USDA reports success with centers of excellence program

As the Department of Agriculture modernizes, the General Services Administration is looking for the next agency to adopt its "centers of excellence" approach.

Editorial credit: Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com USDA hq image number 475579099
 

With work well underway to develop IT modernization Centers of Excellence at the Department of Agriculture, the General Services Administration is scouting out the next agency to accelerate the program.

"Agencies are clamoring at the door to get into the program,"  Matt Lira, special assistant to the president for innovation policy at the White House, said at GSA's industry day for Phase II of its Centers of Excellence program.

The Department of Agriculture has been the "lighthouse" agency for the Centers of Excellence   program, which aims to build a modernization culture across five areas:  cloud adoption, infrastructure modernization, customer experience, service delivery analytics and contact centers.

Phase I contracts were announced in March for vendors' planning and strategy. Phase II will focus on implementing the technology recommended in the first phase.

Under Phase I, centers working on infrastructure, cloud and customer experience closed 20 data centers, prioritized more than 1,000 apps for a move to the cloud and reached  out to talk with farmers and others who use the agency's services.

"We're embedded at USDA. We're moving on, looking at which is the second agency," said Joanne Collins Smee, deputy commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service, director of Technology Transformation Service and leader of the Centers of Excellence effort at GSA.

Talking to reporters after the industry day presentations, Collins Smee explained how embedded GSA employees working with USDA employees on the centers will remain at USDA for up to two years.

"They will stay at USDA for at least the next 12 months," she said. "It's very important that we leave 99.9 percent of the talent at USDA. This model requires a certain number, and consistent number, of feds working with a large contingent of contractors," she said.

The team will be redeployed at another agency to continue spreading modernization culture after 12-24 months, she said.

GSA is currently working on developing a second team that will embed with the next agency to set up the first the Center of Excellence development "sprint" there, according to Collins Smee. GSA officials didn't name the agency, but said they had met with at least one about agency being the next to develop centers of excellence.

GSA will issue five solicitations in August, with possible awards by October, according to Bob DeLuca, GSA's director of the centers. Those requests for proposals will be released across a variety of contracting vehicles, from IT Schedule 70, to individual contracts, to the Alliant vehicle, said GSA.

USDA CIO Gary Washington told reporters after the presentations that his agency didn't really have any surprises with the program.

"I'm excited about the things that we will be doing in the future. It opened up some insights into some other things that are linked to technology modernization," Washington said. "This is not just about the technology, [it's about] things like workforce. I've seen an evolution take place in terms of people being receptive to change."

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