Government Should Embrace Artificial Intelligence to Improve Performance

Agencies would not only become more efficient, they also would develop more reliable data.

For government to earn the trust of the American people, it needs to do a better job of meeting their needs. As such, it is essential that agencies empower the civil servants responsible for improving program performance. However, a new Bipartisan Policy Center report finds that the individuals charged with that task are also the same people responsible for overseeing compliance with laws, rules, and regulations.

This “double duty” limits the time staff have for work essential to improving mission performance. To address this, the BPC task force report, “Oversight Matters: Balancing Mission, Risk, and Compliance,” recommends devoting more resources to better target oversight efforts by employing a risk-based framework aimed at improving performance.  

So how can policymakers and agency leaders find the resources for this? This is where technology and new applications of artificial intelligence can help. Areas especially ripe for adopting AI include mission support functions such as financial management, grant administration and procurement operations.  Software available today incorporates automation with smart decision points and can be programmed to learn to make “intelligent” choices.  

Agencies are already transitioning to cloud-based services offered by industry to become more efficient. This potentially frees up resources that could be redirected toward mission-related functions while maintaining, and potentially enhancing, internal controls, including compliance with laws and regulations.  

By moving more operations to the cloud and employing intelligent automation and processing, agencies not only become more efficient, they also develop more reliable data. This in turn leads to better performance metrics and greater transparency, which helps achieve greater accountability.  

A key element of this concept is “robotic process automation.” RPA has the potential to make government more efficient and effective. Robots in the traditional sense are not used; rather, robotic refers to the software running on the machine or platform. RPA has been successfully piloted at a number of agencies, including NASA and the IRS. It has also been embraced by industry advisors such as Accenture and Gartner and heralds the way the government of the future may perform.  

The need for these new technologies is timely. For nearly two decades, we have been anticipating a retirement wave as baby boomers leave government service, creating large gaps of unfilled positions. This is the perfect time to restructure agencies and redirect resources to enable agencies to perform better. Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget, has taken the lead in this approach and sees it as an opportunity for government to position itself as an employer of first choice for “compelling” jobs. 

Having better data at hand helps ensure decision making is based on evidence, thus improving the way agencies conduct enterprise risk management and enhanced risk assessment. Better risk assessment means dollars are spent more wisely and aimed at correcting important program deficiencies while improving performance. Better performance would allow the federal government to reclaim some of that lost public trust.  

Dan G. Blair is a senior counselor and fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and led the BPC project on executive branch oversight. Formerly, he served as chair of the Postal Regulatory Commission and deputy director/acting director at the Office of Personnel Management.

Sallyanne Harper served as a member of the BPC Task Force on Executive Branch Oversight. She previously was president of the Association for Federal Enterprise Risk Management and former chief financial officer and chief administrative officer at the Government Accountability Office.