Nov 27, 2023 - Technology

D.C.'s hottest new job: Chief AI officer

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Hundreds of agencies across the federal government are scrambling to find more than 400 chief AI officers by the end of the year, as Ryan reports.

Why it matters: The requirement, one of the edicts of President Biden's recent AI executive order, aims to make sure every arm of government has a top exec who is ready to deal with AI.

Driving the news: The Office of Management and Budget has released guidance to federal agencies on how to implement Biden's AI executive order — and how to hire a chief AI officer (CAIO) is on top of that list.

What's happening: The primary role of a CAIO is "coordination, innovation, and risk management for their agency's use of AI," acting as eyes and ears for agency leadership.

  • The CAIO will need to develop an AI strategy for their agency and be "deeply interconnected" with HR, IT, data, cybersecurity, civil rights and customer experience leaders in their agency.

The intrigue: Though each CAIO is expected to "improve accountability for AI issues," per the memorandum, the Government Accountability Office is exempt from hiring a CAIO, along with the Federal Election Commission.

By the numbers: CAIOs should be employed at Senior Executive Service level (which requires PhD level education) — meaning maximum pay of $212,100.

  • The lowest CAIO salary in Glassdoor's database is $223,184 — more than the highest available to a government CAIO — the median package for a private sector CAIO is around $300,000, per Glassdoor.

Context: The Department of Homeland Security has already appointed a CAIO, while Health and Human Services is onto its second CAIO since 2021 and has published an AI playbook.

Private sector CAIOs have advice for those about to take on government CAIO roles. Several tell Axios that CAIOs should push for broad mandates covering a mix of functions — strategy, talent and skills, product development, implementation and governance.

What they're saying: Dan O'Connell, chief AI and strategy officer at Dialpad, a competitor of Zoom and Cisco, tells Axios that reporting lines matter.

  • "I report directly to our CEO" and "our chief product officer and I work hand-in-hand," O'Connell says.
  • Steve Mills, chief AI ethics officer at BCG, tells Axios that agency chiefs should look beyond technical expertise when selecting a CAIO: "It has to be somebody that can manage a large complex program," he says, and they should have a mandate to search for "incremental wins" but also to ask, "How do we completely create a new citizen experience with AI?'"
  • "There's so much that can be driven in a common way like basic policy tooling and vendor management" but there are many individual use cases that require specific attention and their own AI ethics officer, Mills says.

Yes, but: Don't expect CAIOs to deliver AI accountability if they lack resources or direct support from their agency leadership.

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