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Heinrich, Portman Introduce Bill To Require Digital Engineering Careers Within U.S. Armed Forces, Bolster Artificial Intelligence

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the co-founders of the Senate Artificial Intelligence Caucus, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), introduced the bipartisan Armed Forces Digital Advantage Act, which would modernize the Department of Defense (DoD) workforce by adding a recruitment focus and establishing military career tracks for digital engineering.

The Armed Forces Digital Advantage Act is in response to recommendations from the defense industry and senior military leaders that the DoD emphasize digital engineering and establish a career track for computer scientists in the military to get the additional training and opportunities to advance their skillsets, and protect them from pressures to rotate into unrelated roles. The 2018 National Defense Strategy declared the need for the United States to “emphasize new skills and complement our current workforce with information experts, data scientists, computer programmers, and basic science researchers and engineers—to use information, not simply manage it. The Department will also continue to explore streamlined, non-traditional pathways to bring critical skills into service, expanding access to outside expertise.”

In March 2019, Senators Heinrich and Portman announced the formation of the bipartisan Senate Artificial Intelligence (AI) Caucus, in part to prepare the United States workforce for the opportunities and challenges of AI.

“Much like how the military recruits for and provides incentives to individuals with foreign language skills, senior military leaders and civilian leadership have repeatedly emphasized the need for a workforce with a digital engineering skillset,” said Heinrich, co-founder of the Senate Artificial Intelligence Caucus and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Whether it is Artificial Intelligence, 5G telecommunications services, or cloud computing, transformational digital technologies will present new opportunities and challenges for the Department of Defense. That means we must prepare the Department with a proficient and capable workforce by recruiting in the near term and training for the long term. This bipartisan bill does exactly that.”

“The complexity of 21st century warfare requires that our armed forces be both technically skilled and proficient with their weapons,” said Portman, co-founder of the Senate Artificial Intelligence Caucus. “This bill will implement the recommendations of our military experts to ensure that our armed forces make computer science and digital engineering skills a priority for recruitment and training. Prioritizing these skills will help ensure our armed forces remain the best in the world.”

The Armed Forces Digital Advantage Act would:

  • Assign the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness with the responsibility for the development and implementation of a policy to promote and maintain digital engineering as a core competency of the Armed Forces. 
  • Require the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to establish and appoint, for a position duration of 10 years, a “Chief Digital Engineering Recruitment and Management Officer of the Department of Defense,” who, in close consultation with Assistant Secretaries of the military departments for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, is responsible for the:
    • Recruitment of individuals to the Armed Forces with demonstrated aptitude, interest, and/or proficient expertise in digital engineering through creative initiatives, programs, activities, and mechanisms not typically pursued in military recruitment (ex. tech conferences and events like SXSW).
    • Development of training, education, talent management, incentives, and promotion policies for such career tracks on digital engineering (including, but not limited to, data science, machine learning, software engineering, software product management, and user experience design). 
  • Require the Assistant Secretaries of the military departments for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, by January 1, 2022, to establish, tailored to the unique needs of each Armed Force, one or more flexible career tracks and identifiers for digital engineering and related digital competencies for each Armed Force, including appropriate military occupational specialties (MOS) and meaningful opportunities for career development, talent management, and promotion within such career tracks. 

To read the full bill, click HERE.