Federal Chief Information Officer Clare Martorana said this week she is very optimistic about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to help in the government’s ongoing mission to improve citizen services.

Speaking at an April 25 event organized by the Alliance for Digital Innovation in San Francisco to coincide with the RSA Conference, Martorana talked through the potential for “basic” AI tech to further the citizen service improvement goal that sits at the heart of the Biden administration’s President’s Management Agenda (PMA).

At the same time, she said that in considering how to move forward with AI in Federal systems, “we fully recognize that we need to have rules, regulations, and a framework so that we can operate effectively in government.”

That qualifier aside, the Federal CIO voiced considerable enthusiasm for the potential of AI tech to make a major contribution to the citizen service improvement drive.

In describing how government technology needs to work better for people, she used an example in which people may begin a quest for information about how to apply for Medicare benefits.

When “most people interact with the government, they come to accomplish a task – you don’t come to hang out on government websites and browse around for fun,” she said. “You usually start at an external search engine to get an answer to your question.”

“If you search, ‘how do I apply for Medicare?’ you get 260 million answers to that question, which is maybe a couple too many,” she said. “You need one answer that is the right answer, you don’t need a million answers.”

“So we are actually looking at this as an incredible opportunity for the Federal government to be focusing on one answer to your question,” Martorana said.

“If you just take the top six agencies that encompass 80 percent of all the transactions in government, and you just start with the top 100 questions that people are asking those agencies, you can actually start to use AI in an incredibly powerful way to deliver better services to the American public,” she said.

“If you add on to that consistent branding – so as you’re navigating from one website to another, that you feel that it is trusted and verified that you’re interacting with a U.S. government website that can be trusted, – [that’s] really important,” she said.

“Then I think the third part is ultimately we will be narrowing down our user experience to focus on you as the end user and have one account,” she said. “I might have information on Social Security, I have information at the VA, I have information at the IRS – we hopefully will develop something in the future that is using APIs from all of those agencies, but putting it in a frame about you.”

Martorana said she is “actually super optimistic because I do think AI is going to help us leapfrog” toward the larger citizen service improvement goal.

“I’m really excited about the use cases that we’re seeing from our AI inventory of agencies thinking out across healthcare, the environment … really imaginative ways of using some of the basic AI that is now available in the market,” she said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.