USDA awards animal tracking contract

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Agriculture Department officials awarded a three-year task order worth up to $6.8 million to SI International Inc. for a Web-based system to track imported live animals and animal products.

Officials at the Reston, Va.-based company will design, develop and test what will become the Veterinary Services Processes Streamlining (VSPS) system, which is part of the Veterinary Services program at the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Officials plan to release the system in phases by the end of February 2005 and for six months after that. The system is being developed using a Java 2 Enterprise Edition platform and the support of the USDA's enterprise architecture, said Roger Aspinwall, SI International's senior program manager.

Earlier this year, SI International officials recommended ways for Veterinary Services to electronically capture and analyze information related to international animal imports and exports, domestic interstate movements, and the veterinary accreditation process.

Aspinwall thinks USDA officials decided to create such a system -- integrating legacy databases with other numerous data sources into a single interface -- after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Basically after [Sept. 11], I think everybody kind of woke up," he said. "In fact, if a terrorist wanted to bring in some nasty stuff into country using animals, for example, then we have the real problem. We needed to track these animals. So the client decided that this is a good time to move, especially when the potential of bringing all the community together is in the Web environment."

Officials "decided to fund an effort to create a system that basically integrates animal and animal product movement data that they're capturing now from multiple sources -- it could be in paper, it could be in small databases -- and integrate that into a single database environment with a Web interface attached to it," he said. The eventual goal is to create a complete electronic system.

For example, he said, every time a herd of cattle is transported from Mexico to the United States various papers must be filled out. If those forms are available electronically, importers and exporters will be able to quickly and accurately enter data, such as the number of cattle and their origin and destination. Access to the system will be given to a wide range of users with different security levels.

This will help the veterinary community obtain comprehensive, timely and precise information about the sources of animal and animal product movements and further reduce or prevent animal diseases. VSPS also will interface with the National Animal Identification System being developed to record the locations of all livestock as a way to quickly trace outbreaks of diseases, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease.

Aspinwall said Veterinary Services laboratories also will be part of the user community. For example, when horses are imported, they are quarantined and blood are drawn and sent to labs to check for diseases. He said lab officials will be able to enter results online so the process is accelerated.

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