USDA: Putting plans in place

Some of our readers may have a sense of dé jà vu when reading about the latest freeze on large computer purchases at the Agriculture Department. Congress the General Accounting Office and various agency executives have been trying for years to bring this far-flung agency's buying under better control. Since 1993 Congress has been sending USDA ever-stronger signals that it would not continue to fund computer purchases without a better plan for their integration and use.

So now the agency itself has put a hold on all large purchases until a plan is completed. This is certainly a reasonable if long overdue approach. We see no reason to continue to buy computers unless there is a strategic vision in place.

A few observers have speculated that this dramatic move by USDA was intended to forestall threatened budget cuts or freezes from appropriations forces on Capitol Hill.

We suspect Hill interest may well have had something to do with the speed of the action however now that the planning is under way we hope that USDA will grapple with the tough issues and produce an architecture that is realistic and applicable.

We cannot forget the counsel of one government executive who said that when under the gun always agree to produce an architecture. "No one knows what it is so once it's completed no one will argue " he said proudly. We hope that is not the current situation.

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