House lawmakers are urging federal agencies to quickly and aggressively adopt artificial intelligence technology, at a time when the push from civil rights and industry groups for new AI regulations is still waiting to get off the ground.
The House Appropriations Committee, led by Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, released several spending bills this week that encourage the government to incorporate AI into everything from national security functions to routine office work to the detection of pests and diseases in crops. Several of those priorities are not just encouraged but would get millions of dollars in new funding under the legislation still being considered by the committee.
And while comprehensive AI regulations are likely still months away and are unlikely to be developed this year, lawmakers seem keen on making sure the government is deploying AI where it can. The bills are backed by the GOP majority, and Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., the vice chair of the Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus, said agencies shouldn’t have to wait to start using AI.
“We should support federal agencies harnessing the power and benefits of AI, as it has proven itself to be a powerful tool and will continue to be an invaluable asset for our federal agencies,” he told Fox News Digital. “The Departments of Energy and Defense, for example, have been leveraging AI for technical projects to enhance precision and accomplish tasks beyond human capabilities.”
Beyer added that he is “encouraged” by commitments some agencies have made to ensure AI is used ethically, such as those made by the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies.
In the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security, language is included that would fund AI and machine learning capabilities to help review cargo shipments at U.S. ports and for port inspections.
“As the Committee has previously noted, delays in the integration of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and autonomy into the program require CBP Officers to manually review thousands of images to hunt for anomalies,” according to report language on the bill. “Automation decreases the chance that narcotics and other contraband will be missed and increases the interdiction of narcotics that move through the nation’s [ports of entry].”
The bill encourages DHS to use “commercial, off-the-shelf artificial intelligence capabilities” to improve government efforts to catch travelers and cargo that should not be allowed to enter the United States. It also calls on DHS to explore using AI to enforce the border, to help ensure the right illegal immigrants are removed, and at the Transportation Security Agency.
The committee’s bill to fund the Defense Department warns that the Pentagon is not moving fast enough to adopt AI technologies.
“Capabilities such as automation, artificial intelligence, and other novel business practices – which are readily adopted by the private sector – are often ignored or under-utilized across the Department’s business operations,” the report said. “This bill takes aggressive steps to address this issue.”
Among other things, the bill wants DOD to explore how to use AI to “significantly reduce or eliminate manual processes across the department,” and says that effort justifies a $1 billion cut to the civilian defense workforce.
The bill also wants DOD to report on how it can measure its efforts to adopt AI, and to take on more student interns with AI experience.
The spending bill funding Congress itself wants legislative staff to explore how AI might be used to create closed captioning services for hearings, and how else AI might be used to improve House operations.
House lawmakers also see a need for AI at the Department of Agriculture. Among other things, the bill adds more money for AI in an agricultural research program run by the U.S. and Israel, proposes the use of AI and machine learning to detect pests and diseases in crops, and supports ongoing work to use AI for “precision agriculture and food system security.”
The effort to expand the government’s use of AI comes despite the pressure that has been building on Congress to quickly impose a regulatory framework around this emerging and already widely used technology. Lawmakers in the House and Senate have held several hearings on the issue, which have raised ideas that include a new federal agency to regulate AI and an AI commission.
But despite the urgency, Congress continues to move slowly. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week that he still wanted to take several months to take input, and implied that an AI regulatory plan might not be passed by Congress until next year.
“Later this fall, I will convene the top minds in artificial intelligence here in Congress for a series of AI Insight Forums to lay down a new foundation for AI policy,” he said last week.
The full committee is expected to take up these and other spending bills in the coming months – Republicans have made it clear they want to move funding bills for fiscal year 2024 on time this year, which means finishing by the summer.