Technology is Advancing Every Day, We Think Oversight Should Too!

Author: Taka Ariga, Chief Data Scientist and Director of the Innovation Lab, U.S. GAO

The Government Accountability Office—the United States Supreme Audit Institution—established its Innovation Lab in 2019 as a research entity dedicated to exploration and experimentation of data science techniques and emerging technologies. The goal is to amplify GAO’s oversight capabilities across the evolving web 3.0 landscape. The INTOSAI Journal recently joined the Lab for a tour of the facility at GAO headquarters where an entrepreneurial team of data scientists, technologists, and analysts come together collaboratively across a portfolio of novel projects ranging from deployment of large language models to use of extended reality.

As a research entity, the Lab looks at a variety of systemic challenges facing the public sector from the vantage point of what is possible? The design of the lab space itself reflects and supports how specific functions across the innovation lifecycle can best be carried out. The anchor area of the Lab is affectionately referred to as the living room where multidisciplinary stakeholders—ranging from mission team subject matter experts to cybersecurity professionals—come together regularly to ideate and collaborate. The Lab has also integrated enabling technologies for seamless involvement of both virtual and in-person participation. 

One of the most exciting part of the Lab is a space called demonstration. Flanked by large touch displays, the Lab is able to provide a tactile experience to explore data science features and facets of digital prototypes. 

The journey of Innovation Lab has been exhilarating. We started out as a startup entity and have evolved our management processes to balance the entrepreneurial spirit with critical compliance functions, all while maintaining our own brand of agility. As the Lab navigates the uncertainties across our portfolio of projects, we are making sure that complex technical work and associated risks do not jeopardize GAO’s principles of quality, non-partisanship, and objectivity. 

The Lab space is buzzing with activities today. As for tomorrow, we will continue to grow our capacity and to build on our successes with a continued sense of urgency. We are looking to move the needle on systemic opportunities such as generative AI, portfolio knowledge management, improper payments, and diving into the deep ends of cybersecurity implications through the use of emerging technologies. One of the assistant Lab directors is fond of quote by the French statesman Charles Alexandre de Calonne, and his words are certainly relevant here: “the difficult is that which takes a little time, the impossible is what takes a little longer.”

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