Site speeds answers to farmers

Farm Service Agency home page

The Farm Service Agency plans to announce today that it has added an intelligent

search feature to its nationwide intranet portal, enabling employees to

more quickly answer questions submitted by farmers.

FSA, part of the Agriculture Department, will use RetrievalWare, an

intelligent search system from Excalibur Technologies Corp., to index and

retrieve information via the Internet and intranets. About 18,000 FSA employees

are expected to use the new feature to more quickly gather data to fulfill

research requests from farmers nationwide, said Susan Karr, chief of FSA's

Information Management and Processing Division.

FSA administers services such as farm commodity programs, loans, conservation

programs and emergency assistance.

The search function will enable users to search a range of information

distributed across databases, including text files, HTML documents, relational

databases, word processing and publishing systems, and groupware systems.

"When a farmer comes in with a specific project, [FSA] would have had

to search across five handbooks. Now, the search shows the hits, and they

can just toggle through," Karr said.

FSA used to photocopy and mail agency manuals and handbooks to its 51

main offices. The offices would then photocopy and distribute the documents

to a network of about 2,500 USDA service centers, and if an amendment was

made to a document, another wave of photocopying and mailing would occur.

To date, more than 100 searchable categories have been established,

and 31 handbooks are available on the intranet. About 230 farm and business

handbooks will be available when the project is completed by 2001.

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