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Sometimes something seemingly small can have large repercussions. Here’s a vivid example for contractors.
An innocuous bill that has now become law, the AI Training Act, will have significant ramifications for federal contractors that either sell AI-related services or products to the federal government or that leverage AI for delivering their services or products into the federal realm.
President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan measure (Public Law 117-207) October 17, 2022. Even though it was generally noncontroversial, it took roughly a year to enact. Sens. Gary Peters (D–Mich.) and Rob Portman (R–Ohio) ushered the bill through the Senate last year on a unanimous vote. Throughout 2022, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D–N.Y.) and James Comer (R–Ky.) diligently pressed forward in the House, and that chamber passed the bill 393–29 in September.
The overt purpose of the new law is to make sure that federal agencies get their act together when it comes to procuring any kind of service or product that might rely upon AI. A new specialized training regimen for agency staff will cover the essence of what AI is, how it works, and ways in which AI can benefit the U.S. government. The curriculum will also caution agencies to be wary of AI risks like privacy intrusions, discriminatory algorithms, or factors that could undercut homeland and national security.
The law specifically states that federal employees who have a role in procurement, contracting, logistics, cost estimating, systems development, quality control, and program management will be eligible for the AI training program. The notion is that a fully informed federal workforce will take a more judicious look at any AI touted by the private sector or in contracts already underway that entail direct or indirect use of AI.
Until now, federal contractors had relatively free rein when it came to making claims about how AI bolstered their products or services. The AI bandwagon attracted a lot of attention, allowing some to pitch to the feds that their offerings were extraordinary because of AI.
Odds were that few federal employees could discern whether those claims were valid or bluster. No more.
If federal agencies jump into the AI training bonanza the law dictates, federal employees will be able to ask pointed questions whenever a federal contractor brags about their AI. No more free rides on the AI gravy train. Instead, government workers will be eyeing guardedly what AI is being used and what downsides it might present.
Imagine, too, that procurement officers will be doing some severe slicing and dicing of proposals that claim AI is powering a submission for services or wares. Like a car driver that learns about car engines, the procurement agents will be digging into the nitty-gritty details instead of just pressing the gas pedal to make the car go.
That might seem daunting for federal contractors that have so far opted to flaunt AI without having the substance to fully back up their AI-infused contentions.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Keep watch. The Office of Management and Budget is tasked with putting together the AI training program, thus, you would be wise to keep your eyes and ears open as to what the actual AI training consists of. You will then be cognizant of what the federal employees will know about AI once they complete the training.
- Do likewise. Make sure your workers know what the federal employees know. You ought to train your teams to be at a level of AI proficiency on par with the feds. You don’t need to have everyone on your team do so, just those who are instrumental to any AI elements underlying your services or products.
- Tune up. If your existing services or products make use of AI, double check to make sure that the AI will withstand the scrutiny of a sharp eagle eye by the feds. Trying to peddle flimsy AI is bound to get spotted and could land you in the procurement doghouse.
- Rise up. If your existing services or products do not currently make use of AI, your days might be numbered. The chances are that an outcrop of this widespread federal worker AI training will be a tremendous burst of interest in federal programs to acquire AI-related services and products. As a federal contractor, you are going to be left in the dust if you lack AI capabilities. Better get on the ball and start figuring out your AI strategy and plan of infusion before you miss the boat.
The good news is that you do have a bit of time to calibrate your AI situation.
The law gives the OMB up to a year to develop the AI training program. Once it gets rolled out, we don’t know how quickly the training will be embraced by federal agencies. That being said, the OMB could move much faster and get things going sooner, and there could be a huge pent-up demand that will spur federal procurement officers to expeditiously and fervently get up to speed on AI.
Though the time factor might seem like a signal that you can be lackadaisical on this, perhaps another piece of sage advice is worthy of consideration. When it comes to winning federal contracts, oftentimes the early bird catches the worm. Anticipate that AI is coming big time to federal programs and put your ducks in order. Train your people on AI and ensure that your services and products are sensible and prudently leveraging the latest in AI facilities.
That’s a small piece of advice based on a small law that can notably garner significant dividends.
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Dr. Lance Eliot is a globally recognized expert on AI & Law and serves as founder and CEO of Techbrium Inc. In addition, he is a Stanford Fellow affiliated with the Stanford Law School and the Stanford Computer Science Department via the Center for Legal Informatics. Formerly a top exec at a major venture capital firm, plus having been a partner in a prominent consulting firm, he is a successful entrepreneur that has started, run, and sold several high-tech firms. His widely popular books on AI & Law are highly rated and are available on Amazon and at other online booksellers.
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