Workforce

Automation in acquisition

process automation (Omelchenko/Shutterstock.com) 

Automation and artificial intelligence are coming to federal acquisition workplaces.

"I really think they're ready," Lesley Field, deputy administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget, said at a panel discussion at the 2019 Presidential Rank Awards Leadership Summit on Dec. 17.

"When we met with senior leaders a few weeks ago, they had a list of processes they wanted automated by that week." She has observed an enthusiastic push to begin developing robotics process automation technologies within the government.

Soraya Correa, chief acquisition officer at the Department of Homeland Security, noted that automation technologies could help cut down on the need for contractors or outsourcing when trying to analyze large reams of data. It would allow federal employees to handle certain tasks internally once again, providing for more jobs.

"Right now, because the process for some duties is so tedious and so long, we're contracting out certain things that should be retained within the government," Correa said. "If we get bring that work back in-house, it will let us get rid of conflicts of interest."

Automation technologies would also help eliminate problems stemming from data bias, Correa said.

"With automation, we can get to a fairer process, because we have the ability to hold more data today. Right now, we engage more data bias because we're limited by what we can do as long as we're telling industry what we're willing to do and where we're going to go look for this information."

Automation, Correa added, would also give the federal government more leverage to scrutinize what outside parties are doing with its data. In turn, Field said, this would allow more opportunities for collaboration between industry and agencies because it would allow both parties to anticipate what would be done with data in a more transparent way: "You have to look at reimagining agencies' data processes. If you have layers and layers of guidance on, say, archiving, maybe that's not necessary [anymore]."

Correa also pointed out that automation would free up workers to focus on more complex tasks that would better aid agency missions as departments like DHS continue to face down more dangerous threats.

"As I point out to my staff, the threats that we face don't have [federal acquisition regulations], they don't have a Government Accountability Office. They don't have to go through all that, so we have to find a way to work within the confines of that and still face the threat," Correa said.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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