Government use of AI requires that talent come first
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Government use of AI requires that talent come first

December 12, 2023

What comes to mind when you think of artificial intelligence? AI often conjures images of sleek robots, high-tech computers or vast networks of interconnected code. But what about the humans at the center of it all?  

The Biden administration recently issued an AI executive order which seeks to establish guidelines and guardrails for the government’s use of this tool. One component of the strategy is an AI talent surge to quickly expand the number of data scientists, computer engineers, IT specialists and AI professionals in the federal workforce – AKA many of the people who will be responsible for AI innovation and risk mitigation in government. 

Beyond adding to its AI ranks, there are plenty of other ways that the federal workforce will be involved in government’s response to and adoption of emerging technologies. Responsibly evaluating, implementing and using artificial intelligence requires successful collaboration between technical and non-technical employees, such as the data scientists building AI tools, the chief AI officers or chief information officers operating them, the general counsels reviewing their privacy implications, the program managers interpreting their results, and many others. 

Although discussions of AI can often feel like a futuristic sci-fi movie, federal agencies should first reflect on tried-and-true talent principles when it comes to identifying qualified individuals.  

To start, there are scores of best practices related to the federal workforce and human capital management that can, and should, be applied to the AI workforce. Here are a few:  

  • Utilize surge hiring best practices and available hiring flexibilities: Agencies should focus on hiring for a variety of levels and skillsets—including early career talent, not just expert technologists—and determine which hiring authorities will best meet their talent surge needs. 
  • Deploy skills-based hiring and consider job classification: When hiring for AI-related roles, remove unnecessary four-year degree requirements that create barriers for jobseekers and think strategically about the appropriate occupational series to fill these positions. 
  • Develop position descriptions and make them shareable government-wide: Title and advertise jobs using industry-wide language and competencies (not government vernacular) and streamline the process by undertaking pooled hiring actions.  
  • Empower and develop modern government leaders: All agency leaders—not just those working on AI—should be versed in modern, tech-literate ways of working. The Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management should work with agencies and stakeholders to develop modern leadership standards beyond those needed for AI and data, in addition to ensuring that AI leaders are set up for success by integrating their work across the enterprise.  

Looking to longstanding talent management best practices will help ensure that agencies have the talent they need and a federal workforce that is equipped to deploy emerging technologies, such as AI, today and in the future. 

For more detailed recommendations on the intersection between artificial intelligence and talent management, check out the Partnership’s public comments in response to OMB’s AI guidance.

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