‘Incremental changes’ not enough for AI workforce development, commission tells Congress

Congress also heard about a digital reserve corps idea and other recommendation to take "bold" action on building an AI workforce.
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The Pentagon-housed advisory panel on artificial intelligence urged Congress on Thursday to take “bold” action on improving the government’s technical workforce and senior leadership’s understanding of AI.

One such recommendation from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence is a “digital academy” that would require civilian government service in exchange for free tuition, similar to the military academies.

The idea seemed to connect with some members of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities, which held Thursday’s hearing. Other recommendations including improving the means to track digital talent in the government to more efficiently use limited resources.

“Incremental changes are not going to make a difference,” said José-Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University, who leads the NSCAI’s workforce subcommittee. The commission was created under the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to provide governmentwide recommendations on improving U.S. AI development for national security.


The digital academy was first brought up during the commission’s meeting in July, but was formally presented to Congress in a hearing for the first time Thursday. The academy would be fully accredited and independent from the government, but with an inter-agency oversight board of government officials and private sector executives.

Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., called the idea “really intriguing” and one that Congress should “take a very hard look at.”

Another scholarship-for-service recommendation from the commission is a digital reserve corps that would require at least 38 days a year of government technology work in exchange for tuition at a private university. Eric Schmidt, the commission’s chairman and former Google CEO, described it as a “watered down” version of the digital academy which would require full-time work after graduation.

“We need a next generation of talent, and they need to be in the government,” Schmidt said during his opening statement.

Griffiths added that every challenge the commission works on is inevitably tied to workforce improvements. Data management, international partnership and other key issues all rely on a expert workforce of employees that understand AI, she said.


There have been other initiatives to built AI workforce strategies from Congress. Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Robin Kelly, D-Ill, published a national strategy for AI workforce in and out of government that focused on early and continual education opportunities to develop AI talent.

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