DoD working on reducing bureaucracy ahead of full CDAO launch

mr. John Sherman, Acting Department of Defense Chief Information Officer participates in a virtual panel with Billington Cybersecurity at the Pentagon, April 15, 2021 (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)

WASHINGTON: As the Pentagon’s Chief Data and Artificial Intelligence Office gets closer to reaching its full operational capability, the acting office head and deputy in charge are working to reduce bureaucratic barriers and reinforce the importance of AI in the department.

As first reported by Breaking Defense last November, the Pentagon created the CDAO role in an effort to streamline its artificial intelligence and data processes. The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, the Defense Digital Service and office of the Chief Data Officer will all report to the CDAO, who will in turn report directly to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks. The office is expected to reach full operational capability by June 1 this year.

Former Lyft executive Craig Martell, who was tapped as CDAO, told Breaking Defense in an exclusive interview in April that DoD really needs “someone from industry who knows how to bring real AI and analytical value at scale and speed.”

Margaret Palmieri, who was named deputy CDAO in March, said Wednesday that as part of its stand up the office has established a governance working group looking through “40 different foundational documents” that reference pre-existing organizations or roles and responsibilities the new office will take over.

“So we’re looking at it holistically and looking at governance, specifically, and all the different working groups in the department. I think we have found about 21 that had oversight on some of our issues,” Palmieri said during a House Armed Services Committee cyber, innovative technologies and information systems subcommittee hearing. “We’ve been able to streamline those in the near term and take them down, actually reducing the level of bureaucracy around some of these issues and getting some more clarity on them.”

While Palmieri will serve as the number two for the CDAO, the office has established five other deputy roles focused on the areas of acquisition, policy, enterprise capability, warfighting support and digital services, Pentagon Chief Information Officer John Sherman said at the hearing.

Sherman, who is serving as the acting CDAO until Martell arrives to the department, said AI is an area DoD needs to “reinforce.”

There’s a lot of AI going on in the services under the military departments [and] we have some established governance there, much of which goes to the CIOs, but not all of it,” Sherman said. “So that’s an opportunity for us and we need to tighten that up as well.”

“So in a nutshell, working for the CIO so far has given us a successful ingress point, but when Dr. Martell gets here working with Ms Palmieri, this is an area that as we really… need to refine, a bit, ensuring… that we don’t overload a process and that we’re getting to the right humans in each of the components to get the answers we need on whether it’s operations, or responsible AI or unlocking the power of data.”

As CDAO, part of Martell’s responsibilities will include looking at the “enabling infrastructure and the tools people will use to develop AI,” responsible AI ethics and testing and evaluation processes, Palmieri said.

RELATED: Pentagon’s Largest Ever RDT&E Budget Request Reflects AI Prioritization

“So much of our budget in the [fiscal] 23 cycle and FY22 cycle is focused on bringing that core enabling enterprise capability,” she said. “So that includes the computing platform, the tools and then the data policies that will enable us to access different data from across the department to really bring that together and enable either analytics or ultimately artificial intelligence to be able to support decision makers with decision advantage .”

According to budget documents, DoD wants $273.34 million for AI/machine learning, $33.95 million in intelligence support and $76.69 million for the AI ​​and Data Accelerator effort, all aligned to the CDAO. Martell told Breaking Defense his office requested $600 million in FY23.

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