Students studying artificial intelligence at either the undergraduate or graduate level could have some of their education paid for by agreeing to work for a federal agency after graduation, under legislation introduced by Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and John Thune, R-S.D., April 21.

The AI Scholarship-for-Service Act offers a one-to-one arrangement for students attending a qualified university, meaning that they must agree to work a federal AI job for the same length of time that their scholarship term covers.

Like many other technology-related positions such as cybersecurity and data management, the federal government is facing a general shortage of AI professionals to perform the work necessary for their missions, and they are struggling to compete with the private sector for that talent.

“As advancements in artificial intelligence continue, the federal government must be prepared to promote ethical applications based on American values to counter competitors like the Chinese government, which prioritizes investments in this revolutionary technology,” said Peters in a news release on the bill.

“Incentivizing professionals who are studying this emerging field to serve in the public sector will help our country remain competitive in the long term, strengthen our national security and ensure this technology is used ethically for the benefit of all Americans.”

Recipients of the scholarships would also have access to internships at federal, state, local and tribal agencies to prepare them for their eventual transition into public service.

The bipartisan bill already has endorsements from several academic institutions and technology associations.

“South Dakota universities like Dakota State University are leading the way in AI education,” said Thune in the news release. “By incentivizing more talent to pursue training in this field, we can ensure America remains competitive globally in this emerging technology.”

The bill mirrors an existing CyberCorps scholarship for service program overseen by the Office of Personnel Management, which offers up to three years of financial support in exchange for an agreement to work for the U.S. government for that length of time after graduation. That program was started in 2000 in response to a presidential directive that federal agencies produce a detailed plan for addressing the cyber needs of the government.

Those scholarships include tuition, a stipend, a professional allowance stipend for travel for job fairs and between one to three years of support. Applicants must also prove their academic track record and suitability for federal employment to qualify.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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