Mar 31, 2022 - Technology

Ex-Google CEO promotes digital West Point

Illustration of a group of computers featuring chalkboards with equations on them

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt hit Capitol Hill this week to urge lawmakers to create a digital service academy that would train Americans in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity in exchange for government service.

Why it matters: The looming threat of cyberattacks from U.S. adversaries such as Russia underscores the need for tech-savvy employees through the federal workforce.

Driving the news: Schmidt envisions a four-year, digital training academy for civilians who would then work for the federal government for five years.

  • Schmidt told Axios in an interview that getting AI and cyber talent into the government is "crucial": "The systems that are coming are so complicated that the government, who's well-meaning, will not be able to manage them. You're going to need better talent."
  • Initially, the program could be an approved curriculum at universities before becoming a separate academy.

The big picture: The federal government faces a severe shortage of workers skilled in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, according to a Government Accountability Office report from November.

  • There are more than 38,000 open, public-sector cybersecurity positions according to a job-tracking database.
  • The Biden administration is trying to accelerate efforts to fill cybersecurity positions and speed hiring for technical roles within the government.

The intrigue: Schmidt told Axios he met with members of the For Country Caucus, a bipartisan group of military veterans in Congress, to push them on including the idea as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual must-pass defense spending bill.

Flashback: A digital service academy is a recommendation from the final report of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which Schmidt led.

  • The report calls for both a U.S. Digital Service Academy to train current and future employees, and a civilian National Digital Reserve Corps for technically-skilled Americans to work 38 days a year for the government.

Yes, but: It's unclear if the measure will gain traction with lawmakers.

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called for a Cyber Academy in an op-ed in December, and secured provisions in last year's spending bill she said lays the groundwork for such a facility.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to remove references to "crypto" and "cryptocurrency" in Schmidt's description of the academy's focus. Schmidt tells Axios he misspoke and meant "cyber."

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