The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is looking for AI test and evaluation services to support the Defense Department and “the entire U.S. government,” according to a new request for proposal posted Feb. 11.
The JAIC, through Army Contracting Command-Rock Island, intends to award multiple blanket purchase agreements for AI testing and evaluation services. The contract has a ceiling of more than $249 million, according to a question and answer document posted along with the RFP.
Offers on the solicitation are due March 5.
Jane Pinelis, the JAIC’s testing and evaluation chief, said the contract and another forthcoming multi-award contract for data readiness assessments will help connect DOD components to industry partners with readily available services facilitating AI adoption. Data readiness has been one of the biggest impediments thwarting fielding of AI in DOD, she said.
“One of the ways to avoid the valley of death and one of the ways to get this technology into the warfighters’ hands is to be able to at least readily connect those vendors, those industry partners that have the technology to the warfighter,” Pinelis said during an AFCEA NOVA webinar Wednesday, ahead of the RFP’s release. “And that connection is funding and that connection is a contract vehicle, and that’s the connection that we’ve been working really hard on providing to the rest of the department.”
The two contract vehicles, combined with the JAIC’s new Tradewind initiative developing an acquisition ecosystem meant to speed up the delivery of AI capabilities, will help to improve AI readiness, Pinelis said.
The contracts and Tradewind come as the JAIC has shifted away from building out AI products and services. Under what officials call the “JAIC 2.0” effort, the focus for the Pentagon’s AI hub is on working with components across the department to get them ready for AI adoption.
“Think of us as an enabling agency or organization that’s really focused and devoted on making sure that the rest of the DOD is able to absorb and scale this new technology,” Nand Mulchandani, the JAIC’s chief technology officer, said Wednesday during an Amazon Web Services webinar produced by the events division of Government Executive Media Group, Nextgov’s parent company. Mulchandani served as the JAIC’s acting director until Lt. Gen. Michael S. Groen took the reins in October.
Jacqueline Tame, JAIC acting deputy director, said cultural barriers still get in the way when it comes to AI in the Defense Department, and that the agency lacks the “connective tissues” linking together various capabilities. Pre-existing understandings of threats have led DOD components and services to develop and operationalize capabilities independently, she said.
“That doesn’t really work for AI and what we’re trying to do, and in fact, that inhibits our ability to actually implement this at scale,” Tame said. “And so JAIC 2.0 is all about the realization and the understanding, frankly, after two and a half years of assessment of our department’s AI readiness, that these critical building blocks that will enable us to get to the point of implementation of AI across the force in a real cohesive way are not there yet.”
Much of the work under JAIC 2.0 encompasses advocacy and education so that components can deploy AI technologies with a foundational backing at an institutional level, according to Tame.
One example area this is happening is ontologies. The JAIC is developing ontology standards to connect datasets across DOD, Pinelis said, by leading a working group that includes the entire department as well as the intelligence community.