AI Experts Needed to Lead ‘Project Maven’ Move Within DOD

(Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes)
Airmen discuss Project Maven’s capabilities at an Air Force intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance innovation summit in Maryland.

The Defense Department’s (DOD) secretive artificial intelligence task force called Project Maven is moving to a new home within the Pentagon’s intelligence and security apparatus. Now Defense officials are looking for an industry partner to manage the transition and provide ongoing support for the program.

Project Maven, formally known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team (AWCFT), was established in 2017 to “accelerate the DOD’s integration of big data and machine learning,” then-Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work wrote in a memo. Maven’s focus is to apply computer vision algorithms to tag objects identified in images or videos captured by surveillance aircraft or reconnaissance satellites. The program received national attention after Google Inc., one of several technology companies participating in the program, publicly withdrew amid uproar from employees about the “weaponization” of artificial intelligence (AI).

Pentagon leaders aim to transfer ownership of Project Maven from the Washington Headquarters Service (WHS) to the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security (I&S), as Work proposed in his original memo. The move will also bring Maven into better alignment with the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

WHS officials posted a request for information (RFI) May 28 seeking a support contractor for “expert consulting services to support the planning, transition and integration” of Project Maven to its new home at I&S. This is the first time the Pentagon is transferring ownership of a major AI program from headquarters to a mission owner. The RFI describes the central challenge as moving a “startup-like program into a large, complex organization without degrading customer delivery or losing the elements that made it successful.”

The winning bidder will be tasked with developing and pressure-testing a transition plan for Maven in collaboration with DOD officials. “A key objective of this engagement is to ensure a roadmap and conditions-based milestones are in place to support a smooth and successful transition,” the announcement states.

ECS Federal LLC, a subsidiary of ASGN Inc., has served as primary support contractor for Project Maven since September 2017. ECS Federal has won three AI research and development contracts with WHS and I&S to date, generating more than $364 million.

Nevertheless, as one Pentagon official stressed to Bloomberg Government, the May 28 RFI represents a new requirement demanding a different, more consultative skill set. The Pentagon seeks a partner with a track record managing enterprise AI projects, as well as industry-leading experience implementing change management initiatives, post-transition systems integration, and digital transformation. All contractor personnel must possess, at a minimum, active top secret security clearances.

WHS directs potential bidders to respond with a five-page capabilities statement and company information no later than June 4.

To contact the analyst on this story: Chris Cornillie in Washington at ccornillie@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Clark at mclark@ic.bloombergindustry.com

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