Bipartisan Senate bill calls on Commerce to lead AI push with small businesses

Legislation from Sens. Cantwell and Moran tasks Commerce and SBA with the creation of AI training resources for small businesses in underserved communities.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, speaks with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., before a hearing on June 9, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

A new bill from a bipartisan pair of senators aims to accelerate small business use of artificial intelligence, assigning new responsibilities to both the Commerce Department and the Small Business Administration to provide training in the technology. 

The legislation from Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., titled the Small Business Artificial Intelligence Training and Toolkit Act, would have the Commerce secretary work with the administrator of the SBA on creating AI training resources for small businesses located in rural areas, Tribal communities, or other underserved regions. The training resources would be centered on artificial intelligence and emerging technologies, including quantum technologies, among other topics.

Those trainings would be provided via grants distributed by the SBA, as well as through gifting from the private sector. The Commerce Department would also submit reports to Congress about the state of the program. The legislation requires Commerce to update these trainings, too. 

“Small businesses are the foundation of the U.S. economy, making up 99 percent of all businesses,” Cantwell said in a statement. “They drive economic growth and innovation. It is essential that all American entrepreneurs — especially our small businesses — have access to AI training and reskilling in the 21st-century marketplace. This bill gives small businesses a boost with new tools to thrive as we step into this innovative era.”


The SBA has already taken some steps to encourage businesses to deploy the technology, though the agency’s ability to inventory its AI use cases has also attracted some scrutiny from Congress.

Rebecca Heilweil

Written by Rebecca Heilweil

Rebecca Heilweil is an investigative reporter for FedScoop. She writes about the intersection of government, tech policy, and emerging technologies. Previously she was a reporter at Vox's tech site, Recode. She’s also written for Slate, Wired, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. You can reach her at Message her if you’d like to chat on Signal.

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