hiring effort to build up AI expertise

OPM’s pooled hiring notice gives jobseekers the ability to apply once and be considered for several GS-14 data scientist positions across multiple federal age...

The Biden administration is recruiting more data experts into the federal workforce, as part of its ongoing efforts to accelerate the government’s use of artificial intelligence tools.

The Office of Personnel Management launched a large-scale, governmentwide hiring action on Monday to bring more data scientists into government service.

OPM’s pooled hiring notice gives jobseekers the ability to apply once and be considered for several GS-14 data scientist positions across multiple federal agencies.

Under a pooled hiring action, agencies share a list of qualified applicants with each other, when they’re all looking to hire for the same position.

OPM is accepting applications no later than Friday, and will stop accepting new applications once it receives 750 applications.

The agency held a similar governmentwide hiring action for data scientists three years ago — when it received more than 500 applications in less than 48 hours.

OPM in a memo late last year granted agencies direct-hire authority for several AI-related job classifications.

The White House, in a fact sheet released Monday, highlighted OPM’s pooled hiring actions, and related federal hiring efforts, as part of an update on President Joe Biden’s executive order to accelerate the use of AI in government.

Principal Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Deirdre Mulligan and U.S. Digital Service Administrator Mina Hsiang wrote in a blog post that the pooled hiring effort is part of the Biden administration taking the next step on AI hiring efforts.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is hiring dedicated people who want to help us leverage AI responsibly to improve government services, make smart policies and regulations around AI to protect people’s rights, safety, and privacy, and build our research and development (R&D), so the United States continues to lead the world in cutting-edge AI innovation,” Mulligan and Hsiang wrote.

Top federal officials told Deputy Chief of Staff Bruce Reed, in a meeting Monday, that their agencies completed all their 90-day actions under the AI executive order.

Among those actions, the White House Chief of Staff’s Office is spearheading AI and Tech Talent Force.

The Office of Management and Budget under the executive order has also convened an interagency council to coordinate federal agencies’ use of AI.

OMB and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy have also “identified priority areas for increasing federal agency AI talent and accelerated hiring pathways.”

The White House said the Technology Modernization Fund’s board has evaluated ways to prioritize agencies’ adoption of AI through the TMF.

Beyond the pooled hiring action, the Biden administration is also promoting governmentwide tech talent programs, including the Presidential Innovation Fellows, U.S. Digital Corps and U.S. Digital Service.

Mulligan and Hsiang wrote that the White House is scaling up hiring for AI talent in 2024 across several high-priority AI projects.

“We are calling on AI and AI-enabling experts to join us to advance this research and ensure the next generation of AI models is safe, secure, and trustworthy,” they wrote.

The blog post notes the federal government is already tapping into AI tools to address climate change and cancer treatment, as well as improve “quality and efficiency of government services.”

Mulligan and Hsiang wrote that the Biden administration is looking at other use cases, such as how agencies can use AI to process applications for disability benefits more effectively, or how AI can predict critical air safety equipment failures.

“Designed responsibly and used appropriately, AI can assist in better accomplishing agencies’ missions – and better deliver services for the public,” they wrote.

OPM’s pooled hiring action puts in motion some recommendations from former government officials.

Former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Pahlka told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that adding AI expertise to the federal workforce is “a matter of reducing burdens.”

Pahlka said OPM’s granting direct-hire authority for AI positions will “remove a bit of the red tape agencies need to bring on experts.”

But she told the committee that agencies still have to run separate hiring processes for each open position, “which will take enormous amounts of time and paperwork, even with the direct hire authority.”

“That direct hire authority does not allow for the use of pooled hiring across agencies, despite the fact that pooled hiring has gotten this many excellent data scientists and other tech roles much more quickly,” Pahlka said.

“Congress should ask OPM what authorities they need in order to change this and what resources they need to scale programs,” Pahlka said, adding that agency efforts to hire data scientists and other experts have been highly successful” by using Subject Matter Expert Qualifying Assessments.

The SMEQA process puts candidates through multiple stages of review to determine their experience and skill level. Subject matter experts also work with the agency’s human capital offices to conduct those reviews.

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