chatbot (Alexander Supertramp/

GSA steps from automation to AI

Now that the General Services Administration has experience with robotic process automation, it's looking to artificial intelligence to inject more efficiency into complex processes like contracting.

While RPA bots can be implemented relatively quickly by automating established processes, AI takes more time and expertise because it forges new paths by finding more-efficient ways to work with both processes and data, said Michelle McNellis, GSA’s director of acquisitions at the Office of Products and Programs, at a June 3 Defense One virtual event on automation in acquisition.

GSA uses an AI-based bot to track, find and change Section 508 disability clauses in contracts to ensure compliance, and that work is more advanced than just rote processing, according to Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi, director of GSA’s Acquisitions Centers of Excellence. That review takes "some degree of intelligence," he said, but the output is always reviewed by humans to ensure accuracy.

GSA has been at the forefront of implanting bots, with dozens performing repetitive electronic processes. One bot sends notifications about invoices and another automates the work associated with processing offers under the Federal Acquisition Service's Multiple Award Schedules.

It's also using bots for its FASt Lane, eOffer and eMod processes, Ghaffari-Tabrizi said. FASt Lane is the agency's program to accelerate how IT contractors get new products onto its buying schedules, while eOffer/eMod allow vendors to submit modifications to their contracts.

Other federal agencies looking to harness similar RPA capabilities, said McNellis, should move deliberately, getting input from all agency operations, including finance, IT, acquisition and management. Legal issues and IT capabilities need to be addressed before moving ahead with either AI or RPA efforts, she said.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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