Skip to Content

Contractor, Research on Federal Government AI Procurement Policy

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) is seeking a short-term contractor to conduct independent research and write a research memorandum about opportunities to improve federal government processes for procurement of AI-driven systems. The work will take place from late January through early April 2023, for a total of 12 weeks, in partnership with CDT’s Privacy & Data team. Compensation of up to $20,000 is available for the work.

Background

In October 2022, the White House released the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, which presents a detailed framework for the private and public sector’s development and use of automated systems. The framework is built on five principles: that automated systems must be demonstrably safe and effective, must mitigate algorithmic discrimination, must have data privacy safeguards in place, must provide effective notice and explanation, and must provide human review of and alternatives for the systems. 

Several federal agencies have led efforts to focus on AI governance in the past year, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) development of an AI Risk Management Framework; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Justice, and Department of Labor’s initiatives to address discrimination in employment decision tools; and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development’s efforts on algorithm-driven lending and tenant screening tools. Congress and state legislatures have shown interest in regulating AI as well. 

One lever to advance responsible AI development and design lies in government procurement processes. Congress recently passed legislation to provide a federal training program on AI for the agency staff who are responsible for planning, executing, and overseeing the procurement process; issue policies on AI acquisition, use, and safeguards; maintain an inventory of agency AI use cases; and ensure that procurement contracts address data privacy and security, civil rights, and civil liberties. NIST’s Risk Management Framework may form a useful foundation to inform potential updates to procurement processes and regulations. Such improvements have the potential to meaningfully impact the American public’s rights, opportunities, and access to critical resources or services. 

The Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights lists federal procurement reform for AI-driven products and services as an area for future work by the White House and federal agencies. New federal policies and guidance on procurement could empower public agencies to better incorporate the Bill of Rights principles when evaluating vendor proposals and testing acquired tools for agencies’ own use, as well as position them to provide better guidance and support to state and local agencies as they procure AI-driven products and services. Finally, these policies and guidance could also inform how algorithm-driven decision-making tools are selected and used in the private sector as well.

Objective

This project seeks to develop recommendations on ways to improve federal procurement processes for AI-driven systems, and to identify the agencies, offices and mechanisms that are best positioned to implement these recommendations. The primary output is a research memorandum that identifies steps that the executive branch could take to shape and reform federal procurement processes in support of the responsible procurement of AI-driven products and systems, grounded in research about the relevant levers for change, lessons learned from past efforts, and practical insights into the feasibility of reform. The work will inform ongoing education and advocacy by CDT and other organizations. The contractor for this role will be responsible for conducting interviews and research that builds on preliminary research and recent work by CDT staff, and for joining CDT staff in meetings with experts to assess the feasibility of the proposed steps.

Methods

The contractor will conduct qualitative desk research and interviews with relevant experts and stakeholders. The contractor shall examine a set of questions determined in collaboration with CDT staff, which may include but are not limited to:

  • How do procurement processes work for relevant agencies, and what are the available levers for reform? What policies of the Office of Management and Budget and other offices and agencies might speak to these issues and be ripe for updating? 
  • How can existing federal guidance and resources on procurement, such as the TechFAR Handbook, be updated?
  • How extensive have past updates to these resources and guidance been, and what points of friction emerged when executing these updates?
  • What lessons from previous coordination on agency-specific procurement processes should inform broader reform efforts?
  • Is there untapped potential for the White House Office, Office of Management and Budget, and the General Services Administration to support baseline cross-agency standards for design, acquisition, and oversight, and for expanding transparency and public participation in procurement processes?
  • How can the federal government better use funding and other mechanisms to influence state- and local-level procurement?

The contractor will gather their findings in a memorandum and use the information to distill a series of recommendations to address the Objectives described above. 

Deliverables and Timeline

  • Project plan and kickoff meeting (within one week of executing the contract)
    • Create and finalize project plan for the duration of the initiative
    • Schedule and lead a kickoff meeting with CDT staff
    • Schedule weekly check-ins with CDT staff
  • Conduct interviews and related research (within five weeks of executing the contract)
    • Develop interview protocol(s)
    • Schedule and lead up to 20 interviews with external stakeholders, coordinating CDT staff participation as needed
    • Document content of interviews 
    • Create detailed outline of memo by the end of the fifth week
  • Develop research memo on key findings and related recommendations (within eleven weeks of executing contract)
    • Draft and finalize memo, with up to three rounds of feedback from CDT

This project should be completed in approximately 11 weeks, followed by an additional week of availability from the contractor to address any additional follow-up questions from CDT, for a total of 12 weeks. 

Our ideal timeline for this project is a start date of January 30, concluding with delivery of the final research memorandum on March 31, and one additional week of availability from the researcher to address any additional follow-up questions, with the contract ending on April 7. These dates may be flexible upon request.

Expressions of Interest

Interested candidates should send a cover letter, CV, and 1-2 writing samples demonstrating relevant experience to Ridhi Shetty at [email protected]. They should also provide a short description (no more than half a page) on their proposed approach to this project and requested compensation structure/typical hourly rate. 

Applicants must have expertise with federal government procurement. Experience with federal government procurement specifically of technology or software programs is preferred but not required. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis.

The Center for Democracy & Technology is an equal opportunity and inclusive employer. CDT does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, gender expression, age, national origin, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation in any of its activities or operations. We believe that a diverse staff enables us to do better and more impactful work. Women, people of color, disabled people, and members of low-income, LGBTQIA+, and other marginalized communities are strongly encouraged to apply.