In the wake of last year’s Executive Order on AI, the U.S. government has been clear in its intent to compete in the global race for top AI talent. The White House’s recent directive to appoint a Chief AI Officer in each federal agency within 60 days, the launch of the National AI Talent Surge, along with the Department of Homeland Security announcing its first-ever hiring sprint to recruit 50 AI tech experts underscore this ambition.

But intent and triumph are not one and the same. How can the government, not known for cutting-edge tech adoption or top-tier salaries, attract the best AI talent in the face of a significant skills shortage and a recruiting field dominated by the big spend and brand appeal of tech titans like Google, Facebook, and OpenAI?

The government must lean into one advantage that no other employer can offer: the mission. There has always been interest among young professionals to engage in work that has a tangible impact on society, and government tech roles can be particularly attractive. Developing AI applications to keep the nation safe, improve the delivery of government services, and better the lives of hundreds of millions is a compelling draw.

For example, AI solutions are being used today to reduce the flow of fentanyl across our borders, analyze weather hazards to protect the public from excessive heat, improve veteran experiences with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and so much more. With AI, the government aims to elevate its services across a broad range of use cases in healthcare, transportation, commerce – you name it.

Just about every agency will be impacted, including the Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor. For any AI tech worker passionate about improving government and the lives that depend on it, there will be countless opportunities to create innovative solutions that address real-world challenges.

But hiring these humanity-driven tech professionals is one thing. Retaining them is another.

It’s hard to hang on to tech talent, and that is particularly true for data scientists. As enthusiastic as they may be coming in to support the government’s mission, these workers must be continuously empowered and enabled to have the impact that they hoped to have. This requires bureaucratic empowerment by senior leaders, but it also means giving talent access to the data, tools and infrastructure they need to build innovative AL/ML solutions – with proper security, governance, and responsible AI capabilities in place – so they can have a direct hand in improving people’s lives.

The government can also offset its disadvantage in compensation levels by offering other forms of financial compensation, including student loan forgiveness – an authority the government already has – and additional education or training that can support future career growth within and beyond the public sector.

One of the most important ways for government agencies to reel in AI expertise is to be intentional about the AI talent they need, as compared to the tech sector. While Big Tech will pursue world-class data scientists and AI engineers to build bespoke AI models and products, the government needs different skills for different purposes. Product managers can serve as connectors between the agency’s mission and AI talent and tools, which can include contractors and suppliers that provide the skills and commercial-off-the-shelf products that support that mission.

Government agencies also need skilled leaders who can push bureaucratic processes forward in areas like procurement, budget, and governance – all of which require specialized knowledge, experience, and talent.

Success as a CAIO, for instance, requires more than technical expertise; it demands a special blend of political savvy and bureaucratic acumen. Without the ability to navigate the complex landscape of government operations and aligning AI strategies with broader agency goals, there’s little even the most brilliant mind in AI can accomplish.

Supporting an agency’s mission in the long term also hinges on fostering a long-term talent pipeline. This is one area where the government has proven formidable. Programs like the U.S. Digital Service, U.S. Digital Corps, Presidential Innovation Fellows, and 18F not only create pathways for tech professionals passionate about government into government roles, they’ve created a fast lane for cutting-edge Silicon Valley innovation to transform federal bureaucracy.

Indeed, many participants in these programs in the 2010s have returned to the government in more senior technology roles in the 2020s – a testament to the draw of public service.

Can the U.S. government compete for today’s top AI talent? Historically, attracting the world’s top tech talent is what our country does best. With AI poised to reshape economic landscapes and geopolitical power balances, our government understands the stakes.

And for me, this makes the U.S. an easy bet.

Former Department of Homeland Security official Joel Meyer is currently President of Public Sector at Domino Data Lab, provider of the leading Enterprise AI platform trusted by over 20% of the Fortune 100.

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