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Agencies must do a better job of sharing emerging tech regulatory challenges with Congress, watchdog report says

The Government Accountability Office said federal agencies should increase communication and documentation to further help Congress provide legislative oversight.
A bicyclist rides past the US Capitol at dusk as the House meets to vote on a rules package for the 118th Congress, in Washington, DC, on January 9, 2023. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images).

When considering the implementation of emerging technologies, federal agencies should document changes in statutes, provide the public with information about their efforts and establish clear communication with Congress and other relevant stakeholders, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Thursday.

The GAO report noted that federal agencies are facing regulatory challenges with emerging technologies such as medical devices powered by artificial intelligence and drones. Technologies of that sort require more legislative architecture and coordination from Congress, the report stated. GAO offered three recommendations — all of which were accepted — to help the agencies’ efforts. 

The selected agencies — the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Communications Commission — also reported that they have been communicating with both domestic and foreign agencies about knowledge-building and outreach efforts, citing that foreign regulators were “more extensive than those used by selected domestic regulators.”

“During the time regulators build knowledge about emerging technologies, newer technologies can also emerge and create different or new policy questions,” the report states. “This pacing problem is made more acute by the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which the literature has described as developing at an unprecedented pace. … Regulating too quickly may impede innovation and economic growth, among other things, whereas not regulating quickly enough may increase the risk of harm to the public.”

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The report focused on “priority technology” at each selected agency, such as AI, 3D printing of biological materials, gene therapies, nonrecreational drone usage, highly autonomous motor vehicles and wireless networks like 5G and 6G.

GAO reviewed the FDA, DOT and FCC and interviewed each agency about a component that is responsible for emerging technologies, such as the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

Additionally, GAO selected and interviewed three foreign governments — Japan, the European Union and the United Kingdom — that “had committed to and been recognized for their efforts to regulate emerging technologies.”

“Selected federal agencies have reported coordinating with other domestic and foreign agencies to support their efforts to regulate some emerging technologies,” the report states. “Agencies’ interagency collaboration activities include efforts to share information and pursue goals for these technologies.”

The agencies reported that they used “varied approaches” to anticipate any regulatory issues, including “scenario planning,” and engaged with industry for knowledge gathering along with coordinating with other agencies and foreign governments to “share information and achieve shared goals.”

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GAO conducted its audit from June 2022 until January 2024 in response to a request from House Oversight and Accountability ranking member Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Government Innovation Subcommittee ranking member  Gerry Connolly, D-Va.

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