Critical Update: Why Having Artificial Intelligence Talent is a National Security Issue


Dr. José-Marie Griffiths discusses her work crafting workforce recommendations for Congress as part of her work with the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.

Despite the plethora of exciting artificial intelligence projects powering digital transformation across federal agencies, attracting and incorporating AI talent into the federal workforce remains a challenge. 

For starters, the government doesn’t have a strong understanding of where AI capable personnel sit. Dr. José-Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University and a member of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, told Nextgov’s Critical Update podcast that beefing up the federal workforce’s AI capabilities is more than imperative—it’s an urgent national security concern. 

The U.S. is competing with China when it comes to AI, Griffiths said, describing China as “all in” on ramping up AI capabilities to support economic security and establish a military advantage. 

“Obviously, if we want to compete well, we also need to move quickly,” Griffiths said. “And that means we can't wait several years to stand up new career fields, or educate our senior leaders or train our end-users, or we may find ourselves so far behind, it's difficult to catch up. At the end of the day, we need a government workforce that's prepared to buy, build and use today's digital technology, which is an immense challenge.”

Griffiths leads the workforce line of effort for NSCAI, spearheading the development of recommendations aimed at growing and supporting federal tech talent. After publishing two interim reports and a series of quarterly recommendation memos, the commission is developing its final report, which will be delivered to Congress and is expected in March. 

The final report will include additional recommendations related to STEM education, Griffiths said, because the U.S. needs to grow its pipeline of talent in order to make the world NSCAI’s reports envision real. 

Griffiths also had words of advice for federal workers: read up. 

“It’s not all sci-fi, it really is happening, and it’s happening today,” she said. “And many people are unaware of the elements of artificial intelligence that are embedded in the systems we interact with today in our daily lives. So I think becoming aware reading and reading up on what's going on in artificial intelligence, attending short courses and Zoom sessions, seminars, just trying to find out a little bit more, because a technologically savvy workforce is going to better be able to help the federal government move forward. And that's going to benefit the American people.”

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