Fedweek

OMB is eyeing administrative tasks and processes that lend themselves to automation

Like the previously issued Trump administration management initiatives, a new OMB memo on shifting to higher-priority work cites the potential for further automation of work currently being performed by federal employees.

The President’s Management Agenda estimated that just with current technology, 5 percent of federal occupations could be automated entirely, 60 percent could have 30 percent or more of their duties automated, and 45 percent of total federal work activities could be automated. Its budget proposal of early this year similarly had said that artificial intelligence could be deployed more extensively in “transactional” tasks such as documenting and recording paperwork, evaluating information to determine compliance, monitoring resources, and responding to routine questions.

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The recent memo cites as a step in that direction the increased use of “category management” — an initiative started during the Obama administration—in which agencies buy common goods through central contracts rather than individual contracts, allowing “the federal acquisition workforce to focus its time and attention on higher-value work.”

It says that OMB further “is identifying areas where valuable resources are expended performing highly repetitive administrative tasks that require little to no decision-making. These administrative tasks and processes lend themselves to automation, where transactions are numerous and frequent, and processes have significant peaks in workload. Using data and process standards that will be completed in 2018, OMB intends to modernize operations through automation technologies like robotic process automation software, artificial intelligence, and other tools that will execute repetitive administrative tasks and significantly reduce the burden on federal employees.”

“Not only will automation shift resources to the pursuit of mission outcomes, but it will also reduce human error and improve compliance with contracting protocols and financial analysis and reporting. OMB is committed to working with agencies to explore the use of these technologies to reduce the cost of routine processes, eliminate duplication, and consolidate and centralize procurement-related interactions,” it says.

The memo also raises prospects of greater automation in IT procurement planning through “leveraging authoritative data with automation and moving away from the manual, time consuming self-reporting that currently burdens federal agencies.”

Further, it said, “there are still numerous reporting requirements that require collection of qualitative and other data not readily available through automated processes that require manual and sometimes labor intensive collection by agencies.”