Agriculture Department: Modernization accelerated

This story is part of an exclusive look inside the projects funded by the Technology Modernization Fund. To see the other stories in this series, use the main navigation page.

An update on each of the projects:

With respect to Farmers.gov, the analysis and proof of concept are complete. We’ve found tremendous value in the comprehensive analysis and its usefulness for our process improvements and IT modernization efforts, ditto the proof of concept. A formal determination on next steps is being made. As for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, that effort is complete. This project provided strong lessons learned for our planned, expanded cloud utilization efforts.

What has USDA used the money from the TMF Board for?

This is how the funding has been used for each of the investments:

Source: USDA

How much faster has the TMF loan enabled USDA to move with modernizing each of these projects?

The Technology Modernization Fund loan was an accelerant, and depending on the project, helped get funding placed sooner than normal. The TMF loan also placed additional — and important — executive attention and oversight on the projects. Without the TMF funding, both projects would likely have been tackled in later budget cycles. As an example, new, broader, cloud efforts would have included the Emergency Watershed Program.

Has USDA paid back any portion of the loans?

Here is the information for the three investments with the TMF:

Farmers.gov portal

  • USDA was awarded $10 million from the TMF in July 2018
  • USDA borrowed $4 million from the TMF in August 2018
  • USDA made its first repayment to the TMF for $103,000 in August 2019, and its second repayment for $1,030,000 in August 2020

Infrastructure Optimization and Cloud Adoption

  • USDA was awarded $5 million from the TMF in November 2018
  • USDA borrowed $500,000 from the TMF in February 2019
  • USDA used $250,000 for the NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection in April 2019
  • USDA made its first and final repayment to the TMF for $515,000 in September 2020

Agricultural Marketing Service’s Specialty Crops Program

  • USDA was awarded $8 million from the TMF in December 2019 and borrowed $2 million from the TMF that same month
  • USDA borrowed $2.5 million from the TMF in April 2020
  • USDA borrowed $2.5 million from the TMF in September 2020
  • USDA will issue its first repayment for $515,000 in August 2021

How is USDA determining how much money its saving?

For cloud, it is measured by a reduction in hosting costs. With respect to the Farmers.gov, many of the benefits will be accrued through cost avoidances. For example, by improving workflow and system efficiencies the agency’s field staff will spend less time completing program enrollment and management activities, reducing duplicate data entry, and improving the customer experience.

How is USDA sharing its lessons learned?

 USDA is expected to, and has done so, on a recurring basis, provide updates to the TMF Board about project status, lessons learned, etc.  Lessons learned and their “playbook” are expected to be provided and subsequently published by the TMF Board for other agencies to read and use.

What advice would USDA give to other agencies?

USDA recommended that other agencies think clearly about the projects’ expected outcomes, the clear identification of savings and the payback plan, and to ensure that they have a strong project team assigned to it along with internal executive oversight in place.

Related Stories

Comments

Sign up for breaking news alerts