US government taps agencies for AI project ideas

By on 13/02/2024 | Updated on 13/02/2024
Clare Martorana, chair of the TMF and the US federal government's chief information officer. Official Department of Labor photograph by Alyson Fligg via Flickr

The US government’s Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) is seeking artificial intelligence project proposals from federal agencies as part of an executive order signed last year.

The executive order on the safe, secure, and trustworthy development and use of artificial intelligence – signed by president Joe Biden in October 2023 – suggested the TMF board consider prioritising funding for AI projects in government, and urged agencies to submit project proposals involving AI and generative AI “in the service of mission delivery”.

In its call for proposals, published on 8 February, the TMF said agencies’ projects must be based on AI use cases, must have a timeline of no more than 18 months, and must cost no more than US$6m if they were to be considered for its ‘expediated AI pilot process’.

It said submissions could, for example, “enable rapid deployment, process automation, delivery of assistive technology, better customer experience, and reduced administrative burden for staff”. It added that federal agencies would be expected to provide “a clear plan for user testing, risk mitigation, evaluation metrics, and senior executive support”.

Read more: US agencies lack ‘comprehensive and accurate’ AI inventories, GAO report finds

Clare Martorana, chair of the TMF and the US federal government’s chief information officer, said that the government had “an obligation to harness the power of AI for good while protecting people from its risks”.

She added that there were “more than 700 AI use cases” active in government, including use cases relevant to “anticipating and mitigating prescription drug shortages”, “supply chain issues” and “assisting cyber forensic specialists in detecting anomalies and potential threats in federal civilian networks”.

“Use of the TMF has the potential to accelerate AI usage in government and unlock the innovation that we know we are capable of delivering for the public,” Martorana said.

Use case scenarios

The TMF’s call for submissions follows a report published in December last year by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which showed that most major US federal agencies lack clear and precise data on their current and planned uses of AI.

GAO’s report examined inventories from 20 agencies involving 1,241 AI use cases. It assessed what it termed each agency’s “reported current and planned uses of AI”, as well as the extent to which agencies’ reporting on AI was “comprehensive and accurate” and their projects compliant with “selected federal policy and guidance”.

Of the 20 agencies, GAO found that only five had provided “comprehensive information” for each of their reported use cases, while the remaining 15 inventories were found to contain “data gaps and inaccuracies”.

The TMF has received US$225m through annual budgets and US$1bn through the American Rescue Plan, the country’s US$1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus package.

Read more: UK government to direct funding to ‘agile’ AI regulation

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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.

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