In 2022, modernizing the Federal government’s workforce means leveraging technology to address past and present diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) challenges, government officials said this week.

During a panel discussion hosted by the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center (ATARC) on Sept. 27, officials from the Departments of Justice and Interior (DOI) discussed how data, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) can help diversify – and modernize – the Federal workforce.

“Modernization is what we look like. It’s diversity,” said Federal Bureau of Investigation Chief Diversity Officer Scott McMillion.

Recruiting top talent from diverse backgrounds is crucial to create innovation at the FBI – especially in the technology realm – and in deterring threats against the U.S., McMillion said.

“If we’re not modernizing, if we’re not using the best and the brightest solutions from a technical standpoint, we’re going to be behind, and the threats will keep coming,” the official said.

While maybe not as high stakes to the country’s cybersecurity, DOI’s Strategic Talent Management Division Director Landon Mock sized up the agency’s DEIA challenges as an opportunity to modernize the workforce through emerging tech like AI and ML.

“We are really using those kinds of applications in a low stakes type of setting,” Mock said, and explained that use of those technologies has helped improve not only recruitment of new employees, but also upward mobility for continuing employees.

DOI created a website that uses emerging technology to modernize career pathing, by combining as many data sources as possible to provide information on job offerings. For example, it allows current and perspective employees to understand the tasks necessary, the skillset needed, the location, and the work environment for a particular position, Mock said.

The official explained that the agency also uses the website to highlight lesser known – but very important – positions that need to be filled, such as the agency’s current priority of fire prevention.

In a similar sentiment, McMillion praised the use tech tools and data to aid in recruiting employees from more diverse backgrounds. Currently, he said, the FBI’s workforce diversity factor sits at 27 percent.

“When the rubber meets the road, how do we ensure that where the next incident happens, we can complement, be more efficient, and effective in having a response that looks like that community,” McMillion said. “That’s not always the case when you look at our numbers.”

In recent years, FBI leadership has prioritized DEIA, and recruiting and deploying agents across the nation from all backgrounds. Funding for that kind of push at Federal agencies is often scarce, he said, but the FBI believes it will help the agency better execute its mission.

To help reach that goal, McMillion and his team use data to forecast where they will need to fill holes in their workforce. The agency, he says, intentionally recruits at historically Black colleges and universities as well as Tribal colleges and universities.

“The FBI is 114 years old, and we are slow to change,” McMillion said. “To get to where we are today has not been easy – it’s been a challenge.”

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