The Age of Artificial Intelligence is Here

Published: May 17, 2018


Spending on AI and its related technologies have been steadily growing in the federal government. Recent actions by the current administration prove that the emerging technology is not going anywhere.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the latest IT “buzz word” in the federal contracting space. Agency tech leaders view the emerging technology as a way to augment processes and assist in the explosion of data they’ve collected. AI is looked to improve areas in government customer service, security and efficiency. While the concept has been around for more than half a century, it has not been until recent years where use of AI has taken shape within the federal space.

Last week, the White House assembled industry, academia and government leaders to discuss the impact and policies surrounding AI and its future within the U.S. An Artificial Intelligence Committee was announced to ensure continued efforts in AI. Placed under the National Science and Technology Council, AI committee members are senior federal R&D experts including Undersecretaries from Commerce, Defense and Energy, the Directors of NSF, DARPA and IARPA, and representatives from the National Security Council and Federal OCIO, OMB and OSTP. According to a summary report on the AI summit, the committee is charged with:

  • Advising The White House on interagency AI R&D priorities
  • Considering the creation of Federal partnerships with industry and academia
  • Establishing structures to improve government planning and coordination of AI R&D
  • Identifying opportunities to leverage Federal data and computational resources to support our national AI R&D ecosystem

Putting the future of AI in the federal space aside for a moment, how much has the federal government already spent on the technology recently? The administration has stated that investment in unclassified R&D for AI and related technologies has grown by more than 40% since 2015, not including a sizeable amount within classified investments for defense and the intelligence community.

Agencies across the federal space have also begun to prioritize AI. Recently, the Pentagon announced it was working to establish an artificial intelligence center to streamline its AI programs. Likewise, several changes are underway at NGA in order to develop automation, augmentation and artificial intelligence to its expansive data collection.  Meanwhile, GSA is about to place its Solicitation Review Tool (SRT) AI solution into production to check the compliance of released solicitations.

In an attempt to view how much the government has spent in contracting for artificial intelligence, we pulled FY 2015 – 2017 obligations and applied keywords for AI and its related technologies:

Source: Deltek

*Note, these figures are considered estimates and are not all inclusive of government spending on AI due to inhibitors in obligation reporting.

As the chart depicts, spending on AI continues to grow at a steady pace within the federal government. Nevertheless, taking a closer look at the data reveals that at this point, growth lies in the investments of specific projects versus a consistent growth across a multitude of investments. In other words, the federal government has invested in AI in very particular ways, within smaller-scaled and narrow projects and within certain agencies thus far. Notably, the data revealed:

  • The top 5 of 18 agencies with AI spend in FY 2017 make up 90% of that year’s total at $59.6M. Those 5 agencies are NASA, DoD, DHS, Navy and HHS.
  • NASA had the highest total spend in all three years with about $117M. However, 55% of that (about $64M) was specifically for its ISRDS program at the Ames Research Center.
  • Spending under DoD jumped from $2.8M in FY 2016 to approximately $22M in FY 2017 primarily due to an $18M line item in FY 2017 for a BAA on Prototype Machine Learning Models.
  • Spending under Navy jumped from $813k in FY 2015 to $4.4M in FY 2016 and $4.8M in FY 2017 due to key investments in FY 2016 with $2.1M in mentor support in advanced analytics and FY 2017 with $3.1M in AI support for the Navy’s CANES System, both for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

For the time being, AI seems to be limited among the federal agencies and constrained to certain projects. With the attention that is being paid to it by top leaders in government though, it seems the time has arrived for AI and its related technologies to flourish and expand within the federal contracting space.

According to Michael Kratsios, Deputy Assistant to the President for Technology Policy, “…the age of artificial intelligence is here, and with it the hope of better lives for the American people. As artificial intelligence transforms everything from agriculture to manufacturing to transportation — the potential for AI remains breathtaking. But we cannot be passive. To realize the full potential of AI for the American people, it will require the combined efforts of industry, academia, and government.”