Ag funds stalled
- By Colleen O'Hara
- Apr 10, 2000
The House Agriculture appropriations subcommittee is withholding fiscal
2000 funds for one of the Agriculture Department's major computer modernization
plans until the USDA submits more details on how the money will be spent.
The chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Joe Skeen (R-N.M.),
and ranking member Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) said last week in a letter
to USDA Secretary Dan Glickman that they have "serious concerns" about the
USDA's plan for its Common Computing Environment. CCE will standardize systems
throughout department field offices.
Skeen and Kaptur asked for details about how the $12.6 million appropriated
for CCE in fiscal 2000 will be spent. The fiscal 2000 Agriculture Appropriations
Act required congressional Appropriations and Agriculture committees to
approve the department's CCE plan before releasing the funds. But Skeen
and Kaptur said that the USDA plan submitted March 2 is not specific enough.
They also are concerned about the USDA's decision to terminate vendor
support for aging Farm Service Agency systems because the move could force
the USDA to acquire a system that may not be compatible with the CCE platform.
Also, before the subcommittee can "seriously consider" the USDA's $75
million fiscal 2001 budget request for CCE, "we have to be sure that the
department is ready and able to manage this project," the letter said.
Glickman will draft a response with more specificity, said Joseph Leo,
the USDA's chief information officer. However, Leo said that the USDA is
faced with funding constraints, the departure of 10,000 workers over the
past several years and a farm crisis that Congress and other stakeholders
don't fully recognize.
"I have yet to see the full understanding of the backdrop on which we
are trying to make this happen," he said.
Originally, the USDA had requested $74 million in fiscal 2000 to fund
the Service Center Modernization Initiative — which includes CCE — leaving
a large funding gap, Leo said. In addition, the subcommittee shot down the
department's plan to create a new Support Services Bureau, which would merge
the administrative functions of Farm Service Agency missions into one. These
actions forced the department to rethink its plan, Leo said.
The need to modernize the county-based delivery infrastructure "is getting
even more important as each day goes by," Leo said.Seeding CCE
The Common Computing Environment is the critical component of the USDA's
Service Center Modernization Initiative, which will provide a single, integrated
and modern technology system for county-based agencies. USDA wants a fully
operational system in 2002.
CCE devices include:
* Interchangeable computers.
* Network/communications servers.
* Application servers.
* Geographic information systems servers.
* Public access servers.