Recently, President Trump sent Congress the Budget of the U.S. Government for Fiscal Year 2020. The budget is 4.75 trillion dollars, 150 pages, and lays out execute branch priorities and spending plans ahead of the Congress’ work leading to an operating budget on October 1, 2019. The budget is another example of the executive branch’s commitment to changing the way the federal government delivers services to citizens and an attempt to ensure technology—including artificial intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA)—does not outpace policy.
Given the importance of the annual budget and its national importance the administration took time to, yet again, highlight its “Modernizing Government” initiative.
Rooted in the president’s 2018 Management Agenda, this initiative seeks to address critical challenges the government faces by directing agencies to:
Refocus on their core mission areas,
to provide excellent customer service, and
to ensure accountability stewardship.
Federal agencies are encouraged to do this through more use of technical advances and improved business processes focusing on technology, data, and the workforce. The administration is not leaving to chance how technology and data might be addressed. In the 150-page budget document, a quick word analysis suggests the importance of RPA and AI. These terms are not branded under “technology refresh” or “IT modernization” but specifically named and highlighted (see table 1).
RPA / AI
There was excitement at UiPath (the leading RPA vendor in the U.S. government) to see agencies using our Robots specifically called out in the president’s budget document. In keeping with guidance initially issued in OMB 18-23 to shift the workforce to “high-value” work, the administration’s budget document calls for “Robotics Process Automation and other emerging technologies [be used] to reduce error, improve compliance, and focus the Federal workforce on higher-value work.”
Among the thirty-two agencies using UiPath, the budget highlights UiPath Robots helping save approximately 12,000 labor hours for the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Chief Financial office but does not mention the impact on the workforce. GSA has already retrained finance staff to build and maintain their Robots.
Workforce reskilling and restructuring into the digital workplace early in the life cycle of RPA technology can help mitigate employee concerns that robots are coming to take their jobs. GSA employees see Robots as coming to integrate and help human employees be more productive at their own jobs.
NASA’s Shared Services Center (NSSC) employed/deployed the first Robot in the government and its Intelligent Automation Services office has operated and allowed NASA to pioneer RPA for almost two years: the George Washington Robot was born April 27, 2016.
In addition to highlighting RPA and AI, the budget mentions some impressive commitments to helping make RPA and AI a mission multiplier. Other examples in the budget include:
Support for America’s prominence in critical technologies. The budget provides $688 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology to conduct cutting-edge research including AI, quantum computing, and microelectronics.
In the Department of Defense’s strategic plan, three clear tasks are directed: 1) rebuild readiness and lethality; 2) strengthen alliances and partnerships; and 3) improve performance and affordability through reform. The budget calls for scaling AI throughout the department.
The pursuit of technological innovation for decisive military advantage. To ensure the U.S. military maintains its combat superiority, the budget calls for “autonomous systems, hypersonics, and artificial intelligence, including $208 million to scale DOD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. In addition, in 2020 the Army’s newly formed Army Futures Command would be at full operating capability, designed to increase the efficiency of Army modernization, by leveraging technology across the enterprise and reducing development time.”
Support for cutting-edge basic research and leading scientific user facilities. The budget directs $71 million dollars for AI and machine learning to the Office of Science.
The multi-cultural, digital, and evolving ecosystem of Intelligent Automation is driven by RPA and onboarding deep learning, machine learning, natural language processing (NLP), chat bots, AI, and more. Intelligent automation is getting increased encouragement and support from both the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government.
In 2018, federal agencies took a cautious approach to RPA to ensure the safety of their network, to understand the level of effort to sustain and scale a program, and to acclimate their workforce to their digital workforce interns. This year is time for agency leaders to step up and use RPA to drive those five-percent cuts mandated by the president while also increasing capacity, reducing backlog, improving readiness and compliance.
This is the year to adopt an Automation First mindset. Supported and backed by the executive branch, 2019 is the year to begin transforming government agencies by refocusing on core mission areas, providing excellent customer service, and ensuring accountability stewardship by asking, “why aren’t we automating that?”