American competitiveness in the quest to lead the world in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) needs direction from the highest level of the nation’s government and requires day-to-day leadership and related resources, the chairman and vice chairman of an independent, bipartisan national commission charged with making recommendations for advancing the national security AI needs of the U.S. said this week.

“We believe one of the central characteristics to great power competition is an innovation competition,” Robert Work, vice chairman of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) and a former deputy Defense Secretary in the Obama and Trump administrations, said on Tuesday. “And we have to have good government oversight and direction for how we will approach that competition.”

The commission last week agreed to dozens of draft recommendations that include the establishment of a Technology Competitiveness Council chaired by the vice president and aided by an assistant to the president for Emerging Technology for day-to-day leadership that is equipped with a staff.

“What I’ve learned as an amateur in government bureaucracy is that it really matters how high you are in the organization and so we think collectively that this set of issues around competitiveness are so defining that it needs to be at the vice president or the presidential level and not as part of some bureaucratic process, in which case it won’t have the kind of heft, which is why we picked the vice president,” Eric Schmidt, chairman of the commission and chairman of the Defense Department’s Innovation Advisory Board and former CEO of Google [GOOG], also said on Tuesday.

Schmidt and Work hosted a conference call with media to discuss the NSCAI’s third round of recommendations. The commission, which was created by the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, is scheduled to complete its work next year with a final report in March.

The commission’s third quarter interim report says the Technology Competitiveness Council, working as a coordinating body, should be separate from the existing White House councils—including the National Economic Council, the National Security Council, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy—that could deal with AI and related issues because it will be in a stronger position to set and implement strategy.

“In the absence of an overarching structure, it is now left to the President and the Vice President to identify, adjudicate and reconcile the positions that emerge from the three parallel interagency processes, while leaving endless room for gadflies to try and run gaps and influence the President,” says the October 2020 interim report. “The President, in short, needs a tool for helping him decide and drive a new strategy down through the necessary-but-not-sufficient existing Councils into the rest of the government.”

In addition to organizing national leadership for AI competitiveness for defense and national security at the White House, the commission made two additional recommendations aimed at strengthening oversight of AI efforts within DoD and the intelligence community (Defense Daily, Oct. 8, 2020).

The creation of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, which also serves as the Pentagon’s chief technology officer (CTO), “didn’t really empower the CTO,” Work told reporters. The commission’s recommendation would give this position “more authorities to compete with service level authorities, resources and requirements and to really drive the whole department’s technology strategy with an eye toward approving AI adoption,” he said.

The commission also recommends that the DoD CTO have dedicated funding to demonstrate and transition promising AI-enabled technologies and give the position a seat on the Joint Requirements Oversight Council as chief science adviser.

Another recommendation would create a CTO for the intelligence community by designating the director of Science and Technology within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to that position.

The DoD and intelligence community CTOs would each write technology annexes that prioritize technology needs and where AI fits within these priorities and they would work together to coordinate their respective “AI efforts and really start to have a top down push on AI-enabled applications,” Work said.