UK’s CDDO seeks first ‘government chief engineer’, Biden administration awards $20bn for clean energy investment: news in brief

By on 11/04/2024 | Updated on 11/04/2024
Photo: American Public Power Association

Global Government Forum’s weekly news roundup of public service intelligence

Vacancy: the UK government seeks first chief engineer 

The UK’s Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) is on the hunt for its first-ever government chief engineer to produce practical guidance on the use of technology for departments.

The role comes at a salary ranging from £75,000 to £117,800 (US$95,287 to US$149,664) and will involve working with departments to publish “practical, useful, respected technical guidance across all technology domains”, according to the government’s website. It will also require someone who can lead the way technologists across government solve problems and make decisions, as well as “engaging with industry to build partnerships”.

One key aspect of the role will be to “deliver…the commitments made in [government’s] 2025 roadmap, ‘Transforming for a Digital Future’ – particularly addressing legacy technology risk, enabling the reuse of common technology services, and introducing new technologies”.

The chief engineer will have the task of “researching new technologies, determining their potential and defining practical strategies for adoption”, as well as “making the case for investment in common capabilities and transformational technologies”.

Applications for the role have opened and are due to close at 11:55 pm (GMT) on 23 April. Shortlisted candidates will be expected to take part in a “virtual staff-engagement exercise”, followed by an informal conversation with CDDO’s leadership, and ending finally with a scenario-based exercise and interview with a panel.

Read more: Don’t digitise a bad process – and other takeaways from Innovation 2024

Register now for Global Government Forum’s newsletters, including a monthly Digital and Data Monitor

UK inches closer to using AI chatbot for civil servants

The UK Cabinet Office has furthered plans to expand trials of its Redbox Copilot project which could see artificial intelligence (AI) systems at the heart of the civil service.

The proposed chatbot system is named after the briefcases used by ministers to carry official papers. Under the proposed plan, AI would be used to scan and analyse these papers to produce quick summary briefings.

A ‘beta’ version of the chatbot software has been developed by the government’s internal AI engineers, and has been used by Alex Burghart, a Cabinet Office minister, and select other senior officials in advance of the full rollout. The beta version is expected to be rolled out to the remainder of the Cabinet Office shortly.

Burghart said that though the government’s team had built a tool which “can examine thousands of documents, reduce administrative work and free public servants from cumbersome tasks”, government as a whole remains “in the foothills of this work”.

“Ultimately, because of AI’s ability to analyse huge quantities of material, Redbox has the opportunity to provide institutional memory and learning to give us better public services,” he said.

Engineers have meanwhile published the programme’s source code, which it is hoped with encourage collaboration with more developers.

When fully implemented, every civil servant in the UK would have access to the chatbot. The system would then allow officials to ask the chatbot questions about the content of letters and internal papers, with the possible addition of government announcements and proceedings in Parliament at a later date.

Unions that represent UK civil servants have responded to the plan, saying that while they welcome the use of AI to boost productivity, savings should be used to improve pay rather than prompt job cuts.

Fran Heathcote, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), a body which represents 180,000 staff across the civil service and related agencies, said her union will seek “a thorough assessment of what and where [the] gains might be”, stressing that any benefits of the Redbox Copilot project should be “shared between the workers and the employers in the form of reduced hours and increased pay”.

Read more: AI takeaways from Innovation 2024; UK and US join up on AI safety; and more: GGF AI Monitor

Subscribe to receive GGF’s AI Monitor, as well as monthly newsletters on management and workforce, data and technology, and sustainability.

Biden administration awards $20bn for clean energy investment in low-income communities

On 4 April, US president Joe Biden, vice president Kamala Harris, and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan announced US$20bn in awards to bring clean energy and climate solutions to underserved areas nationwide.

The move is part of the Biden administration’s Investing in America agenda and is made possible through the Inflation Reduction Act. The funding will be drawn from the US$27bn Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), which was created under the same Act.

The awards will go towards supporting a national financing network that The White House said will kickstart “tens of thousands of climate and clean energy projects across the country, especially in low-income and disadvantaged communities”.

Projects will include “distributed clean power generation and storage, net-zero retrofits of homes and small businesses, and zero-emission transportation”, all of which The White House said “can lower energy costs for families and improve housing affordability while tackling the climate crisis”.

Of the US$20bn in awards, at least US$4bn will go towards investment in rural communities and US$1.5bn will go to programmes to support tribal nations.

