US senators propose guardrails for government AI purchases and operations

Bill proposes appointment of chief AI officers, privacy safeguards, and lots of testing

Two US senators have introduced a bipartisan bill that defines guardrails for the acquisition and implementation of AI across the federal government.

Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the Promoting Responsible Evaluation and Procurement to Advance Readiness for Enterprise-wide Deployment (PREPARED) for AI Act yesterday. The aim, according to the pair, is to ensure the government can make use of the benefits of AI "while safeguarding against potential risks and harms."

"Artificial intelligence has the power to reshape how the federal government provides services to the American people for the better, but if left unchecked, it can pose serious risks," warned Peters. "These guardrails will help guide federal agencies' responsible adoption and use of AI tools, and ensure that systems paid for by taxpayers are being used safely and securely."

The bill [PDF] proposes requiring government agencies to conduct a risk assessment exercise before acquiring and implementing AI. Risk audits would be required regularly after systems are implemented.

The bill also requires agencies to consider their AI implementation plans with regards to rights and safety of the public and requires that government contracts for the technology "include safety and security terms for data ownership, civil rights, civil liberties and privacy, adverse incident reporting and other key areas."

The bill would also mandate the appointment of chief AI officers responsible for procurement efforts – including the aforementioned audits, reviews and risk assessments. Establishing pilot programs to streamline AI adoption at the federal level is another requirement.

The bill has the support of groups including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the AI Procurement Lab.

"As agencies consider incorporating AI into government services and other processes, they must do so responsibly," Center for Democracy & Technology president and CEO Alexandra Reeve Givens observed. "The bipartisan PREPARED for AI Act lays a strong foundation by codifying transparency, risk evaluation, and other safeguards that will help agencies make smarter and more informed procurement decisions."

The US federal government has already enacted some AI laws, and president Biden issued an executive order that requires safe use of the technology, plus rules that aim to ensure the Feds use a "responsible" approach when putting it to work.

The PREPARED for AI Act appears to be the first attempt to tackle government procurement of such systems.

A Senate aide told The Register that chairman Peters hopes to have the legislation out of committee this summer. The aide didn't say whether a hearing date for the bill had been set – meaning it's unclear when or if it will be deemed ready for a vote. ®

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