AI Workforce Training Bill Clears Senate

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The bipartisan legislation aims to strengthen federal employees’ AI knowledge, with a focus on procurement professionals.

The U.S. Senate voted unanimously to pass the AI Training Act on Saturday, a bipartisan bill aimed at equipping executive and federal agencies with the skills and knowledge required to compete in the global artificial intelligence landscape. 

Introduced by Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, back in July, the bill establishes an AI training program for participating federal employees within the Office of Management and Budget. 

“In order to use artificial intelligence properly and in a way that ensures our nation can compete with our foreign adversaries—federal workers need to understand the technical and ethical implications of these technologies for the safety, security and freedoms of Americans,” Peters said in a statement to Nextgov. “This important bill will help our government better understand artificial intelligence and ensure we are using it in a manner that is consistent with American values and our democracy.”

The pending legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in August following its introduction. It passed following the addition of a substituting amendment.

It's main goal is to bolster AI knowledge and skills among government employees, per the bill’s text. The intended employees eligible for the training work across various federal departments and a variety of jobs, such as procurement and quality assurance.

The legislation requires the training program to teach include basic AI and machine learning functionality, benefits and risks of AI related to its usage in government, with an emphasis on privacy and discrimination, how to mitigate these risks, and future trends in the AI industry on the national security front.

“When the government purchases AI to improve government functions, we need to know that the AI we buy actually works and meets standards for ethics and safety,” Portman told Nextgov. “This bipartisan legislation will train our procurement professionals about the ins and outs of AI so they can discern which AI systems are useful to the government and which are not.” 

He also noted on Twitter that the bill will help the U.S. maintain leadership alongside countries like China that are investing heavily in AI infrastructure. 

The director of OMB is tasked with managing the program. Should the bill pass the House as written, the director will be required to update the curriculum and incorporate various metrics to ensure its success. 

The AI training program is set to sunset 10 years after the law is enacted. 

U.S. lawmakers have been working to legislate AI into government operations, with frameworks designed to help the public sector retain an AI-savvy workforce in play since 2020. 

Portman, whose agenda prioritizes cybersecurity and tech innovation within the government, has also sponsored and introduced several other pieces of legislation that focus on deploying AI across the government and within the federal workforce.