How You Can Help Your Agency Put AI to Work Today


AI technology will significantly revolutionize how work is done in the federal workspace and allow us to “scale” human action to critical thinking tasks.

Imagine being alive when the first commercial airline flight was flown or remember the first time you encountered an ATM. At first, these new technologies were cause for caution, and perhaps seemed a bit daunting and maybe even dangerous. After all, they were highly disruptive innovations that dramatically changed how we traveled and accessed our money but eventually, society recognized their benefits.

We live in an era when another disruptive tool is on the cusp of transforming our world. Artificial intelligence has shown the potential to be the greatest workforce disruptor since the first industrial revolution. Some 200 years ago, the world began a fundamental and permanent shift away from a workforce dominated by agricultural employment. This began with individual tools disrupting individual industries—from the spinning jenny to the steam engine, followed later by personal computers and mobile devices. When widely adopted, AI technology will significantly revolutionize how work is done in the federal workspace and allow us to “scale” human action to critical thinking tasks, making the workforce more productive in the process.

Consider the problem of legacy code. The Office of Management and Budget estimated that the federal budget allocates more than 40% of its annual IT budget on the operation and maintenance of legacy systems. This funding is better spent on enabling more mission, reducing bureaucracy, and investing in training for staff, which will dramatically improve how government meets its mission. Failing to make this choice increases programmatic risks as legacy systems age.

Code refactoring using AI is a machine learning process that rewrites existing code from legacy languages like COBOL to newer languages like Java with no human programming. It is available now and used in the banking, insurance, and healthcare industries for example. Based on a recent NCI government project, we know we can rewrite applications four times faster and at 20-30% of the cost today.

For years, artificial intelligence-based solutions have been used in the private sector. Doctors are using AI in precision medicine and targeted therapies to treat complex diseases. Amazon reduced their shipping time by 225% using machine learning. From revolutionizing fraud detection, to autopilot in airplanes, or image and voice recognition, AI produces results that exceed human abilities. 

I’ve met with dozens of customers in the past two years and the feedback is remarkably consistent—everybody sees the need for AI. In fact, it’s imperative. 

The Secretary of Defense lists AI as a key imperative of the National Defense Strategy and the President’s Management Agenda cites that improving federal IT systems “to better serve the public is at the heart of the administration’s IT priorities.” Federal CIO Suzette Kent committed to “using every tool to make sure there are no barriers to the modernization journey,” and OMB has directed departments and agencies to shift their workforce from low-value to high-value work. Also, the White House issued an executive order to prioritize the development and deployment of AI. In May, 42 nations―including the U.S.―adopted a governance framework for AI. 

So, if AI is accepted in the private sector, and is being directed by government leadership then why is adoption at any scale in our government so slow? While there are several agencies leading the “pack” in sporadic adoption of pilot programs, overall adoption has been very slow, stifling modernization efforts.

From past performance and accreditation requirements to contracting limitations and budgetary constraints, resistance to change is not only limiting AI adoption, it is putting U.S. opportunity at risk. We must tear down the artificial walls which impede us from leading in AI. This is a perfect storm where without widespread public sector leadership and adoption of AI, we will see our adversaries take the lead in the most dominant technology of the next 100 years.

AI is not going away. It is here to stay. Isn’t it time for our government to catch up and ensure their human workforce is scaling to meet the most critical needs, instead of spending hours on bureaucratic administration? Now is the time to start adopting machines as part of our future government workforce. 

What agency, what leader, will revolutionize our government workforce by adopting AI at scale?

Paul Dillahay is the president and chief executive officer of NCI Information Systems, Inc.