GSA Administrator: Generative AI tools will be ‘a huge help’ for government agencies

Conducting 150 artificial intelligence pilots and using 132 different generative AI tools and technologies may seem like a lot for any federal agency. This also applies to a long-standing track record in the use of machine learning, large language models and language processing bots.

But for the General Services Administration, the decision to go all-in on AI wasn’t really up for debate.

“We’re doing this because GSA’s job is to have shared services for the government,” GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan said Thursday. “And generative AI tools will be a huge help in this regard.”

Speaking at AIScoop’s AITalks event, Carnahan said GSA currently operates seven different sandbox environments, and that there is “more on the way” within the agency with AI. Fully embracing the technology is a matter of recognizing that technology leaders in the public and private sectors “are going to decide whether we are on the right or wrong side of history on this issue, whether we do it right for the American people.” she said. “If we do that, it opens up all kinds of possibilities.”

Optimally exploring these possibilities comes down to buying “best-in-class AI technologies,” Carnahan said. The agency plans to work closely with industry, she added, and the IT category management office within the Federal Acquisition Service is developing an acquisition resource guide for generative AI and specialized computing infrastructure.

“This is a big deal,” Carnahan said, “because purchasing officers need to be aware of these new technologies. A taste of what you’ll see in it will identify many common challenges. It’s going to identify use cases. It will help procurement officers navigate the marketplace to fulfill the missions of these agencies.”

The GSA is also focused on highlighting products that already have FedRAMP approval, part of the recently released roadmap for the federal government’s cloud services compliance program. Carnahan said the strategy document aims to make FedRAMP more scalable, secure and easy to use.

For any agency with limited budgets considering new AI projects, Carnahan touted the Technology Modernization Fund as a means to “step outside your budget cycle and access funding for these new tools.” TMF is currently soliciting proposals from agencies with ideas for AI projects.

“We expect a lot of interest from across the government,” Carnahan said. “If your agency hasn’t thought about using TMF for your AI proposals, you should. Now is the best time for it.”

For the GSA internally, a new pilot using facial recognition technology best represents the agency’s commitment to “using technology ethically, responsibly and securely for the public good,” Carnahan said. The pilot will help people verify their identities remotely, though the GSA promises to minimize data retention and ensure “that personal information is protected and not shared. And it never sells.”

This next phase of GSA’s work on the government-wide single sign-on and identity verification platform, which includes a partnership with the US Postal Service, is emblematic of what the agency sees as its mission to deliver safe and inclusive products. And while there are “precarious, uncharted waters ahead” when it comes to full adoption of AI tools and systems, Carnahan is optimistic about the government’s prospects.

“We know that by working together through our government and industry teams, we can get to the other side,” she said. “The American people are counting on us to get it right. There’s no time to lose. So let’s all get started.”

Matt Bracken

Written by Matt Bracken

Matt Bracken is the editor-in-chief of FedScoop and CyberScoop, overseeing coverage of the federal government’s technology policy and cybersecurity. Before joining Scoop News Group in 2023, Matt was a senior editor at Morning Consult, where he led data-driven reporting on technology, finance, health and energy. He previously worked in various editorial roles at The Baltimore Sun and the Arizona Daily Star. You can reach him at [email protected].