The Department of Defense (DoD) has already begun integrating AI into its warfighting capabilities – including the Navy leveraging simulations to support modern training. Despite the rapid deployment of the emerging technology, the Pentagon has failed to issue department-wide AI acquisitions guidance, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed today.

The watchdog agency called on the Pentagon to fall in line with private sector practices and prioritize the development of department-wide – as well service-specific – rules of the road for acquiring AI.

“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,” the 44-page report says.

The DoD has designated AI as a top modernization area and is allocating considerable spending to develop AI tools and capabilities – such as identifying potential threats or targets on the battlefield, the report says.

Due to the Pentagon’s recent increase in acquiring, developing, or already using AI, GAO analyzed information provided by 13 private companies with AI expertise to determine the key factors for successfully acquiring AI capabilities.

Those five key factors that companies consider when acquiring AI include understanding mission needs, making a business case, tailoring the acquisition approach, testing and evaluating proposed solutions, and planning future efforts.

“Private companies have developed a toolkit for applying AI to some of these situations. We identified a number of different processes that private companies go through … that we think can be very helpful for DoD when it goes to develop and acquire AI, because the process of acquiring the technology is going to be somewhat similar,” GAO’s Director of Contracting and National Security Acquisition Jon Ludwigson said during a podcast on the report.

“Private companies, for example, are very concerned in making sure that the intellectual property is clearly outlined in the contracts that they enter into so that they don’t get bound to a single vendor, or they don’t give all their data to the vendor, and then the data is no longer theirs to use. Those kinds of things are very important for the Department of Defense,” he added.

According to the report, DoD has not issued department-wide guidance for how its components should approach acquiring AI. The department is in the process of planning to develop such guidance, but it has not defined concrete plans and has no timeline to do so, GAO says. 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.

“We think that DoD can harvest some of the lessons from these private companies and use that to develop DoD-wide guidance and some guidance at the service level in order to help position DoD to be more successful in acquiring AI that does what it needs at a reasonable cost,” Ludwigson said.

The watchdog agency made four recommendations calling on the DoD to develop AI acquisition guidance as well as recommending the Army, Navy, and Air Force develop guidance for acquiring AI within each service, “because each service is a little different in the acquisition process,” Ludwigson said.

Read More About
More Topics
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.