Now with the explosion of interest in artificial intelligence, Congress is turning its attention to ensuring that those who work in government learn more about the technology. US senators Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and Mike Braun (R-Indiana) are calling for universal leadership training in AI with the AI Leadership Training Act, which is moving forward to the full Senate for consideration. The bill directs the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the federal government’s human resources department, to train federal leadership in AI basics and risks. However, it does not yet mandate the teaching of how to use AI to improve how the government works.
The AI Leadership Training Act is an important step in the right direction, but it needs to go beyond mandating basic AI training. It should require that the OPM teach public servants how to use AI technologies to enhance public service by making government services more accessible, providing constant access to city services, helping analyze data to understand citizen needs, and creating new opportunities for the public to participate in democratic decisionmaking.
For instance, cities are already experimenting with AI-based image generation for participatory urban planning, while San Francisco’s PAIGE AI chatbot is helping to answer business owners’ questions about how to sell to the city. Helsinki, Finland, uses an AI-powered decisionmaking tool to analyze data and provide recommendations on city policies. In Dubai, leaders are not just learning AI in general, but learning how to use ChatGPT specifically. The legislation, too, should mandate that the OPM not just teach what AI is, but how to use it to serve citizens.
In keeping with the practice in every other country, the legislation should require that training to be free. This is already the case for the military. On the civilian side, however, the OPM is required to charge a fee for its training programs. A course titled Enabling 21st-Century Leaders, for example, costs $2,200 per person. Even if the individual applies to their organization for reimbursement, too often programs do not have budgets set aside for up-skilling.
If we want public servants to understand AI, we cannot charge them for it. There is no need to do so, either. Building on a program created in New Jersey, six states are now collaborating with each other in a project called InnovateUS to develop free live and self-paced learning in digital, data, and innovation skills. Because the content is all openly licensed and designed specifically for public servants, it can easily be shared across states and with the federal government as well.
The Act should also demand that the training be easy to find. Even if Congress mandates the training, public professionals will have a hard time finding it without the physical infrastructure to ensure that public servants can take and track their learning about tech and data. In Germany, the federal government’s Digital Academy offers a single site for digital up-skilling to ensure widespread participation. By contrast, in the United States, every federal agency has its own (and sometimes more than one) website where employees can look for training opportunities, and the OPM does not advertise its training across the federal government. While the Department of Defense has started building USALearning.gov so that all employees could eventually have access to the same content, this project needs to be accelerated.