The newest cohort of Presidential Innovation Fellows goes virtual

A PIF logo inside GSA. (Tajha Chappellet-Lanier / FedScoop)

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The General Services Administration has placed 34 new Presidential Innovation Fellows at federal agencies to use technology to solve some of the nation’s most pressing issues.

But this time, there’s a twist: The entrepreneurs-in-residence will all work virtually, at least for the time being.

During a one-year “tour of duty,” the PIFs — private sector data scientists, engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs — will assist 22 agencies by bringing technology and innovation to problems of “national priority,” to include the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fellows will start their work remotely and possibly move to physical work at partnering agencies if appropriate.

“Innovation thrives in partnerships, and with this new cohort, Presidential Innovation Fellows is uniting the best talent between the federal government and the private sector to drive the next generation of modern, human-centered solutions for the public,” Bob De Luca, acting director of GSA’s Technology Transformation Services, which houses the PIF program, said in a statement.

The 2021 PIFs were chosen with an added emphasis on attracting artificial intelligence talent to the federal government. Nearly half of the new 26 PIF projects have a major focus on AI, and 15 of the fellows come with a background in AI.

In particular, their efforts will “help combat hiring biases, protect human health and the environment, advance COVID-19 diagnostics, and more,” Josh Di Frances, PIF executive director, said in a blog post. “These exceptional individuals will work in close cooperation with agency leaders across the federal government on the strategic, operational, and tactical use of AI in order to help agencies evaluate, design, develop, and implement this technology.”

Since the White House launched the fellowship in 2012, the PIF program has recruited 193 fellows to work with more than 40 agencies. Now housed in GSA, the fellowship “pairs talented, diverse technologists and innovators with top civil servants and change-makers working at the highest levels of the federal government to be innovation catalysts,” according to the agency.

Di Frances called the 2021 fellows the “most diverse cohort yet.”

Natasha Bansgopaul, a first-generation Caribbean American and leader in financial technology and blockchain, explained why she wanted to pursue the fellowship: “Given the current global pandemic, now, more than ever, the need for integration and adaptation of digital/technological tools is clear,” she said. “Bottom line – I want to take the time to work on key problems facing the country and create direct impact that will assist in shaping the way we approach technology-based solutions throughout the government, and create positive impact for people across the nation.”

Not only is the program credited for bringing talented technologists to the federal government for a year — but it’s also known for keeping them around. Many PIFs continue working in government after their one-year fellowship ends. In 2018, roughly a third of the 122 PIFs up to that point had taken on additional federal work.

GSA has more information on each of the 34 new fellows.

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Bob DeLuca, COVID-19, General Services Administration (GSA), Josh Di Frances, Presidential Innovation Fellows, White House
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