Lawmakers seek details on Biden administration’s AI workforce efforts

Rep. Derek Kilmer, shown here at the Capitol on March 12, 2024, led a New Democrat Coalition letter urging efforts to support development of a "robust' federal AI workforce.

Rep. Derek Kilmer, shown here at the Capitol on March 12, 2024, led a New Democrat Coalition letter urging efforts to support development of a "robust' federal AI workforce. Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images

The New Democrat Coalition urged OSTP’s Arati Prabhakar to prioritize the development of a “robust federal workforce.”

Lawmakers on the New Democrat Coalition's Artificial Intelligence Working Group sent a letter to the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy on Tuesday, advocating for the upskilling of the existing federal workforce in artificial intelligence systems.

The letter to  OSTP Director Arati Prabhakar endorses the provisions outlined in President Joe Biden’s sweeping executive order on AI and calls for the workforce development necessary to successfully implement new softwares and prevent worker displacement. Fully funded federal agencies will be essential to that endeavor, the lawmakers argue.

“As the executive order describes, the development and deployment of safe, secure, and trustworthy AI systems and applications will require a whole-of-government approach led by a talented federal workforce that recognizes the unique benefits and challenges posed by different use-cases of AI,” the letter reads. “The risks and rewards of AI in national security, financial services, cybersecurity, data privacy, and manufacturing vary considerably, which will require a robust federal workforce that is knowledgeable of these considerations.”

AI Working Group Chair Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Vice Chair Haley Stevens, D-Mich., led a total of 38 lawmakers in signing the letter.

Those lawmakers said increasing diversity within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields will contribute to innovation in the public and private AI sectors as a particularly important effort. 

“To achieve the goals outlined in the executive order, we must focus our efforts on building out a robust federal AI workforce, upskilling and reskilling our current workers, and pursuing diverse participation in AI-related fields,” the letter continued.

Lawmakers asked Prabhakar to respond to a series of questions on how OSTP specifically plans to execute the workforce upskilling provisions tasked under the executive order. 

The questions centered around three key goals highlighted by the coalition: building a strong federal workforce; upskilling and reskilling the nation’s workforce; and pursuing diverse participation in STEM and AI-related fields.

Specifically, lawmakers want more details on federal agency coordination regarding AI fellowship programs at the National Science Foundation and other entities like the National AI Research Resource pilot program.

The letter also calls for information on the National AI Talent Surge and how both this initiative and others will prioritize the inclusion of marginalized communities and workers in their AI training and educational programs.  

Lawmakers also requested details on how OSTP is marrying risks and benefits associated with AI systems, including through reskilling and upskilling the nation’s workforce through agencies like the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board and others.

“New Dems are committed to ensuring the responsible development and deployment of Artificial Intelligence. As AI becomes increasingly prevalent across all sectors of the economy, it’s critical that we build a workforce to match,” Kilmer said in a statement. “We look forward to reviewing the responses and will work with Congress and the Administration to ensure that our workforce is prepared to meet the needs and demands of the 21st-century economy.”