Saturday, January 24, 2009

FSA, IT, and Stimulus

Here's an article on Nextgov about FSA and the $245 million. Two of the final paragraphs:

Patrick Hanley, project manager for the program to modernize the farm benefits system, said the agency is working closely with the Office of Management and Budget to make sure the new systems would comply with the federal enterprise architecture, to ensure FSA's systems can share information with other federal agencies. Hanley said the $245 million in the House stimulus bill would allow FSA to stabilize the current infrastructure and initiate modernization efforts. The money would satisfy estimates for the first two years of implementation, Taitano said.

Agency officials also are looking into commercial off-the-shelf software solutions that could help with payment processing, according to Hanley. But the initial focus will be on infrastructure and making sure the back-end servers and network are capable of handling the volume of transactions at FSA, he said.

Many years ago (i.e., 1989) we were working on the cost-benefit justification for the replacement of the System/36's with the idea there would be a big bang, big buy. Like Sisyphus, we kept rolling the rock up the hill, and having it come back and squash us. Best I can tell, in the 20 years since there was a piecemeal replacement of System/36's with AS/400's, a gradual migration of some common functions and certain programs to the Internet, and a bit of integration between NRCS and FSA. (I'm probably biased in my assessment.)

To the extent USDA needs to buy more servers and network hardware, that should be doable within this FY. That is, it may be "shovel ready". I don't know about software development--GAO has questioned USDA's management of the MIDAS project. See my posts here and here

FSA has moved its payment function out of the county offices to centralized processing in Kansas City. That's been operational for a month or so, and hasn't blown up, yet. So I'm not clear on what COTS (commercial off-the-shelf software) could help.

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