Biden administration working on hiring tools to help agencies compete for AI talent – Federal News Network

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The Biden administration is on a hiring spree for experts who can help the federal government adopt artificial intelligence tools and boost productivity.

The Office of Management and Budget, after finalizing its governmentwide policy on AI use, said last week that it plans to hire 100 AI professionals into the federal workforce by this summer.

The White House, as part of this AI “talent surge,” is making sure agencies have the tools they need to recruit and retain AI professionals. The administration, under a sweeping executive order on AI in government, is also casting a wider net for talent, and looking to fill AI-adjacent positions.

Loren DeJonge Schulman, OMB’s associate director for performance and personnel management, said the administration is focused on the “future civil service we need to build to serve the American people today and in the future.”

“We are not just looking for technologists, for people who build large language models, for people with coding experience. Those are incredibly important, and we do want you. We are also looking for regulators, policymakers, human capital specialists who understand how to deploy AI — lawyers who are thinking about how to regulate this system — and so much more to recruit and support the next generation of AI talent. AI is going to touch everything,” Schulman said Thursday in a webinar.

The Office of Personnel Management is working on several projects to help agencies bring AI talent through the federal hiring process — from strategic workforce planning to onboarding.

Kyleigh Russ, a senior advisor at OPM leading its Hiring Experience Group, said OPM is working on a validated AI competency model that will help “better define AI skills across the federal workforce.”

Along with that model, OPM will also release interpretive guidance that will help agencies classify and assess AI skills, and put OPM’s AI competency model into practice.

OPM took its first step to identify what federal employees need to know to work with AI last summer. In a governmentwide memo to chief human capital officers, the agency outlined 44 general competencies and 14 technical competencies for the federal workforce to work with AI.

OPM is also working with the White House — including its U.S. Digital Service and Office of Performance and Personnel Management — to create an AI and Tech Talent Playbook.

Russ said the playbook will include hiring best practices and case studies that show how agencies can effectively onboard tech talent.

Federal and state agencies are also hosting a virtual “Tech to Gov” job fair on April 18, with a focus on filling AI and AI-enabling positions across government.

“We have a number of agencies there that are actively looking to hire both on-the-spot and in the months following,” Russ said.

OPM, as part of an interagency AI and Tech Talent Task Force, is focused on agencies hiring new AI and AI-enabling talent across government — as well as upskilling the current federal workforce to work with AI.

They’re also looking to give agencies the hiring tools and resources they need to compete with the private sector to attract these in-demand experts.

“We know that this talent is very sought-after and that there will be constant competition, both across government and the private sector. So investing in continuous training, retention incentives and the ability to move around throughout the government will be critical to ensuring that we can keep this talent once they’re in the door,” Russ said.

Russ said agencies are looking for technical AI talent to deploy these tools, as well as “AI-enabling talent” that will play a supporting role in deploying this emerging technology.

“We do, of course, need technical AI talent, who will be designing and modifying AI solutions. Those people will be vital to the federal government’s success in answering questions and solving problems,” Russ said. “People in AI positions will ensure that data is clean and stored in a way that will make it usable, and AI-enabling positions might also be writing policy, or even doing specialized tech talent recruitment for AI. Without these enabling skill sets, the AI talent that we’re bringing in can’t hope to execute on their core missions.”

Russ said AI-enabling positions also include data tagging, human resources, policy and other “backbone” support functions.

OPM is also encouraging agencies to use all the tools and incentives available to them to recruit and retain AI experts.

To incentivize employees to stay, agencies can offer an annual bonus of 25% of an employee’s base pay for up to four years.

The pay bonuses are reserved for feds in difficult-to-fill jobs, or those who have to relocate. But OPM’s recent approval of direct hire authority for AI-related positions is sufficient — with no further evidence needed — for agencies to consider AI jobs difficult to fill, and therefore eligible for the bonuses.

OPM approved direct-hire authority for AI-related positions last year. Agencies also have OPM approval to offer an annual bonus of 25% of an employee’s base pay for up to four years to fill AI-related jobs.

OPM is also encouraging agencies to bring in new talent through pipeline programs, such as the U.S. Digital Service and the President’s Management Fellows program.

Russ also encouraged agencies to bring outside experts into government for a temporary tour of duty through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA). Federal agencies can make IPA appointments to borrow talent from universities, nonprofits and state and local governments.

“This is largely underutilized across government,” Russ said. “We encourage agencies to use this hiring mechanism, which allows for a great deal of flexibility in their arrangements, that make sense for the agency and the partner organization.”

While the federal government remains in the early stages of AI adoption, agencies have already identified more than 700 AI use cases on AI.gov.

Morgan Zimmerman, an AI policy analyst at OMB, said agencies already see AI tools boosting the productivity of their current workforce.

“We’re seeing that AI can really start to automate a lot of routine tasks that we have here in the government — something like analyzing large datasets very rapidly, and just optimizing processes in ways that really increase productivity here in federal agencies,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said agencies are also using AI for predictive analytics and data-driven decision-making.

“We’re really seeing that AI can enhance the quality of decisions in both policy areas, operations within the agency, enforcement, those sorts of areas.”

OMB also sees AI as a valuable tool to provide a higher level of customer service across the government.

“We’re already seeing that agencies are leveraging AI-powered chatbots. They’re using voice assistants, and things like language translation. And all of these technologies are going to prove really impactful when it comes to government services, and especially making them more accessible and user friendly to the public,” Zimmerman said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is using automation to help its employees make decisions on disability claims.

Paul Schutes, VA’s assistant deputy undersecretary for automated benefits delivery, said the automation tools don’t make final decisions on disability claims — but do help claims processors go through hundreds of thousands of pages of veterans’ military service records, medical records and prior claims histories.

“I’m a firm believer that there’s something inherently human in the disability decisions that we make for veterans. And despite the fact that there’s been incredible advancements in new and emerging technology like AI, there’s no technology available today that can replicate the human discretion required in weighing evidence, determining the probative value of evidence that’s needed to effectively process veterans disability claims,” Schutes said.

Last year, the Veterans Benefits Administration received 2.4 million disability compensation claims, a 42% increase from the 1.7 million claims received in fiscal year 2022. VBA expects to keep seeing record volumes of claims in the coming years under the toxic-exposure PACT Act.

“We are currently hiring and we will continue to hire more claims processors to address that volume of work, but we also need to equip both our current and new employees, the tools and technologies they need to enhance their productivity and efficiency and empower them to do the incredible work that they do for veterans every day,” Schutes said.

VA has identified more than 100 use cases for AI.

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