Last month, the Department of Defense (DoD) named Radha Plumb to head the Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office (CDAO), replacing inaugural chief Craig Martell, who has held the position since 2022. Plumb, who has served as the deputy secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, will come onboard as the government continues to tackle with the future role of artificial intelligence (AI).

“The incoming chief will need to navigate complex issues such as data privacy, security, and ethical considerations surrounding AI deployment within government operations,” explained Lisa Plaggemier, executive director of The National Cybersecurity Alliance.

“(CDAO) will also be tasked with fostering innovation while ensuring adherence to regulatory frameworks and maintaining public trust in AI technologies,” Plaggemier told ClearanceJobs. “Additionally, the chief will need to collaborate with various stakeholders to develop and implement effective AI strategies that align with government priorities and societal needs.”

More AI Offices Will Be Established

The DoD’s AI office is far from the only one to be charged with dealing with AI. Last month, Vice President Kamala Harris announced the new Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance that called for all federal agencies to appoint a Chief AI Officer, and to further establish AI governance boards to coordinate how the technology might be used within the agency.

“We have directed all federal agencies to designate a chief AI officer with the experience, expertise, and authority to oversee all AI technologies used by that agency, and this is to make sure that AI is used responsibly, understanding that we must have senior leaders across our government, who are specifically tasked with overseeing AI adoption and use,” Harris told reporters.

Though an agency’s chief AI officer does not necessarily have to be a political appointee, it could depend on the federal agency’s structure, while the governance boards must be established in the coming months.

“OMB is advocating for every agency to appoint its own AI officer to address the increasing reliance on AI across government sectors,” added Plaggemier.

“This initiative is crucial for several reasons,” she continued. “Firstly, having dedicated AI officers within each agency will ensure that AI technologies are deployed responsibly and transparently, mitigating risks such as algorithmic bias and data misuse. Secondly, AI officers will play a vital role in driving innovation and efficiency within agencies, leading to improved public services and decision-making processes.”

However, this shouldn’t be seen as a burden for the agencies.

“AI officers for every agency need to happen soon because the potential workforce efficiency gains from AI adoption are huge,” said Edward Wu, CEO and founder of AI cybersecurity provider Dropzone AI.

“Public companies like ServiceNow and PANW are already experiencing over 50% productivity gains in service costs,” Wu told ClearanceJobs. “Given the budget constraints on most agencies, AI is probably the biggest opportunity they have to do a lot more with the same while offering better quality of service.”

The appointment of AI officers could be essential for agencies to keep pace with technological advancements and to leverage AI’s potential for societal benefit effectively.

“The implementation of this directive is imperative to enhance governance and oversight of AI initiatives within government agencies,” suggested Plaggemier.

AI and the IC

As previously reported, Dr. John Beieler, assistant director for Science and Technology (S&T) at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, will now take on the chief AI officer responsibilities. The intelligence community (IC) continues to require collaboration between the government and the technology sector, and the AI council can help ensure coordination.

“A lot has changed with now having a governing body on AI,” Beieler said in his keynote address at the INSA’s 2024 Spring Symposium: How AI is Transforming the IC.

Finding the Talent

The exact nature of AI could vary from agency to agency, simply because it isn’t limited to a single technology, and with each passing day how it can be employed continues to evolve. That only further highlights the need for agencies to more closely monitor and even control its use.

“Gen AI is like a hammer that can be used to hit anything,” said Wu. “It will be paramount to cut through the technology hype and identify good short-term, medium-term, and long-term applications that materially move the needle. Otherwise, it’s very easy to end up with expensive digital paperweights that don’t provide value.”

Yet, the biggest challenge could be finding those with AI experience ready, willing and able to fill the roles in the agencies that will need them. It was recently noted that already that many in cybersecurity leadership roles lack the adequate skills and training to be effective. The same could be true in the AI space.

“The unfortunate reality is the best AI scientists are not working for the government, so AI officers will need to identify ways to adopt commercial technology while maintaining strong security, privacy, and compliance standards,” said Wu. “Previous learnings around adopting cloud computing (GovCloud) and SaaS (Fedramp certification) could be applied here and ease the adoption friction of new innovative applications of AI.”

It is truly a brave new world.