Australian public servants urged to use AI, US government creates standard definition for zero-emission buildings: news in brief

By on 13/06/2024 | Updated on 13/06/2024
A map of Australia
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Global Government Forum’s weekly news roundup of public service intelligence

In this edition:

Australian public servants urged to use AI at work

Patrick Gorman. Image: Australian Government

Public servants in Australia have been told they should use artificial intelligence (AI) in their jobs by Patrick Gorman, the country’s assistant minister for the public service. 

Speaking at the recent IPAA ACT Express Summit, Gorman said AI showed strong potential to make citizens’ lives easier. He drew on examples of its use, such as in airport smart gates, to underscore its importance to government. 

“My message is clear. Public servants should use AI. And use it wisely. They must think about the policy challenges it brings. And make sure we grab the opportunities available,” he said. 

“Australia cannot afford to be left behind, when everyone else has heard the starting gun.” 

Commenting on the technological transformation of the 21st century to date, Gorman added that the progress witnessed had been “remarkable”.  

“What was once a concept in science fiction has today become a familiar part of everyday life. If we find the right balance, AI can similarly benefit our society and its people,” he said. 

Gorman went on to say that in the early 2000s, “fewer than 7% of people globally had access to the internet”, but that since then, 65% of the global population had moved online. He further added that there were now “as many mobile phones in the world as people”. 

A day before Gorman made his appeal, Australia’s Productivity Commission warned a Senate select committee that the pace of progress and competitive pressures surrounding AI could spur rapid uptake of the technology that bypasses government intervention. 

“There is mounting pressure on governments internationally to respond quickly and comprehensively, but knee-jerk approaches to regulating AI threaten to stifle uptake and squander potential benefits,” it said in a submission to the committee released on 3 June. 

“While there are clearly risks from AI adoption, the government should take a considered approach to regulation that also keeps the benefits of AI in view.” 

Last year, interim guidance for AI in public services was issued. The guidance focussed on basing AI in government on principles related to transparency, accountability, privacy, fairness and public interest. 

Government AI programmes have since taken shape at the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Signals Directorate and in an invite-only Microsoft Copilot trial. 

Read the latest AI Monitor: AI ‘makes slow-moving governments vulnerable’, EU breaks new ground on AI legislation, and more

US government creates standard definition for zero-emission buildings 

Image: Photo by Scott Webb/Pexels

The US Department of Energy (DoE) has laid out a national definition of a zero-emission building with the aim of accelerating decarbonisation in the buildings sector, which is responsible for more than a third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The definition states that “at a minimum”, a zero-emission building is one “that is highly energy efficient, does not emit greenhouse gases directly from energy use, and is powered solely by clean energy”. 

The guidance was developed following a request for information which solicited feedback from members of the public, industry, academia, research laboratories and government agencies. The Department says that future updates may address emissions from embodied carbon in the production, transportation, installation, and disposal of building materials, as well as additional considerations.  

“The national definition of a zero-emissions building will support the sector as it advances innovative solutions essential to creating resilient communities and high-quality jobs,” said US secretary of energy, Jennifer M. Granholm.  

“With today’s announcement, DoE is helping bring clarity to our public and private sector partners to support decarbonisation efforts and drive investment – paving the way for the cutting-edge clean energy technologies we need to make America’s buildings more comfortable and affordable.”  

There are nearly 130 million existing buildings in the United States and, according to the DoE, an additional 40 million new homes and 60 billion square feet of commercial floorspace are expected to be constructed by 2050. 

Earlier this year, the Department outlined a blueprint to reduce US building emissions by 65% by 2035 and 90% by 2050. 

Read Global Government Forum’s Sustainability Monitor: The missing link in national climate plans – cities, green pledges in UK election manifestos, and more

US senators aim to reduce number of political appointees in State Department


A group of Democratic senators has set out legislation intended to create a merit-based system for appointing top diplomats in the US government.

The State Department Integrity and Transparency Act, proposed by three Democratic senators including former US vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, recommended new qualifications for positions that are presidential appointments, including nominees for ambassador. These are intended to limit the president’s ability to appoint key campaign donors to plum ambassadorial roles – a longstanding trend in US politics that has been exercised by both Democrat and Republican presidents.

However, the legislation states that it aims to ensure that “the Department of State is appropriately staffed by empowered, nonpartisan foreign policy professionals and thoroughly qualified and vetted political appointees”.

The legislation proposes that presidential nominees for ambassadorships – as well as for assistant secretaries at the State Department – submit reports to Congress on their suitability for the role, setting out their knowledge of the language in the region and their understanding of its history, culture and politics.

This statement would also ascertain that campaign donation played no role in the individual’s selection. The senators said those provisions would ensure “competence, rather than contributions to political campaigns, is the primary qualification for the appointment”.

Read Global Government Forum’s Management and Workforce Monitor: UK government to launch attraction strategy for recruitment, a reform idea from Romania, and more

Pledge to end UK ‘government by WhatsApp’

Image: Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

A UK political party has pledged to end the practice of what it calls ‘government by WhatsApp’ by requiring all ministerial instant-messaging conversations to be shared with their department.

The Liberal Democrats called for the reform after the public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic was forced to take legal action to ensure that the government would provide the evidence – a saga which revealed that the government did not initially hold all the messages.

The party pledges that all ministers’ instant-messaging conversations involving government business would be “placed on the departmental record”, while a record of all lobbying of ministers via instant messages, emails, letters and phone calls would be published as part of quarterly transparency releases.

Read Global Government Forum’s Digital and Data Monitor: The story of the UK Digital Academy, why good decisions follow good data, and more

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