The White House in June released an action plan to address productivity and security while modernizing IT, and one central facet is the integration of artificial intelligence into the roadmap for leveraging the daily volumes of data as a federal asset. Government polices must evolve alongside technologies, according to the White House’s strategy, and so must how AI is integrated at federal agencies.

The White House plans to approach AI as a means to improve manual tasks and free federal workers to do higher value work, said Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent at the June 25 AI World Government Conference held in Washington, D.C.

Benefits could include insights for policy development, first responders and self-driving vehicles, an improvement in the overall customer experience, and much more.

“What are the capabilities of the individual technologies as well as, from a workforce perspective, how it can fit in the environment that they are operating in against the mission they are trying to serve," said Kent, explaining that four ingredients must be present for success: high-quality data, modern networks, advanced computing systems, and ethics and security.

According to Kent, the White House action plan aims to harness the power of AI using federal data. But first agencies must make sure that the data collected is in a form that can actually be used by the federal government.

“Consider this initial policy step something like guard rails," Kent said. “We are purposely defining it in that way so that we can support agencies in their exploration and application of our technologies so that their journey is matched with the appropriate level of control and discipline based on the expected outcome and the consequence of that activity.”

AI has already featured prominently in recent policy and legislative documents, including the March 2018 President’s Management Agenda’s data cross-agency priority goals, as well as executive orders, the formation of the President’s Select Committees on AI, defined priorities in the budget process, components of the national cyber strategy, strategies from specific agencies and congressional attention in both the House and Senate.

“The whole of government has a focus on AI capabilities and federal leadership is united in making this a priority,” Kent said.

However, there are concerns about the unintended implications of such a complex technology on both the public and the federal workforce; for instance, whether there are ethical implications of using AI in federal networks and could federal employees see their jobs replaced by new technology.

“Yes, there are some manual jobs where we have opportunities to do it better, lower margin of error, less time, more efficient outcomes, but it also creates new jobs," said Kent, who added that making sure the federal workforce has the necessary skills to fill these jobs will be a concern that will have to be addressed through the education system and will force a reconsideration of how all American workers are trained.

Kent characterized it as a meeting of both federal and national workforce priorities.

And, to ensure the security of data collected by agencies, the government is also focusing on identity, credentials, and access management on federal networks by understanding who is accessing these networks, Kent said.

Expanding this AI-focused IT modernization will make the role of chief data officers increasingly important, according to Kent, but the first step is to get more agencies working with the technology.

“Our goal is to just get them to start,” Kent said.

Kelsey Reichmann is a general assignment editorial fellow supporting Defense News, Fifth Domain, C4ISRNET and Federal Times. She attended California State University.

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