The landscape of artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving rapidly, permeating various facets of society, including the operations of federal agencies. A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), as highlighted in an article by Rae Ann Varona for Law360, sheds light on the current state of AI implementation in these agencies. While the adoption of AI technologies promises significant advancements, it also brings forth challenges in compliance and responsible management.
In the fiscal year 2022, federal agencies reported over 1,000 uses of AI, showcasing the technology's growing influence in government operations. The AI applications span a wide range, from monitoring activities along the U.S. border and analyzing drone photographs to aiding in planetary surface exploration with rovers. The U.S. Department of Commerce leads in the number of AI use cases, indicating a substantial investment in this technology across various sectors.
Despite these advancements, the GAO report reveals a concerning gap: 20 out of 23 major federal agencies have not fully complied with the requirements set by the Chief Information Officers Council. This council serves as the principal interagency forum for managing information technology practices, and its guidelines are crucial for ensuring that AI is used effectively and responsibly.
The importance of managing AI use cannot be overstated, especially given the technology's rapid growth and potential for widespread adoption. AI can lead to groundbreaking innovations, as seen in autonomous vehicles, medical diagnostics, and agriculture. The federal government recognizes this potential, with agencies in President Joe Biden's fiscal year 2023 budget requesting $1.8 billion for nondefense AI research and development investment. However, with great power comes great responsibility.
One of the key risks associated with AI systems is their reliance on data that can change over time, leading to possible inequitable outcomes or the amplification of existing inequities. This is a critical concern in the context of federal agency operations, where decisions and actions can have far-reaching implications on the public.
Moreover, the GAO found that many agencies provided AI inventories with missing elements or inaccurate data. Issues such as staff errors and misinterpretations of the CIO Council's instructions were cited as reasons for these data quality problems. This not only underscores the need for better compliance and understanding of guidelines but also highlights the importance of ensuring data accuracy and integrity in AI systems.
The journey towards a balanced and responsible use of AI in federal agencies is both challenging and necessary. As AI continues to transform government operations, agencies must adhere to established guidelines to minimize risks and achieve the intended outcomes without unintended consequences. The GAO's findings serve as a wake-up call for federal agencies to reassess their AI strategies and compliance mechanisms.
The road ahead requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders involved in AI implementation and oversight. By fostering an environment of compliance, responsibility, and ethical use of AI, federal agencies can leverage this transformative technology to improve their operations while safeguarding public trust and welfare.
Varona, Rae Ann. “GAO Says Agencies Not Fully Complying With AI Rules.” Law360, 12 Dec. 2023.
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