Federal agencies harness AI’s potential

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The recent surge of interest and investment in artificial intelligence tools signals a notable shift in the landscape of federal civilian operations. While AI has often been portrayed as almost science fiction, its adoption is increasingly becoming a present reality rather than a distant prospect. In fact, its integration into federal civilian operations is already driving efficiencies and accelerating various missions. AI is not just a potential game changer for the future – it is already here. 

Supporting, not supplanting

Respondents in a recent Google Cloud-sponsored survey on artificial intelligence report that AI is being used primarily within their agencies to streamline processes and bolster data analysis capabilities for informed decision-making. These experts say that their AI focus lies not in replacing human roles but in augmenting them, empowering employees to make more informed decisions and automate repetitive tasks. This strategic approach underscores a commitment to enhancing the effectiveness of government operations while maximizing taxpayer resources.

Protecting people and privacy

However, with the integration of AI come legitimate concerns, particularly surrounding security and privacy. Federal civilian agencies are acutely aware of the need to safeguard sensitive data and mitigate potential risks associated with AI implementation. Budget constraints, a shortage of skilled personnel, and the complexities of integrating AI into existing systems further compound these challenges, highlighting the multifaceted nature of the AI landscape within government agencies.

These concerns might be especially prominent because very few agencies are solely dependent on internal resources to achieve their AI objectives. Nine in ten respondents stated that their agency is collaborating with commercial providers to some extent, leveraging both internal expertise and external resources to deploy AI tools. This isn't unexpected – forging partnerships with external providers brings substantial advantages for agencies who are short on experience and AI infrastructure. However, agencies remain accountable for safeguarding data security and constituent privacy. Given the vast amounts of personal data stored in federal agency databases, and the lessons learned from past experiences with data breaches, these agencies are very aware of the importance of maintaining public trust even while working to improve public services.

The Executive Order

The Executive Order on the Safe, Secure and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence provides a much-needed regulatory framework for agencies in otherwise largely uncharted territory. Over 75% of respondents were familiar with the EO, indicating its importance in setting both standards and goals for agencies. Most respondents view the EO as instrumental in shaping their AI strategies, with a focus on improving citizen services and fostering collaboration across government agencies and industry partners.

Looking ahead, the impact of the Executive Order extends far beyond mere compliance. It serves as a catalyst for collaboration and growth, fostering stronger partnerships between government entities and industry stakeholders. By bolstering the government's AI expertise and laying the groundwork for future innovation, the EO sets a precedent for a more agile, responsive federal ecosystem.

Strengthening the people

AI’s value for federal civilian agencies isn’t about having the shiniest new technology. It is that it will empower the people using it, improving department efficiency and supporting leaders in making data-based decisions. The core of federal agencies is always its people. Still, AI implementation requires a skilled staff, and the lack thereof is a concern. The Executive Order’s hiring push directive means that agencies are working to beef up their AI workforce, but the reality of hiring constraints means that agencies need to seek other solutions both externally and internally. While about half of federal civilian respondents to this survey looked to commercial firms for support, over 71% of federal respondents to the survey say that they are training current personnel to fit their AI needs. 

The AI of today

AI is now a tangible reality revolutionizing operations within federal civilian agencies. While challenges persist, agencies are working to address them through strategic investments in tools and their own people. With the Executive Order and potential further guidance providing a roadmap for progress, the future of AI in the federal civilian sector looks promising, driven by collaboration, innovation, and a steadfast commitment to serving the public good. As federal civilian agencies continue to harness the power of AI, they stand poised to unlock new efficiencies, drive innovation, and better serve the needs of the American people.

This content is made possible by our sponsor Google; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of NextGov/FCW’s editorial staff.

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