Congress questions IRM leadership

The Agriculture Department is again in trouble with Congress, which is questioning the leadership of technology programs at USDA and has asked the General Services Administration to suspend certain delegations of procurement authority (DPAs).

In a letter to GSA last month, House Agriculture Committee chairman Rep. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) asked GSA "to suspend any existing DPAs that support the service centers, field office information technology architectures or related support services contracts" in the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Rural Economic and Community Development (RECD).

He also asked that GSA delay issuing any new DPAs to these agencies "until the committee is satisfied that expenditures are consistent with the [field office] consolidation and overhead-reduction goals."

Representatives from FSA, the NRCS and RECD make up the National Food and Agriculture Council, the group recently put in charge of coordinating the Service Center Implementation program, previously known as Info Share.

The objective of the shift in responsibility, which resulted in disbanding the Info Share office, was to bring the implementation of the program closer to the agencies most affected by it.

Ann Thomson Reed, deputy assistant secretary for administration at the USDA, said the department has "moved very aggressively in the past year to establish new processes and systems. The secretary has established an IRM modernization program that addresses management issues, decision making and departmentwide architecture for telecommunications, business and data management." She added that a "more interactive" IRM Management Council is spearheading the development of the department's technical architecture.

The modernization program parallels the IT Management Reform Act requirements, "so we feel that we are well-positioned to implement that because we have a framework in place," she said.

The USDA also plans to set up a council that will support capital and strategic planning processes.

Still, Roberts said in his letter, there are concerns with IRM leadership and program management at the USDA and with "GSA's apparent willingness to continue to issue DPAs in spite of [a lack of] evidence of any measurable improvements in IRM management, service delivery or elimination of redundant administrative management processes."

However, the request for GSA action may be too late. On Aug. 8, the Brooks Act, which gave GSA central procurement authority, will be repealed, and all DPAs will disappear, including those on current contracts.

"GSA's central control [of agency procurements] is history," said Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc.

As a result, Dornan said he finds it interesting that the committee would ask GSA to suspend any DPAs, although he added that "sometimes a shot across the bow is useful."

"It's an ongoing concern that the USDA has spent a lot of money on computer systems without having a plan in place," a source on the House Agriculture Committee said. "The purpose of the letter is to send another message to the USDA and GSA that we want to be satisfied that decisions are being made in a systematic process."

GSA is expected to respond to the letter this week.

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