Despite cuts, White House looks to agencies to advance AI priorities
- By Chase Gunter
- Apr 18, 2019
The growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning is expected to affect the workforce, and the federal government is no exception. The White House is looking to agencies to both advance the administration's AI priorities and adapt their workforces.
Building on the February executive order to accelerate AI development at agencies, the White House plans to issue more governmentwide guidance and is looking to agencies to implement its priorities as part of its IT modernization.
Lynne Parker, assistant director for AI at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), acknowledged at an April 18 event hosted by the National Academy for Public Administration that the investment in AI and its ultimate advancement presents "a lot of workforce challenges."
Parker said that while government doesn't "at the moment" have a holistic approach toward training and preparing the workforce for technological advancements, "agencies are stepping up on their own to create opportunities for people to enroll" in IT, cyber and AI areas.
"Agencies are taking an active role in trying to help people learn those kinds of opportunities," she said. Because agencies understand "the kinds of skills and the kinds of work that they do, they're best suited to create these kinds of training programs," she added.
When asked about how to grow those skills across government in a centralized way, Parker pointed to the General Services Administration as "a good organization for doing that."
She also previewed AI guidance detailing potential risk and impact for various agency use cases, a draft version of which will come out "maybe early summer."
Earlier this week, the White House began its cybersecurity reskilling academy pilot to retrain current non-IT federal employees. But so far, the program is limited to selected participants.
As the administration promotes greater investment in AI, machine learning and other emerging technologies, it expects agencies to change the skillsets of their workforces. The White House's budget for fiscal year 2020 proposes steeply cutting research and development on the agency side as part of its broader civilian-side agency reductions.
Parker said that while overall research and development budgets have been cut, "AI was protected."
On the civilian side, the White House's budget does specifically propose $850 million for AI funding between the Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation -- all agencies that face overall and R&D cuts.
Parker also pointed out that the administration wants to see agencies reporting their investments in AI because tracking AI projects is "so hard" right now. "We can begin to get a better holistic view of what our agencies are spending in this area."
Still, OSTP lacks key staff. As of January, the White House's main technology advisory agency has a director. A deputy chief technologist was nominated in March, but three of its associate director positions -- for national security and international affairs, for science and for technology -- remain vacant.
Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.