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Congress Skeptical as White House Prepares to Issue Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence

The Biden administration is preparing executive actions for President Biden to take on artificial intelligence, raising the hackles of Republicans concerned about whether the federal government is up to the task.

House Oversight and Accountability Committee lawmakers peppered the administration’s top AI officers Thursday with questions about their understanding of the issue and on President Biden’s level of engagement.

Rep. Nancy Mace, who leads the Oversight Committee’s cyber, IT, and government innovation panel, doubted Mr. Biden and his team had their arms around AI.

“In the administration’s cybersecurity plan, before it was made public, I asked the question pointedly to the administration if AI was even included in it at the time and it was not,” the South Carolina Republican said at the hearing.

She said the administration’s government-wide cyber strategy later added three fleeting references to AI and she questioned Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, about whether Mr. Biden fully understood AI.

Ms. Prabhakar said Mr. Biden had an excellent understanding of AI and he had grilled her on topics ranging from potential harms to the application of AI in education.

The White House official made clear that regardless of whether Congress authors new AI laws, Mr. Biden’s team plans to make new AI rules. Ms. Prabhakar’s office is formulating a new National AI Strategy that it has said will take a “whole-of-society” approach.

“We’re working today in the White House on an executive order, the Office of Management and Budget is working on guidance for departments and agencies, that’s the executive branch,” Ms. Prabhakar said.

“We continue to work with our international allies because AI does not stop at the borders and finally we remain committed to working closely with Congress on a bipartisan basis as you consider legislation,” she added.

The Biden administration’s Democratic allies in the Senate are busy at work crafting an AI legislative package as well.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer has styled his push for comprehensive AI legislation as bipartisan and told reporters he has talked with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, on the upper chamber’s progress.

Mr. Schumer said Thursday that the challenges posed by AI ought not be viewed as partisan and he hopes the Senate’s goal of bipartisanship will be reciprocated by House lawmakers.

“I think we can keep it bipartisan here in the Senate and hopefully that sets an example in the House,” he told reporters.

Mr. Schumer convened a closed-door meeting on AI with Big Tech leaders on Wednesday attended by more than 60 senators. X’s Elon Musk, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Sundar Pichai were among the roster of tech leaders invited to provide candid assessments of AI and offer potential rules for lawmakers to consider.

Congress appears far away from reaching a consensus on potential AI rules any time soon.

Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, told reporters after the Wednesday meeting that he did not hear much about proposed AI rules and said lawmakers had no overarching regulatory framework they agreed upon.

• Mallory Wilson contributed to this report.

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