Agriculture CIO gets keys to IT

In a move designed to improve management of the Agriculture Department's

modernization program, the department's chief information officer has been

given direct responsibility for the success of key IT modernization programs.

No longer does Joseph Leo, CIO at the USDA, have a purely oversight

role in how the department deploys information technology systems to support

its Service Center Modernization Initiative. He is now directly responsible

for managing the initiative's IT investments.

The USDA's struggling Service Center Modernization Initiative will combine

the program services of the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation

Service and Rural Development mission areas. These county-based agencies

will deliver about $55 billion in farm, conservation and rural development

programs and services this fiscal year.

The Common Computing Environment is a cornerstone of the modernization program.

Through CCE, the department will field a common set of desktop computers,

applications and other technologies to its service centers nationwide. These

service centers will provide farmers with one-stop shopping for services

such as farm loan applications. Farmers traditionally had to visit three

agencies for assistance.

Leo will have responsibility for CCE planning and acquisition; the interoperability

lab in Beltsville, Md.; and other modernization initiatives.

"The Service Center Modernization Initiative is among the secretary's

highest priorities," Leo said last week at a House appropriations subcommittee

hearing.

Leo also underscored the importance of receiving full fiscal 2001 funding

for modernization. The USDA asked for $75 million to continue installing

the CCE and another $6.6 million for IT security.

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