The Role of CAIOs in Driving Successful Federal AI Adoption

By Dia Adams, TCG Data Program Lead

Spurred by White House Executive Order 14110  “Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence”, and follow up guidance delivered on March 28, 2024 by OMB, the federal government is currently undertaking a gargantuan effort to close the gap between commercial industry AI advancements and Federal adoption.

A requirement of the new executive order is that all federal agencies designate a Chief AI Officer (CAIO). Formalizing the CAIO role across the federal government illustrates an important tipping point in AI innovation. The focus is no longer just on acknowledging AI’s transformative potential, but on allocating resources in a way that actively harnesses AI’s power. 

The CAIO is to be responsible for driving AI innovation at their respective agencies, while in tandem developing AI safeguards that promote responsible AI development and usage. As such, the role requires CAIOs to engage in regulatory reporting, AI talent acquisition, use case submissions, and necessary agency policy development.

With its newfound authority the CAIO position will serve as a primary catalyst for federal AI implementation success, but like with any new position there will be challenges. To be effective in their roles newly appointed CAIOs should come in with a game plan for execution.

Recommended focus areas include the following:

Articulate a clear, forward-thinking AI vision. As the point person on AI, CAIOs must lead the way in developing a coherent vision for AI adoption at their agencies. Ensuring that their vision aligns with agency missions and goals, and determining most critical AI priorities will be key. 

Promote AI across the agency. CAIOs should take up the mantle when it comes to educating stakeholders on the benefits of AI. Messaging should be geared toward illustrating how AI can be used to achieve business goals, and should also help assuage any adoption concerns including breaking down common AI misconceptions.

Ensure ethical AI. CAIOs should serve as an agency’s internal authority on AI regulations. They should oversee responsible AI implementation across technology acquisition, development, and deployment. This includes mitigating any algorithmic bias within AI systems, making sure user privacy is protected, ensuring transparency around the basis of AI decision making, integrating accountability structures that require unambiguous rationales for AI decisions made, and remaining informed about changing regulations on AI. 

Develop a track record of AI success. In order to establish momentum and secure buy-in for future AI initiatives, CAIOs should prioritize securing easily achievable wins. Focus senior leadership attention on projects that have clear AI applications and require only a small temporary resource boost.  Initial success drives future success by generating enthusiasm for AI and laying the buy-in groundwork for taking on more complex AI projects down the line. Thoughtfully selected projects can act as proof-of-concept tests, used to inform agency AI strategy. These early wins serve as a springboard for launching agencies toward the implementation of more comprehensive AI initiatives.

As the government moves in this forward-thinking direction, clear articulation of AI guidance, implementation of cutting edge use cases, and consideration of ethical matters, will be key in assisting the government in unlocking the full potential of AI for public sector success. CAIOs will be important leaders in taking on this endeavor and paving the way for an AI driven future that benefits us all.