There was a great deal of momentum around federal IT modernization in 2018. More agencies bought and used cloud services than ever, and the Technology Modernization Fund doled out tens of millions of dollars in funding for IT upgrades at agencies., Meanwhile, the General Services Administration started working with the Agriculture Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development on its Centers of Excellence IT modernization model.
Speaking March 28 at FedScoop’s IT Modernization Summit in Washington, D.C., Federal CIO Suzette Kent said that not only will there be final versions of those policies issued this year, but that OMB is readying a new policy to govern how agencies use automation technologies. “There were some amazing things that were accomplished last year,” she said. “But what’s in store for this year is even more exciting and even more impactful.”
New Automation Policy Is in the Works
The role of artificial intelligence has been growing in government, particularly in the intelligence community. Agencies have also been adopting more basic automation technologies, such as robotic process automation, which allows organizations to automate certain repetitive tasks — often mundane and tedious work that users do not want to spend much time doing.
In February, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to establish a national strategy, the American AI Initiative. The strategy comes nearly two years after China vowed to become a world leader in AI and create a $150 billion domestic AI industry by 2030.
The White House’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal requests about $850 million for the initiative across the Energy Department, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation.
Kent said at the summit that OMB is finalizing a policy that would address the use of automated technologies by federal civilian agencies, including RPA, natural language processing and AI and machine learning more broadly.
The policy will focus on how agencies can harness such transformative technologies and will leverage learnings from the private sector and early movers in the government, according to Kent.
“It’s clear that there is a massive opportunity to learn from iterative pilots,” she said. “We are going to be very aggressive.”
While OMB is going to direct governmentwide policy, it will also encourage agencies to “just get started” on using automation technologies to modernize government services. OMB is also looking to create communities of interest around specific problems.
The policy will “seek to align the level of inspection, oversight, data examination and model control with the consequences of the outcomes.” This will allow the government to build an ecosystem and make it specific to agencies’ desired outcomes and missions.
The goal is to create an “infrastructure” around tools like RPA and data analytics to advance the government’s thinking and then be applied to “some of the more powerful technologies” like machine learning.