Bill to train acquisition workforce on AI clears Senate

Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Gary Peters (D-MI), shown here at a September 2021 hearing. (Photo by Greg Nash - Pool/Getty Images)

Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Gary Peters (D-MI), shown here at a September 2021 hearing. (Photo by Greg Nash - Pool/Getty Images) Greg Nash - Pool/Getty Images

The bill will help the U.S. stay afloat in global competition on artificial intelligence, its sponsors on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee say.

A bipartisan bill designed to train the federal acquisition workforce on both artificial intelligence tech itself and the risks that come with it passed the Senate over the weekend.

The bill, known as the Artificial Intelligence Training for the Acquisition Workforce Act (S. 2551), is backed by the chair and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

If passed into law, the proposal would require a new training program for acquisition professionals who purchase and manage AI tech. The Office of Management and Budget would be charged with providing this training and regularly updating it.

The aim, lawmakers say, is to help feds better understand both the potential benefits of AI and the ethical and national security risks. It will also help cement the United States’ global role in AI, Peters and Portman said.

“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,” said Portman in a statement. “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.”

The bill text also pushes OMB to work with scholars and experts in creating the training, and requires OMB to track participation in and feedback on the training.

Portman and Peters also pointed to the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, established to make recommendations to Congress and the White House on AI, which called for more training in the federal workforce on AI to offset risks associated with the technology.

This isn’t the only proposal from that commission gaining headway recently. The FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act contained a measure to get more information on the potential of a National Cyber Academy along the lines of recommendations from the commission.

S. 2551 now heads to the House for consideration.