USDA automating schools' orders

The Agriculture Department plans to implement an online ordering system

for public school systems across the country by the end of this year.

The Electronic Commodity Ordering System (ECOS) will allow public school

systems to place, cancel or modify food orders online that would have had

to previously be done by phone or via paper mail order.

In the past, schools would put in orders to state agencies who would

then forward these orders to the USDA, said Les Johnson, the director of

the food distribution division for the USDA. "Now, we allow schools to put

orders in themselves. The schools will benefit by receiving better customer

service as well as eliminating the paperwork," he said.

Additionally, schools will have more direct involvement for what products

they are ordering and will be able to view order status information in a

matter of seconds, Johnson said.

ATG provided the software for the new system, appointed by EDS, which

was contracted by the USDA. "Our software provides the ability for personalized

views for individual states," said Donna Burnette, the national account

manager for ATG. "We will not have to be regulated by a standard federal

view with the new system," she said.

ECOS will also be able to disseminate information from the USDA to all

the school districts. For example, if the USDA finds out that a large amount

of distributed food had gone bad, officials would be able to alert the school

districts and advise them not to serve it.

The school districts do not need to remove any existing systems to run

ECOS. All they need is Internet access.

Four states are piloting ECOS: California, Connecticut, Illinois and

Virginia. However, the USDA will offer the system to the remaining 46 states

by January.

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