Feb 6, 2024 - Technology

Homeland Security seeks AI talent from Silicon Valley

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DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, speaking at the Axios AI+ Summit in 2023

DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, speaking at the Axios AI+ Summit in 2023. Photo: Axios

On the same day that House Republicans failed to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas, the Homeland Security secretary was in Silicon Valley trying to recruit AI talent to his agency.

Why it matters: With AI expertise in short supply, the agency is looking to recruit at least 50 artificial intelligence experts this year as part of a new "AI Corps" modeled on the U.S. Digital Service.

Details: The Department of Homeland Security held a recruiting event in Mountain View, Calif. Tuesday, as it looks to take advantage of more flexible federal hiring practices put in place for AI-related jobs.

  • Speaking in front of a small crowd, Mayorkas reiterated the pitch he made at the Axios AI+ Summit — contending that his agency has a unique vantage point on balancing the benefits AI can deliver with the potential risks to privacy, while also combatting malicious use of the technology.
  • "We want to lead the federal government in harnessing AI to advance our mission," Mayorkas said at the event.
  • At the same time, Mayorkas said it is critical that the agency take its responsibilities seriously, especially around privacy and civil liberties. "It is incredibly important that we build confidence in how we are using AI," Mayorkas said. "Trust is earned."

Of note: One of the top questions among attendees was about the ability to work remotely. DHS officials stressed that they are "incredibly" open to that, understanding that not everyone with AI skills lives in Baltimore or Virginia.

The big picture: Mayorkas said the government can't afford not to embrace the benefits of AI.

  • "The potential of AI is extraordinary so we need to tap it," Mayorkas said. "There is an underlying impatience on my part to demonstrate [that the] government can do everything the private sector can."

Yes, but: Mayorkas and DHS CIO Eric Hysen acknowledged the federal government remains a bureaucracy, some progress notwithstanding.

  • "I saw more paper in my first few weeks than I had seen in my entire career to date," Hysen said of his arrival in the federal government.

Between the lines: Mayorkas, who has been on the receiving end of D.C.'s polarized politics, noted at the Mountain View event that there is a truly breathtaking amount of polarization around AI as well.

  • "I speak to somebody and they say, 'You know what, AI is going to cure cancer on Wednesday.' Then I will talk to somebody and they'll say, 'It really doesn't matter — AI is going to end civilization on Tuesday.' "
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