Artificial Intelligence & the Government: Who’s Driving the Car?

By Emily Wolfteich, Senior Industry Analyst at Government Business Council

The GAO’s report on the federal government’s adoption of AI is as comprehensive as it can be – but do we like what we see?

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The GAO’s report – the first of its kind, examining both AI acquisition and use as well as the accuracy of agency reports and compliance with federal policy – aims to clear up the picture. It provides recommendations to help agencies standardize their reporting, saying in summary that “federal agencies have taken initial steps to comply with AI requirements in executive orders and federal law; however, more work remains to fully implement these.”

The report relied on agency submissions to the Office of Management and Budget to analyze the current state of AI within the government. The robustness of these use cases varies across agencies. NASA and the Department of Commerce have bounded ahead of the others (390 and 285 respectively) followed by the Departments of Energy (117), Health and Human Services (87) and State (71). The majority of these use cases (516) are planned, while only 228 are in production. Overall, the report provided 35 recommendations, particularly praising the work of Commerce and the General Services Administration (GSA). 

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Taking Control

The Executive Order is a good start. It sets out guidelines and expectations. But as we’ve seen from the GAO report, there’s still a considerable amount of confusion within the federal government about what is and isn’t AI, and what is or isn’t expected of agencies to report – and know – about their own tools. And this matters – to minimize risk, for protecting data privacy, for regulations attempting to keep this powerful tool from getting out of hand. This car is getting more torqued up with each new innovation, and those are happening rapidly.

“Is somebody going to take the wheel and put some guardrails around this thing, or is it going to keep doing what it wants?”

– Kevin Walsh, director of IT and cybersecurity at GAO

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