Every four years, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) publishes a strategic plan for serving the Congress that considers the full scope of operations of the federal government, as well as emerging and future trends that may affect the government and society as a whole.

The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the "congressional watchdog," GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. This is also, however, why the strategic plan is important for Congressional leaders to understand upcoming trends the GAO is seeing. The strategic plan released by the GAO is not legally binding, but consists of key recommendations Congress can take and turn into bills or laws.

It should come as no surprise that technology is a consistent theme for the recently released plan that covers 2018-2023. The report covers many different areas for the federal government, but there is a portion that focuses on workforce development, education, and research & development.

The report is divided up into three key parts, goals & objectives, key efforts, and trends affecting government and society. Throughout the entire report, the word technology is used 32 times. It should also be noted that the word uncertain or unknown appears multiple times as well. It is a challenge for the federal government to be sure on the extent in which technology will continue to impact our society.

Education & Preparing the Future Workforce

A recent survey mentioned in the GAO showed us what we already know- students are not exiting their education with the skills needed for the jobs that are available. The survey found that 38 percent of human resource professionals report difficulty recruiting employees for full-time positions due to factors such as candidates’ lack of technical skills. Along with that, U.S. students lag behind their peers in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations in the areas of science and math, and sizable numbers of youths graduate unprepared for college or the workforce, or they drop out of school altogether.

Another factor for education and workforce in automation and artificial intelligence. One study cited by the National Intelligence Council projects that automation and AI could replace 45 percent of the activities that people are now paid to perform, including those performed by relatively highly paid workers.

This data brings along some key uncertainties. The report states that, “The impact that data and analytics innovation and other technological changes will have on job tasks is not fully known, nor is the extent of mismatch between new skills requirements and current labor force characteristics. The future balance between job creation and job loss is difficult to predict. The pace at which displacements may occur and the extent of new technologies’ effects on worker productivity are not clear.”

Research & Development

The report also places a great emphasis on Research & Development (R&D). The GAO states, “Science and technology advances are key to economic, social, and environmental well-being. The traditional models of federal and nonfederal R&D support that have existed since World War II are changing and face increased scrutiny. Since the 1950s, federal R&D funding was characterized by sustained growth, reaching a height of about $147 billion in fiscal year 2010. However, since fiscal year 2010, the level of federal R&D funding has become more variable on an annual basis.” Also mentioned, is the fact that other countries like China and South Korea are likely to pass the U.S. in R&D research in the early to mid 2020s.

The GAO report also points out that, “The extent to which the United States is able to focus R&D investment in key technology areas will be a key factor in U.S. competitiveness in the global economy. In turn, U.S. competitiveness in the global economy will determine the extent to which the U.S. economy will benefit from the potential future growth associated with emerging technology areas. Without sustained attention to evaluating the effectiveness of U.S. R&D investments, it will be difficult for the federal government to maximize the use of its constrained resources, which could then increase the risk that the United States will not be able to harness the potential of future science and technology advances.”

STEM & Emerging Technologies

Disagreements exist about the sufficiency of the current supply of STEM workers in the United States. Some have concluded that the United States has a sufficient supply of STEM workers; others have found that the education system is not producing enough STEM graduates to fill the jobs available in STEM occupations.

The GAO also identifies five technologies that they believe will most impact our society in the strategic plan. These technologies include genome editing, artificial intelligence and automation, quantum information science, brain/augmented reality, and cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

Although it might be difficult to see how some of these could disrupt education, we need to be thinking about all the ways and implications now.