The Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) organization is setting up a new CBP artificial intelligence center of innovation (COI) that will build on the agency’s increasing use of automation technologies, CBP CIO Sonny Bhagowalia said at an FCW event on August 11.

Bhagowalia said he has already signed the memo to stand up for the new AI COI, which also will cover machine learning (ML) technologies. He said the center will aim to “support and create a scalable foundation to leverage AI and exploit terabytes of data, imagery, text, etc. – which we are using or is in our system – for some of the hardest mission problems.”

The CIO said that effort follows a considerable body of work that CBP has already done with robotic process automation (RPA) and other technologies – an area that has already seen rapid growth. The use of those technologies has allowed CBP to automate more than 45 workflows in the past year, which has saved the agency thousands of hours of manual labor, Bhagowalia said.

On the RPA front, Bhagowalia said the agency currently has over 110 bots already active and is in the process of developing another 50.

“This is one of the fastest-growing technologies within CBP,” Bhagowalia said. “RPA applies technology which is governed by business logic and structured inputs and aimed at automating repeatable mundane business processes, leaving people free to concentrate on knowledge-based activities.”

Another area of digital transformation for the agency has come on in the form of the CBP One mobile application, the CIO said.  The app acts as a one-stop-shop for travelers and other stakeholders to access CBP mobile apps like CBP Roam and the I-94 site. The latter allows travelers to complete the I-94 form required for all land border crossings.

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.