US senators propose AI training for federal procurement professionals

By on 11/08/2021 | Updated on 08/09/2021
Senator Gary Peters (Mich.), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has introduced an AI training proposal with his colleague Senator Rob Portman. Credit: Glenn Fawcett/Flickr/United States government work

Two US senators have introduced legislation to train the federal workforce on artificial intelligence (AI).

Gary Peters and Rob Portman – chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee respectively – are co-sponsoring the bipartisan bill that would introduce a training programme for federal workers who procure and manage AI.

The training would focus on the science, ethics, and the potential dangers of the technology. “We need a federal acquisition workforce that understands AI, how it works, how it can help the government run better, and the ways we can fix the problems with AI systems so those procurement professionals can know they are buying the right AI systems for the government,” said Portman, Republican senator for Ohio.

The training programme would also help the US remain a global technological leader, the senators noted, especially with the levels of investment in AI from competitors like China.

“AI is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and the government must be able to utilise this technology in an ethical way that is consistent with American values and our democracy,” said Peters, Democratic senator for Michigan.

“Federal employees must be aware of the ethical implications, risks, and benefits associated with AI. This legislation will help protect our national security, help us remain competitive in the long run, and make sure AI technology is used properly,” he added.

Leading the charge

If passed by the Senate, the bill would become the Artificial Intelligence Training for the Acquisition Workforce Act.

It follows recommendations from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence in March this year, which pointed to the need to train the federal workforce. The commission was set up in 2018 by the US government to investigate how to advance the development of AI and machine learning to support national security and defence.

The legislation would give responsibility for the training programme to the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is the largest of the president’s offices in the White House. The OMB prepares the budget and monitors the executive branch to ensure it is delivering the president’s vision.

Under the proposed legislation the OMB director, currently Shalanda Young, would be “encouraged” to work with academics, and public and private experts to create the programme. Procurement officers would be instructed on the ethics of AI, particularly around the dangers of biased or discriminatory algorithms and privacy violations. The training would also include the latest national security trends.

The OMB would be required to update the programme every two years, according to reports. The proposal also outlines how the OMB would be expected to track the feedback of participants to refine the training.

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