USDA modernization picks up momentum

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is ramping up one of its major computer

modernization programs, which will enable it to deliver centralized services

to farmers nationwide.

On Nov. 9, the department awarded a $27.7 million contract to PlanetGov.com

to provide 2,700 IBM Corp. Netfinity network servers and associated software.

The servers will tie together the thousands of workstations located

in the department's county-based service centers and provide those employees

with business-quality e-mail, security tools, and the ability to manage

the workstations and network from a central location.

The servers are part of the department's Common Computing Environment

program that will field a common set of desktop computers, applications

and other technologies to the service centers. These service centers will

provide farmers with one-stop shopping for services such as farm loan applications,

instead of making them visit three agencies for assistance.

The servers are the first piece of shared equipment the service centers

have had, said Bill Gardner, senior policy adviser for CCE at the USDA.

"This is the linchpin that really brings it all together."

During the past several years, the department has upgraded its telecommunications,

networking systems and other infrastructure.

CCE is a 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.

Meanwhile, this fiscal year should continue to be busy for the department.

Plans in the works include the purchase of additional workstations, support

services, training and security services for the CCE program.

The USDA is also rewriting about 8 million lines of legacy Cobol software

code into modern code to run on other platforms, such as Java, and is putting

the finishing touches on an integrated information technology framework.

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