White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young sent a memo today to heads of Federal agencies on research and development (R&D) priorities for the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2025 budget request – with AI R&D priorities front and center.

“Because Federal research and development is integral to the just, vibrant, and ambitious future that America seeks, President Biden is prioritizing R&D funding and mobilizing America’s powerful R&D ecosystem,” Prabhakar and Young wrote. “To make its vital contribution to our future, federal R&D must sustain America’s leadership position in science and technology.”

At the top of the list in the memo is multi-agency priority guidance to “advance trustworthy artificial intelligence (AI) technology that protects people’s rights and safety, and harness it to accelerate the Nation’s progress.”

“AI is one of the most powerful technologies of our time. The choices we make in the coming years about advancing and using AI will have important consequences for civil rights and civil liberties, safety and security, jobs and the economy, and democratic values,” Prabhakar and Young wrote.

“The federal government plays multiple essential roles, including mitigating AI risks and using AI technology to better deliver on the wide range of government missions, advance solutions to the Nation’s challenges that other sectors will not address on their own, and tackle large societal challenges,” they continued.

According to the memo, agency submissions should fund R&D activities to support and fulfill multiple critical purposes within AI:

  • Build tools, methods, and community engagement to guide the design of regulatory and enforcement regimes for mitigating AI threats to truth, trust, and democracy; safety and security; privacy, civil rights and civil liberties; and economic opportunity for all;
  • Design, pilot, and assess the results of new approaches to apply AI to improve government functions and public services; and
  • Develop trustworthy, powerful advanced AI systems that help achieve the Nation’s great aspirations.

Other Priorities

In addition to AI-related R&D, another priority that the administration outlined in the memo is the need to “lead the world in maintaining global security and stability in the face of immense geopolitical changes and evolving risks.”

“Agencies should support R&D that will create the next generation of national security technologies and capabilities, mitigate critical national security risks, and accelerate the pace of responsible technology adoption in a competitive global environment,” the White House leaders wrote.

Some specific funding directives from the White House include mitigating cybersecurity risks through resilient architectures; building in security by design; strengthening security and resilience for critical infrastructure; and addressing the national security impacts of AI.

The memo also directs agencies to focus some of their FY25 budget on boosting America’s supply chain resilience, which will “build the Nation’s future economic competitiveness from the bottom up and middle out.”

Agencies’ budget request should support applied research, experimental development, pre-commercialization, and standards-related efforts that will facilitate the adoption of a broad range of new technologies, Prabhakar and Young said.

Biden has also generically called on agencies’ FY25 budgets to strengthen, advance, and use America’s unparalleled research to achieve the country’s “great aspirations.”

The memo also touches on the importance of Federally funding R&D in climate change, healthcare, and reducing inequities.

“Federal R&D must translate into new products and services, new industries and jobs, new policies and regulations, and new standards and practices,” Prabhakar and Young wrote. “And it must bring the power of innovation to important national missions that have not traditionally benefitted from R&D – from K-12 education and workforce training to construction and traffic safety.”

More generally in the way of R&D budgeting advice, Prabhakar and Young said that “clear choices will be required given constrained discretionary funding caps.”

“Agencies engaged in complementary activities are expected to consult with one another during the budget formulation process to maximize impact by coordinating resources and avoiding unnecessary duplication,” they said.

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