almost ready

A single, customizable Web portal for ranchers and farmers is coming within the next three weeks, according to Scott Charbo, the Agriculture Department's chief information officer.

Nearly two years in the making, a "MyUSDA" feature on will allow users to create a personal account that stores content and alert preferences, and conduct some online business transactions. The USDA has about 9 million Web pages, Charbo said.

"That's a lot of content and a lot of information to try and know all the links to," he said.

Rather than surf multiple USDA sites, those with specialized interests in, for example, soil conditions and corn production will be able to select those topics and see related content every time they log onto, Charbo said.

"We will bring information across all [USDA] agencies to you. That's forms, alerts, news releases, whatever," he said.

Citizens doing business with the USDA will also gain access to online customer statements and can have loan deficiency payments deposited into a bank account. USDA employees will be able to access their payroll accounts.

Many of these services are already available, but they require multiple log-ons. Electronic customer statements became available in March, and the department unveiled its nationwide Electronic Loan Deficiency Payment service earlier this week.

To sign up to conduct business transactions on, users must visit a USDA office and bring photo identification with them, Charbo said. Any of the approximately 2,700 USDA county service offices will be able to set up the higher-security accounts, he added. A future capability of will be to accept accredited user accounts created elsewhere in the federal government.

Rural communities' typically lower bandwidth access will not hinder access to the new Web site, Charbo said. "We can stream video, but that's an option. We don't stream a lot of video for everything, you don't build a lot of sound effects, you don't build a heavy bandwidth page," he said. Rather than require online data entry, users will download then re-upload applications, he added.

"There's a variety of ways to work around low bandwidth," Charbo said.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.


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