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GSA Centers of Excellence initiative adding an AI focus

The General Services Administration’s Centers of Excellence initiative is adding artificial intelligence to its list of modernization areas it will work on with federal agencies, according to Anil Cheriyan, Federal Acquisition Service deputy commissioner and director of Technology Transformation Services.

“Technology is changing and it’s coming to a point where we’re looking at creating a new Center of Excellence,” said Cheriyan, speaking at GSA’s IT Modernization Showcase Oct. 8.

Later this month, Cheriyan said, the GSA is also going to establish an AI community of practice, a place where government employees can come together to solve IT challenges.

This new CoE comes on the heels of GSA’s announcement at the end of September of a partnership with the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, the fifth partner for the initiative and the third this year. The government is making a serious push in AI, with efforts such as JAIC last year and the Department of Energy’s recent announcement of an investment of tens of millions of dollars in artificial intelligence research.

“You name it and there’s a significant amount of opportunity in AI,” Cheriyan said. “AI is really our next big thing.”

GSA’s CoEs work with agencies to speed up their IT modernization. An AI Center of Excellence would be the sixth “functional area” that the initiative works on with agencies. The other five are cloud adoption, contact center, customer experience, data analytics, infrastructure optimization.

Meanwhile, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy offered additional insight into what the GSA-JAIC CoE will be working on. According to Murphy, they will be working on AI products to help with disaster response, humanitarian aid and predictive maintenance. In the future, they could work on cyber operations, health care and logistics. Agencies are also using at robotic process automation to remove tedious tasks and comb through data and errors.

For example, Murphy said that the agency has implemented 28 bots that has saved 50,000 hours of work, helped GSA identify 400,000 products incorrectly labeled on a GSA acquisition schedule and discovered 3,000 products that were potential security threats.

“These are having real applications in the day-to-day life of GSA employees, of our customer agencies and, ultimately, the people we’re trying to serve: the American taxpayer,” Murphy said.

Chris Liddell, assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for policy coordination at the White House, said that AI has gone from an “embryonic idea” to technology that will “likely transform our world over the next five to 10 years.”

“If we can develop and share best practice through a Center of Excellence around artificial intelligence, and really push that through every agency, I think that will take that vision of not only catching up to the private sector, but leapfrogging them," Liddell said.

Currently, CoE’s are partnered with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Personnel Management and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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