DOD lacks comprehensive guidance for acquiring AI technologies, says GAO

In response to inquiries from Congress, GAO reported that the DOD lacks department-wide guidance for how to acquire AI tools.
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With plans to spend $1.1 billion in fiscal 2023 on artificial intelligence technologies, the Department of Defense has yet to issue guidance for how to acquire capabilities, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In a report, prompted by Congress, the GAO examined how DOD acquires AI tools. The GAO noted that the Pentagon’s planned spend in 2023 on these technologies signals that the technology is a key priority for staying ahead of adversaries. Despite this, the department’s struggles in emerging technology continue, according to the congressional watchdog.

“We have reported for decades on DOD’s challenges in acquiring software-intensive weapon systems,” GAO wrote in a letter to the Senate Armed Services accompanying its report.

GAO put the Pentagon’s issues in stark terms, finding that despite numerous components purchasing, developing and using AI, the DOD doesn’t have guidance for how organizations should approach acquiring it.


“DOD is in the process of planning to develop such guidance, but it has not defined concrete plans and has no timeline to do so,” it said. “The military services also lack AI acquisition-specific guidance, though military officials noted that such guidance would be helpful to navigate the AI acquisition process. Without department-wide and tailored service-level guidance, DOD is missing an opportunity to ensure that it is consistently acquiring AI capabilities in a manner that accounts for the unique challenges associated with AI.”

With no DOD-wide guidance, some service organizations have begun piecemeal issuing their own, however, GAO noted that components it interviewed acquisition guidance on AI would be helpful to navigate acquiring AI capabilities.

GAO reported that the creation of the Office of the Chief Digital and AI Officer in late 2021 – which consolidated several offices within the Office of the Secretary of Defense such as the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, Defense Digital Service and Chief Data Officer – paused the development of DOD-wide AI acquisition guidance until CDAO has a clearer plan.

The risks associated with not having guidance means DOD could be spending limited precious resources on AI tools and technologies that don’t address challenges associated with AI and aren’t tailored to specific needs.

“Until DOD establishes department-wide guidance to act as a framework, it cannot ensure that its components are acquiring AI capabilities in a manner that accounts for the unique challenges and considerations associated with AI as they navigate the acquisition process,” GAO said. “Additionally, given that DOD is investing considerable effort and funds toward developing and acquiring AI tools and capabilities and requested $1.1 billion for core AI in fiscal year 2023, establishing guidance would better position DOD to effectively spend funds on AI acquisitions consistently across its components. This guidance could, as appropriate, leverage key private company observations identified earlier.”


GAO issued a total of four recommendations to DOD, the Army, the Navy and Air Force, all of which, the department concurred with.

The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the CDAO along with other DOD acquisition policy offices prioritize establishing department-wide AI acquisition guidance, GAO recommended.

Once that guidance is issued, GAO recommended the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force should establish service-specific AI acquisition guidance that includes oversight processes and clear goals for such acquisitions.

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