Monday, May 19, 2008

I'd Be Crying If I Weren't Laughing

I don't know what Yogi Berra would call it. In part, it's "deja vu all over again", but it's also the situation where you don't know whether to laugh or cry. What am I talking about:
  1. Congress just passed a new farm bill. Although the changes in FSA programs for 2008 don't look too major, doing the ACRE program for 2009 will be. And handling the changes in payment limitation rules, particularly attribution to individuals, will be hard.
  2. GAO just released a report on USDA's attempts to modernize their IT systems. Some excerpts:
"USDA never completed the MIDAS requirements development process because key program officials lost confidence that the process would be an effective solution to meet USDA's future business needs and consequently withdrew their support...

"According to USDA officials, as of October 2007, they had spent approximately $18 million to take steps towards achieving these objectives. For example, they had expanded telecommunication channels, acquired more sophisticated firewalls, and had a contractor prepare the first draft of process flow diagrams of selected program delivery processes....

"Until USDA addresses the inconsistent tracking of users’ reported problems and the lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities, it may not be able to establish a solid foundation for achieving and sustaining stability in the farm program delivery systems. As a result, the department faces the risk that its stabilization plan will not ensure that it is able to successfully deliver benefits to farmers in the future...
Why am I crying and laughing? Well, when we first installed System-36's in the county offices, it was in the same general period as the implementation of the 1985 farm bill. By the 1990's, we were working on Info Share, a project to share information and computer systems among ASCS, SCS, FmHA, etc. (all obsolete acronyms now) and the new farm bill. By 1996, another new farm bill and a project to merge the IT and administrative ends of NRCS, FSA, and RD. (I retired toward the end of 1997.) And to modernize the IT.

Now, some 11 years later, USDA is still in the same situation vis a vis IT systems. They seem to have dropped the idea of cross-agency coordination, but they're no nearer having documentat6ion of their business processes and they're facing the criticism of GAO. And facing implementation of a new farm bill. Time for employees to take the buyout.

The only redeeming feature is that agriculture is in better shape today than in 1985/6, so USDA/FSA screwups won't hurt farmers as much as they might.

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