GSA to use more bots in 2020 and emphasize AI expertise in PIF program

Agencies increasingly want PIFs to help drive their AI efforts through automation, RPA or more advanced machine learning, according to a GSA spokesperson.
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The General Services Administration has two distinct sets of plans for expanding the impact of automation on the federal government this year.

The agency wants to expand its use of robotic process automation (RPA), while also increasing the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program’s emphasis on artificial intelligence (AI).

The GSA already has 33 RPA bots in operation, and that number will grow this year, officials said.

“The program has a robust pipeline of new use cases that are under evaluation and in development,” a GSA spokesperson told FedScoop. “Agencies, including GSA, are looking across all functional areas for automation candidates.”


Agencies including GSA already use RPA for data entry, email management and information retrieval from documents and call centers. Code for many of the bots is in a public repository on GitHub or is available through the agency’s RPA Community of Practice (CoP).

One “ideal candidate,” the spokesperson said, is the transfer of basic job application information — name, address and Social Security number — to the Office of Mission Assurance’s credentialing system to begin background investigations. Like many tasks that are ripe for takeover by RPA, it’s a repetitive, rules-based process.

Bots GSA shared on GitHub include one that automates accounts payable email notifications for outstanding invoices and another that retrieves information on micro-purchases to create a purchase card log.

GSA’s Technology Transformation Services continues to advance its AI strategy at the same time, assisting agencies through consulting and advisory services and cross-agency accelerators; cosponsoring an AI CoP; acquisition of innovative technologies.

AI emphasis for PIFs


The PIF program, run by TTS, has placed about 160 fellows across 35 agencies in the last six years. It looks for people with digital strategy, product design and engineering backgrounds.

“In this program this year, there will be an emphasis on AI as TTS works to accelerate the adoption of AI across the federal government,” said Harry Lee, assistant commissioner of TTS, at the ACT-IAC AI/IA Forum on Jan. 22.

“Given the recent federal efforts around AI — as well as TTS’s leadership role in accelerating the adoption of AI across government — there is increased interest from agencies in bringing on PIFs to help drive their AI efforts through automation, RPA or more advanced machine learning,” the spokesperson said.

The application process for the 2020 PIF cohort began in late January, and the AI CoP meets on Feb. 12 to explore use cases.

“Buying AI on an enterprise-wide scale is not only new to government but also relatively new to the private sector,” Lee said. “Industry participation and feedback is very important to the success of agency programs and support.”

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