The Department of Defense has invested billions of dollars to integrate artificial intelligence into its operations. This includes analyzing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data, and operating deadly autonomous weapon systems.
We found, however, that DOD can't fully identify who is part of its AI workforce or which positions require personnel with AI skills. As a result, DOD can't effectively assess the state of its AI workforce or forecast future AI workforce needs.
We made 3 recommendations, including that DOD establish a timeline for completing the steps needed to define and identify its AI workforce.
What GAO Found
The Department of Defense (DOD) typically establishes standard definitions of its workforces to make decisions about which personnel are to be included in that workforce, and identifies its workforces by coding them in its data systems. DOD has taken steps to begin to identify its artificial intelligence (AI) workforce, but has not assigned responsibility and does not have a timeline for completing additional steps to fully define and identify this workforce. DOD developed AI work roles—the specialized sets of tasks and functions requiring specific knowledge, skills, and abilities. DOD also identified some military and civilian occupations, such as computer scientists, that conduct AI work. However, DOD has not assigned responsibility to the organizations necessary to complete the additional steps required to define and identify its AI workforce, such as coding the work roles in various workforce data systems, developing a qualification program, and updating workforce guidance. DOD also does not have a timeline for completing these additional steps. Assigning responsibility and establishing a timeline for completion of the additional steps would enable DOD to more effectively assess the state of its AI workforce and be better prepared to forecast future workforce requirements (see figure).
Questions DOD Cannot Answer Until It Fully Defines and Identifies Its AI Workforce
DOD's plans and strategies address some AI workforce issues, but are not fully consistent with each other. Federal regulation and guidance state that an agency's Human Capital Operating Plan should support the execution of its Strategic Plan. However, DOD's Human Capital Operating Plan does not consistently address the human capital implementation actions for AI workforce issues described in DOD's Strategic Plan. DOD also uses inconsistent terms when addressing AI workforce issues, which could hinder a shared understanding within DOD. The military services are also developing component-level human capital plans that encompass AI and will cascade from the higher-level plans. Updating DOD's Human Capital Operating Plan to be consistent with other strategic documents would better guide DOD components' planning efforts and support actions necessary for achieving the department's strategic goals and objectives related to its AI workforce.
Why GAO Did This Study
DOD has invested billions of dollars to integrate AI into its warfighting operations. This includes analyzing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data, and operating lethal autonomous weapon systems. DOD identified cultivating a workforce with AI expertise as a strategic focus area in 2018. However, in 2021 the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence concluded that DOD's AI talent deficit is one of the greatest impediments to the U.S. being AI-ready by the Commission's target date of 2025.
House Report 117-118, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, includes a provision for GAO to review DOD's AI workforce. This report evaluates the extent to which DOD has (1) defined and identified its AI workforce and (2) established plans and strategies to address AI workforce issues, among other objectives. GAO assessed DOD strategies and plans, reviewed laws and guidance that outline requirements for managing an AI workforce, and interviewed officials.
GAO is making three recommendations to DOD to assign responsibility and establish a timeline for completing the additional steps to define and identify its AI workforce; and update its Human Capital Operating Plan to be consistent with key department strategic documents related to AI workforce issues. DOD partially concurred with the recommendations, offering revisions. GAO made clarifications, as described in the report.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Defense
|The Secretary of Defense should ensure the CDAO assigns responsibility to complete the additional steps necessary to fully define and identify DOD's AI workforce. (Recommendation 1)
|Department of Defense
|The Secretary of Defense should ensure the CDAO establishes a timeline for additional steps necessary to fully define and identify the AI workforce. (Recommendation 2)
|Department of Defense
|The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness updates the Human Capital Operating Plan to be consistent with the Agency Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan relating to AI workforce issues in the next annual review. This should include (1) addressing the human capital implementation actions planned to support the strategic goals and priorities identified in the Agency Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan and (2) ensuring the use of consistent AI terminology. (Recommendation 3)