Lawmakers Push DOD to Share its Data to Help U.S. Make AI Gains

A bill proposes pushing the Defense Department to categorize and release more data to help the U.S. win the AI race.

A bill proposes pushing the Defense Department to categorize and release more data to help the U.S. win the AI race. SeventyFour/iStock

New legislation to pilot easy-access data libraries could be included in the fiscal 2022 NDAA.

Bipartisan legislation introduced on Thursday would direct the Defense Department to make libraries of its vast datasets publicly available and readily accessible via a strategic pilot program aimed at accelerating software and artificial intelligence capabilities development.

Proposed by Sens. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, with companion text in the House, the Advancing American AI Innovation Act comes as experts are raising concerns that the United States is losing ground to China and other competitors in the global rush to implement the evolving technology.

“The field of artificial intelligence and the role it plays in our nation’s security are rapidly changing and expanding,” Rosen said. “Creating these data libraries will provide an entire sector of small startups and existing data companies with the tools to create AI models that are in line with the capabilities and needs of the DOD.”

In recent months, former and current Pentagon officials have been transparent about China’s unsettling potential to outpace the U.S. in AI deployments within the not-so-distant future. The DOD’s latest report on the country’s military power released this week highlighted how China is seriously prioritizing and speedily producing AI and “intelligentized” technologies to empower its military and economy. The National Security Commission on AI—an independent cadre formed to advise Congress and the president on the technology—also warned this year that America must better prepare to compete against China in this space. 

AI and the emerging technologies associated with it work best with, and typically rely on, massive amounts of rich data. However, according to NSCAI’s research, government technologists are regularly denied access to software engineering tools and capabilities like vetted open-source support, software libraries, curated datasets, and infrastructures for large-scale collaboration. The federal digital workforce must gain enterprise-level technology assets that match those found in the private sector, the commission noted. 

Rosen and Portman said this bill was based on that recommendation. 

The notion is that positioning DOD’s data for increased access will help the public and private sectors synchronize their production of AI-driven resources that could impact the military, transportation, health care, manufacturing, national security policy and other realms. 

Text of the legislation, shared with Nextgov, would mandate the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center director or another appropriate official to work with the defense secretary and ultimately “carry out a pilot program to assess the feasibility and advisability of establishing data libraries for developing and enhancing artificial intelligence capabilities to ensure that the [DOD] is able to procure optimal artificial intelligence and machine learning software capabilities to meet department requirements and technology development goals.”

Data libraries aligned with the initiative might incorporate unclassified data that represents the Pentagon’s needs and missions. They’d need to be categorized to support the making of a common evaluation framework, and involve toolsets “to detect, evaluate, and correct errors in data annotation, identify gaps in training data used in model development that would require additional data labeling, and evaluate model performance across the lifecycle of its use,” the bill noted. The defense secretary would also be expected to brief congressional DOD-aligned committees on the implementation within 270 days of the legislation’s passage.

There are multiple pathways through which this bill might move forward, a congressional aide for Sen. Rosen confirmed on Friday.

It was included in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2022 as an amendment introduced by Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev. Rosen’s and Portman’s offices also filed the text as an amendment to the version of the massive Pentagon budgeting bill under consideration in their chamber of Congress.

“We are in the process of clearing that amendment through the Senate Armed Services Committee for potential inclusion in a package of amendments to the Senate NDAA,” the aide told Nextgov.

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