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U.S. creating new tech guidance agency to inform Congress as facial recognition regulation looms


The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is in the process of setting up a Science and Technology Assessment and Analytics group to help law-makers understand technology issues related to subjects such as artificial intelligence, 5G networking, online privacy, and presumably biometrics, NextGov reports.

The new organization was officially created in January, and a letter submitted to Congress this week by GAO, which has not been publicly released, outlines its scope and size. It will be co-led by GAO Chief Scientist Tim Persons and its former director of science and technology, John Neumann. Experts from GAO’s audit and science teams, as well as new staff, will be brought together to advise congressional representatives.

Persons told NextGov that the office will include roughly 60 engineers, physicists, data analysts, computer scientists, federal auditors, and other specialists by the end of this year. It will also partner with universities to give short-term placements to academics, on the model of the National Science Foundation and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The U.S. government closed its Office of Technology Assessment in 1995, and has recently sought ways of reducing the knowledge gap on tech subjects. Only 19 out of 535 members of Congress have backgrounds in science, engineering or tech, according to the report. In the absence of a unified resource, guidance has been given in response to specific inquiries by experts within the GAO, but often based on a narrow scope or perspective.

With Congress preparing to tackle facial recognition and social media regulation, according to NextGov, a more comprehensive and forward-looking approach is necessary.

“We do things now, but we’ve been in a reactive mode. We haven’t had the critical mass of resources to be more proactive,” Persons said. “The office “is intended to [provide] that specialized workforce to deal with those soup to nuts science and technology issues across the Congress … in as agile a manner as we can.”

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