‘First federal CIO’ gives 3 reality checks on governmental AI

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget recently released final guidance for the use of AI by executive-branch departments and agencies. OMB director Shalanda Young fleshed out the particulars of the guidance in a 34-page memo sent to heads of the affected bodies March 28 (summarized and linked here).

Less than two months later, a former IT administrator for the OMB is taking issue with the execution of the instructions. “[I]t is very clear that the new OMB memo has a major shortfall in guidance for using AI to improve government results,” writes Mark Forman in commentary published by the Federal News Network.

Today Forman consults governmental clients on technology with the Washington-area firm Dynamic Integrated Services. In the early 2000s he was appointed by President George W. Bush to be the first federal CIO (which was then called the OMB administrator for e-government and IT).

In his May 22 opinion piece, Forman acknowledges that Young’s OMB faced an uphill battle trying to launch fresh AI strategy in the fourth year of a presidential administration.

Addressing whomever takes up the mantle in the next administration—which could well be Young again, should Biden win reelection—Forman offers several tips and perspectives. Among the arguable best are these three:

1. The public will best benefit from government AI initiatives tied to strategic needs and opportunities.

“Based on what we know about the agency AI initiative submission to the White House last year, about a thousand AI projects are underway in government,” Forman writes. “Those projects range from good old-fashioned algorithmic AI to robotic process automation to neural networked generative AI tools and chatbots.” More:

‘We should not spend billions of dollars on AI projects that are compliant with OMB guidance and are merely interesting from a research perspective. Rather, with so much effort on AI projects, we need a return on investment tied to the biggest strategic needs and chronic problems of government.’

2. The government could improve efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness from using a ‘know your customer’ approach.

Agencies might adopt means and methods from the private business sector, which uses AI as a tool in customer relationship management (CRM) efforts, Forman suggests. “Take, for example, companies that provide myriad products and services, such as Amazon and Facebook Marketplace,” he adds. “They know you as one customer who has unique needs, and they customize offers for those needs.” More:

‘By analyzing patterns in participant feedback and complaints, AI algorithms can pinpoint areas where programs are falling short and suggest targeted interventions to improve outcomes.’

3. Successful use of AI in government requires more than just a focus on compliance with controls.

Achieving strategic value requires articulating a vision and motivating people to establish and sustain it, Forman suggests. This is “the only way to assure government performance gains as well as that the guidance does not get reduced to a reporting exercise,” he argues. More:

‘[I]t is essential to have clearly stated goals and shared vision across agencies to ensure that the benefits are realized without compromising individual rights and societal values.’

Read the whole thing.


Dave Pearson

Dave P. has worked in journalism, marketing and public relations for more than 30 years, frequently concentrating on hospitals, healthcare technology and Catholic communications. He has also specialized in fundraising communications, ghostwriting for CEOs of local, national and global charities, nonprofits and foundations.

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