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AI Standards: Federal Engagement

Federal agencies engaged in developing standards for artificial intelligence (AI) either because these activities are part of their assigned responsibilities or because AI is essential to their current or evolving missions. Executive Order (EO) 13859 directed agencies to ensure that “technical standards minimize vulnerability to attacks from malicious actors and reflect federal priorities for innovation, public trust, and public confidence in systems that use AI technologies” and to “develop international standards to promote and protect those priorities.”

NIST involved stakeholders from the private and public sectors in developing the U.S. Leadership in AI: A Plan for Federal Engagement in Developing Technical Standards and Related Tool, which was released in August 2019. The Plan provided guidance regarding priorities and appropriate levels of engagement in AI-standards-related matters. It also recommended that the “Federal Government should commit to deeper, consistent, long-term engagement in AI standards development activities to help the United States to speed the pace of reliable, robust, and trustworthy AI technology development.”

Since then, agencies which develop or use AI have made progress in bolstering AI standards-related knowledge, leadership, and coordination; promoted focused research on the trustworthiness of AI systems; supported and expanded public-private partnerships; and engaged internationally. 

Notable steps by agencies include:

  • Established the role of Federal AI Standards Coordinator with responsibility to gather and share AI standards-related needs, strategics, roadmaps, terminology, use cases, and best practices in support of reliable, robust, and trustworthy AI in government operations. This responsibility resides with NIST.
  • Created the AI Standards Coordination Working Group (AISCWG) to facilitate agency activities related to development and use of AI standards. Working under the charter of the Interagency Committee on Standards Policy (ICSP), and aligning its activities with the Federal AI Standards Coordinator, the AISCWG is responsible for promoting effective and consistent federal policies leveraging AI standards cited in the AI Standards Plan
  • Multiple agencies are reviewing options to better position the Federal Government to gain access to new employees and to develop current employees to meet rapidly growing AI-capable workforce needs. That includes aiming to develop and provide a clear career development and promotion path that values and encourages participation in and expertise in AI standards and standards development.
  • The National Defense Authorization Action of 2021 (NDAA) explicitly authorized NIST to carry out a wide range of AI standards-related functions. Over the past two years, NIST has expanded and made noteworthy progress in carrying out research that specifically addresses standards-oriented research recommendations in the AI Standards Plan.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) is supporting several grant programs related to AI trustworthiness. Among them is the National AI Research Institutes program, which includes a growing number of partnerships with federal agencies and private companies. 
  • Strategic engagement in international AI standards was the focus of the U.S. Department of State’s submission to Congress of “A Plan to Establish Exchanges and Partnerships between the United States and Its Allies to Create Standards for Artificial Intelligence Technologies.” The US championed development of the first international principles for the responsible use of AI at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  Also, the US became a founding member of the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI). Through engagement in GPAI, the United States seeks to complement the more policy-oriented work of the OECD by increasing coordination on research and development and scaling up practical projects for implementing trustworthy AI.

For background and details about the plan go here.

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Created March 14, 2019, Updated August 10, 2021