Public Agencies Are Buying Up AI-Driven Hiring Tools and ‘Bossware’

Through public records requests, The Markup found more than 20 public agencies using the sometimes-controversial software. From the report: In 2020, the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) faced a daunting task: It needed to fill more than 900 job vacancies -- and fast. The center, which does things like inspect pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, was in the process of modernizing the FDA's New Drugs Regulatory Program just as the pandemic started. It faced "a surge in work," along with new constraints that have affected everyone during the pandemic, including travel limitations and lockdowns. So they decided to turn to an artificial intelligence tool to speed up the hiring, according to records obtained by The Markup. The center, along with the Office of Management and the Division of Management Services, the background section of a statement of work said, were developing a "recruitment plan to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to assist in the time to hire process." The agency ultimately chose to use HireVue, an online platform that allows employers to review asynchronously recorded video interviews and have recruits play video games as part of their application process. Over the years the platform has also offered a variety of AI features to automatically score candidates. HireVue, controversially, used to offer facial analysis to predict whether an applicant would be a good fit for an open job. In recent years, research has shown that facial recognition software is racially biased. In 2019, the company's continued use of the technique led one member of its scientific advisory board to resign. It has since stopped using facial recognition. The Markup used GovSpend, a database of procurement records for U.S. agencies at the state, local, and federal levels, to identify agencies that use HireVue. We also searched for agencies using Teramind and ActivTrak, both another kind of controversial software that allows employers to remotely monitor their workers' browsing activities through screenshots and logs. The Markup contacted and filed public records requests with those 24 agencies to understand how they were using the software. Eleven public agencies, including the FDA, replied to The Markup with documents or confirmations that they had bought HireVue at some point since 2017. Of the six public agencies that replied to The Markup's questions confirming that they actually used the software, all but one -- Lake Travis Independent School District in Texas -- confirmed they did not make use of the AI scoring features of the software. Documents and responses from 13 agencies confirmed that they purchased Teramind or ActivTrak at some point during the same time frame.

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