USDA picks GIS standard

The Agriculture Department has signed a five-year, $32 million blanket purchase agreement to standardize geographic information systems products throughout the department for the first time.

The contract, announced this week, will expand the use of GIS technology throughout the department by providing a suite of ESRI software tools to all USDA agencies.

The pact also includes upgrading legacy software used by agencies that are already using GIS tools, such as the Forest Service.

"I am pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that includes all of USDA," said Ira Hobbs, acting USDA CIO, in a press release. "GIS technology will play a very important role in the future of USDA."

The contract includes the use of longtime ESRI products, such as ArcInfo and ArcView, as well as newer Internet-based and database tools, John Steffenson, ESRI account manager for USDA, said in an interview. Desktop and professional versions will be available to department users, he said.

"This standardizes GIS across the department," Steffenson said.

The department and ESRI will work together to identify areas in which GIS can improve services, Steffenson said. There are high hopes for GIS' ability to improve crop yields, for example. GIS will play a major role in the re-engineering of USDA's Service Center agencies—including the Farm Service Agency—according to USDA.

"It provides tremendous opportunities to help farmers do things faster, better, cheaper," Steffenson said. "We're looking forward to developing that partnership with the department."

Steffenson said the department first identified a need to standardize about four years ago. Standardization should cut down on costs and simplify operations, he said.

"The bigger the piece of technology you're trying to acquire, the more efficient it is," Steffenson said.

This contract could spur other departments to consider similar deals, he said.

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