Eight organisations have been selected to oversee the spending of the grants.  

US senator Tom Carper, chairman of the senate environment and public works committee, welcomed the announcement.

“Every American should benefit from the investments we make to fight climate change, no matter their zip code,” he said.

“These investments will lower energy costs for everyone and create good-paying jobs, and I applaud the EPA for moving quickly to implement this programme. Congratulations to the eight recipients who will bring us one step closer to a clean energy future.”

Pakistan’s prime minister creates body to review climate change governance funds

The prime minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif, is expected to form a high-level committee to review the government’s climate change governance and mechanisms for accessing climate funds.

The purpose of the committee will be to develop means of mainstreaming climate-orientated policies across all government organisations and operations. It will also seek to integrate this approach into the country’s development agenda based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The committee will also evaluate how effective existing and proposed institutional mechanisms are at addressing climate change. Mechanisms due for scrutiny include the National Climate Change Council, the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), the proposed Climate Change Authority, the Climate Change Fund, and the National Disaster Risk Management Fund.

The committee is expected to be chaired by the deputy chairman planning commission, which is made up of government officials, parliamentarians, representatives from civil society and environment NGOs, private sector, research institutes, and expert/advisors with knowledge on specific topics.

Sharif also nominated several committee members, including climate change minister Romina Khursheed Alam, and executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Dr Abid Suleri.

The members of the committee in full are: Mohammad Jehanzeb Khan (chair), coordinator to the PM on climate change; Roinina Khurshid Alam, senator; Ayesha Raza Farooq, member of the national assembly; Bilal Kiyani, executive director of the SDPI; Dr Abid Suleri, Kashmala Kakakhel (climate finance expert); Rizwan Mehboob (climate expert); Ali Tauqir Sheikh (climate expert); Ahsan Kamran (climate finance expert); and Nadia Rehman, member of the  climate change planning commission and secretary of the ministry of climate change and environmental coordination, secretary of the ministry of commerce, and secretary of the ministry of planning.

Read more: Europe ‘unprepared’ for climate risks, AI threats to climate change, greening public spending, and more

Register now for Global Government Forum’s newsletters, including a monthly Sustainability Monitor

Civil servants ask to cease work on arms sales to Israel

Civil servants overseeing exports of arms to Israel in the UK Department for Business and Trade (DBT) have asked to “cease work immediately” over fears they could be complicit in war crimes in Gaza.

Officials raised concerns with senior civil servants over their possible liability were Israel to be found guilty of breaking international law. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) called an urgent meeting with the department to discuss what it termed “the legal jeopardy” civil servants faced if they continued to work on the policy.

“Given the implications for our members we believe there are ample grounds to immediately suspend all such work. We therefore request that you meet with us urgently to discuss this matter and cease work immediately,” the PCS said in a letter to DBT sent on 3 April. The union is currently considering taking legal action against the government.

Paul O’Connor, head of bargaining at PCS, has said that the union believes the UK government “has an obligation to do all it can to halt” what he called “the onslaught” by Israeli forces on Gaza.

“As it does not appear to be willing to do so, we are seriously considering taking legal action to prevent our members from being forced to carry out unlawful acts. We do not take such cases lightly and we only do so where we have reasonable prospect of winning.”

A preliminary ruling from the International Court of Justice meanwhile found that Israel’s acts in Gaza could amount to genocide, a point on which O’Connor said the union agrees.

Last week, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that a low estimation of 32,975 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza since 7 October 2023, when militant organisation Hamas killed 1,200 Israeli people and kidnapped 250.

David Penman, general secretary of civil service leaders’ union the FDA, said on UK talk-radio station LBC that while civil servants knew to uphold neutrality as part of their role, the conflict brought into play serious questions of international law, and so demanded action on behalf of civil servants.

“There are serious figures who’ve been in government, in the diplomatic world, and former national security advisers who are raising these concerns about whether the government is now in a position [where] it’s breaking its own rules around the sale of arms, where there’s a legitimate concern they’re going to be used to break international humanitarian law,” Penman said.

Read more: US boosts protections for career civil servants, top officials call for ‘elitist’ UK Foreign Office to be replaced, and more

Register now for Global Government Forum’s newsletters, including a monthly Management and Workforce Monitor

This week’s articles on Global Government Forum

Join Global Government Forum’s LinkedIn group to keep up to date with all the insight public and civil servants need to know.

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *