USDA planning telecom network

The Agriculture Department plans to build a departmentwide telecommunications network that would provide a scalable, secure and reliable infrastructure for data, according to Ira Hobbs, acting chief information officer at the USDA.

Hobbs said planning for the "universal telecommunications network" is in its early stages. However, within the next six months, he hopes to complete a business case for the program.

Hobbs, speaking March 4 at the Information Processing Interagency Conference in Orlando, Fla., said the department must first evaluate its existing infrastructure and then decide "the architecture for the future." USDA officials have not made a decision on potential acquisitions that the department might pursue or where FTS 2001 might fit in, he said.

In 1999, the USDA released a draft statement of work for a similar program that would have established a common set of equipment and provided a common core of network transmission and management services.

Meanwhile, Hobbs said the USDA Executive Council is prioritizing the e-government initiatives the department will pursue. Hobbs said the council has narrowed the list to 12 initiatives and they reflect the White House's agenda, including in the areas of e-grants, e-loans and public-key infrastructure.

Some of the USDA's e-government projects will be completed in 18 months, while some "will be the initial steps of a longer-term vision," Hobbs said. The USDA is involved in 15 out of the 24 cross-agency e-government projects, he added.

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