Senators look to mitigate risks in AI procurement

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., shown here at a 2023 hearing, is cosponsoring legislation to reduce risk in AI procurement by federal agencies.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., shown here at a 2023 hearing, is cosponsoring legislation to reduce risk in AI procurement by federal agencies. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sens. Gary Peters and Thom Tillis introduced new legislation that would codify safety measures in government contracts for artificial intelligence products and services.

A bipartisan Senate duo introduced new legislation on Tuesday that proposes standards for the artificial intelligence technologies procured by the federal government, as more agencies work to take advantage of the beneficial aspects of AI and automated systems. 

The Promoting Responsible Evaluation and Procurement to Advance Readiness for Enterprise-wide Deployment — or PREPARED — for AI Act, introduced by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chair Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., would be the first law to codify guardrails for the use of AI in public sector procurement if passed, a spokesperson from the committee told Nextgov/FCW.

Some of the provisions in the PREPARED for AI Act stipulate that agencies need to classify risk levels of AI usage, keeping a rights-centric approach in mind, something other federal agencies like the Office of Management and Budget have echoed in earlier guidance. It would also mandate that government contracts for AI products and services include safety information regarding data ownership, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy and adverse incident reporting.

The bill would also require continuous testing and monitoring of an AI-based system during its deployment in government operations to mitigate risks.

“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,” Peters said in a statement. “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.”

Peters has previously indicated support for codifying guidance for the AI procurement process into law in remarks at a September 2023 hearing

Non-governmental entities expressed support for the PREPARED for AI Act. Alexandra Reeve Givens, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, saying that her organization will work with Peters and Tilis on advancing best practices in AI procurement. 

“As agencies consider incorporating AI into government services and other processes, they must do so responsibly — working to protect people’s rights and ensure the responsible use of taxpayer dollars,” Reeve Givens said in a statement. “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.”

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