Defense Department Looks to Update AI Workforce Contract

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According to the request for information, the DOD sees potential improvement in how it supplements its workforce with industry experts.

The Army Contracting Command - Rock Island and the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office—the lead for the Department of Defense’s AI work—are looking to identify sources that could provide staffing support for its artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science workforce, according to a Friday request for information. The RFI is exploring options for AI Talent 2.0 Basic Ordering Agreement.

According to the RFI, “as the DOD expands its workforce in the AI workspace, it is crucial that it maintains a qualified and experienced workforce that can match industry innovations both in speed and execution.”

In 2020, the Artificial Intelligence Talent Blanket Purchase Agreements were awarded to bring experts in AI, ML and data science. But according to the RFI, the “labor pool initially established for AIT 1.0 does not provide enough scope to support all DoD AI activities.”Instead, AIT 2.0 would use a BOA, which will allow DOD agencies to ask for any position within the task scopes of the agreement.

The second issue with the old contract was the $7.5 million call order ceiling under the current BPA, which “has significantly impaired AIT’s ability to support larger agency orders and limits many existing orders” to less than five year periods, according to the RFI. The proposed solution is that AIT 2.0 will not have a limit on call order amounts, however orders could be rejected if it hurts the BOA’s ceiling. 

And while the original AIT is available to all DOD agencies, it is not fully decentralized, preventing coordination between external offices and local contracting offices, which adds extra steps to complicate the process and extend the timeline. The RFI suggested that AIT 2.0 be fully decentralized from the award and only need the CDAO to determine the scope before being used by external agencies. 

Tasks fall into the broad categories of technical management and program management. 

Under the RFI, DOD asked for industry input on incentives the government can offer to ensure positions are filled quickly and attract top talent; ways the government can create an environment for top-performing, technical personnel; and how AIT 1.0 is functioning and what can be improved.

If DOD follows through with AIT 2.0, it would look to award no more than 10 BOAs to vetted small businesses. “The government’s goal is to potentially award not to ‘staffing companies’ but to companies that have real experience in the field of AI and can better recruit personnel based on an agency’s mission and needs.” 

Accordingly, the contractor would provide “industry-leading, AI-related, non-traditional program and technical management support services and work products to DOD programs, cyber community and customers under individual call orders. Specific call order scope will be identified at the call order level.”

DOD will evaluate procurement proposals in two phases. First, looking at examples of corporate experience within AI, ML and data science and associated costs. Then, proposals will be evaluated based on a provided evaluation questionnaire.