State and local agencies evaluate their AI future

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The recent surge of interest and investment in artificial intelligence tools has presented some fascinating new opportunities in the government landscape. While AI has often been depicted as a futuristic concept, its adoption is increasingly becoming a present reality in nearly all sectors – including state and local government. State and local leaders have already begun integrating AI into their systems, hoping to address backlogs and improve service delivery while working with tight budgets and high expectations.

Connecting to the constituency

State and local leaders are using AI technology to enhance their own efficiency and connect with their constituents through innovations in automating processes, delivering citizen services, and using data analysis for decision making. Respondents in a recent Google Cloud-sponsored survey on artificial intelligence say that their top goals are both streamlining processes (digitizing paperwork and automating processes) and providing data-driven insights for decision makers (collating and analyzing data and predictive analytics). The breakdown of these experts’ priorities can look a little different – 46% of local leaders are focusing on digitization, while 45% of state leaders are focusing on automation – but the goals for AI implementation focus on improving connections and empowering agency employees.

Privacy and protections

Privacy and data security are top concerns for state and local government leaders as they navigate the implementation of AI technology. Three-quarters of respondents report concerns about privacy violations, data breaches, and unauthorized access to sensitive information. A noticeably larger proportion of state respondents express heightened apprehension regarding privacy violations than their local counterparts.

These concerns reflect a deep-seated commitment to maintaining the trust and confidence of constituents.State agencies, in particular, face heightened scrutiny and accountability in safeguarding privacy due to the vast amount of personal and sensitive data they handle. The implications of privacy violations are serious, with the potential to erode public trust and confidence in government institutions. Local agencies typically manage smaller datasets and may perceive privacy risks differently, but both state and local government leaders are acutely aware of the need to establish robust privacy safeguards and implement stringent data protection measures to mitigate risks and uphold the rights of their citizens.

Cautious enthusiasm

State and local government respondents are more cautious than their counterparts in the federal civilian and defense sector regarding the implications and challenges associated with the adoption of AI technologies. State and local agencies grapple with a unique set of hurdles that underscore the complexities of AI integration. A staggering 77% of respondents voice concerns over security, reflecting the importance they place on safeguarding sensitive government data from potential threats and breaches. A similar proportion expresses anxieties regarding privacy, underscoring the imperative of preserving citizen privacy rights amidst the deployment of AI systems. Budgetary constraints are also a concern among this group. 

The challenge of integrating AI into existing systems is a particular hurdle for local government respondents. Nearly three-quarters encounter obstacles in seamlessly integrating AI technologies with their current infrastructure and workflows, given that they must navigate compatibility issues, legacy systems, and organizational resistance to change. In response to these challenges, many respondents turn to external vendors for assistance in managing the risks associated with AI adoption. A notable 63% of local experts rely on transparent documentation from vendors as a strategic mitigation approach, seeking assurances and guidance from industry partners to navigate the complexities of AI implementation effectively. This reliance on vendor expertise highlights the collaborative approach adopted by state and local agencies in addressing the multifaceted challenges of AI adoption while striving to maximize the benefits of emerging technologies for the betterment of government operations and service delivery.

Capacity building for the future

Over three-quarters of respondents acknowledge the need for external support to varying degrees, including a quarter that say they use mostly or exclusively commercial resources. However, most respondents prioritize investment in internal capacity-building initiatives before looking elsewhere. An impressive 83% of respondents prioritize training existing personnel to bridge the skill gap in AI implementation, focusing on upskilling and empowering current staff members. This emphasis on internal training is more common than alternative strategies such as recruitment of new employees (62%) or contracting with commercial firms (60%). By prioritizing internal capacity-building efforts, state and local governments are poised to cultivate a skilled workforce capable of driving AI innovation and fostering a culture of continuous learning and adaptation in the dynamic landscape of technological advancement.

Impact of the Executive Order

Local respondents are more likely than state respondents to rely on regulatory compliance (54% versus 40%), and over two thirds rely on state government regulations to guide their implementation. 

Though the EO presents mandates for federal agencies, leaders in state and local government also look to the federal Executive Order on AI, with three-quarters of respondents familiar with it and 65% using it as a framework for their AI journeys. Many respondents, particularly in state government, view the EO positively for its impact on establishing frameworks, mitigating risks, and delivering citizen services.

AI for today

State and local agencies are cautiously navigating the AI landscape, balancing the promise of enhanced efficiency and innovation with concerns over privacy, security, and integration challenges. As they continue to harness the power of AI, these agencies are leveraging internal resources, external partnerships, and regulatory frameworks to guide their implementation efforts and ensure the responsible use of AI technology for the benefit of their constituents. AI holds enormous promise for state and local governments as a tool to better hear, understand, and connect with the constituents they serve.

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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