White House OMB issues AI policy directive for federal agencies – to designate chief AI officers

On Thursday, 28 March, US Vice President Harris announced that federal agencies using AI technologies must provide ‘concrete safeguards’ by 1 December to protect Americans’ rights and guarantee safety. With artificial intelligence (AI) present in a variety of applications, the US administration is implementing new protections to regulate the use of AI by the federal government.

Image of hand and indication about AI.

The White House unveiled a policy directive issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requiring federal agencies to adopt new safeguards when using AI in a way that could impact Americans’ rights or safety. By 1 December 2024, all agencies of the federal government will be required to have AI safeguards in place to ensure the safety of US citizens, protect against discrimination, and promote transparency.

The White House said that, for instance, additional protections would ensure that air travellers could withdraw from the Transportation Security Administration’s face recognition system without delay during screening. When AI is used in federal healthcare to assist diagnostics, a human must oversee ‘the process to verify the tools’ results.’ The new policy also encourages federal agencies to consult employee unions and adopt the Department of Labor’s forthcoming principles on AI governance.

Why does it matter?

The safeguards to be implemented include assessing, testing, and monitoring the use of AI, verifying that AI tools do not put Americans at risk, and public reporting on how AI is being used.
The new directive aims to balance the need to mitigate threats from AI with the potential benefits of AI innovation in government agencies. It mandates agencies to release government-owned AI models, data, and code, as long as the release does not pose a threat to the public or government operations.
Federal agencies must also appoint a chief AI officer within sixty days to oversee all AI technologies and systems, focusing on promoting AI innovation and monitoring its threats. The US government’s actions are part of a broader international effort to regulate AI, with EU lawmakers recently approving the AI Act and China also working on a comprehensive AI regulation. It also happened the same week the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a US-led resolution on AI.

After President Biden issued a landmark executive order on ‘Safe, Secure, Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence’ last October, the White House wants to lead in this area and emerge as a leader in global AI governance.