Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Radiation Alert: FSA Computers Use Cobalt

That was the typo in this Nextgov post on the $250 million for FSA computer fixes in the stimulus package.

(House AG Chair Peterson says he's urged USDA to keep the computer consultants who recommended the money and to do away with the use of "cobalt" (now corrected to "COBOL" in the post). Sounds good, except:
  • I just got through watching Obama talk about new conflict of interest rules. Seems to me hiring computer consultants to implement what they just recommended is exactly the sort of thing our new President does not want.
  • It's very easy to talk about getting rid of COBOL. Unfortunately the FSA systems are so interrelated it's hard. First you have to have a platform to migrate too (which appears now to be a centralized database with internet access). Second you have to maintain the old system, build the new system, and be sure you've handled the interfaces between new and old. (At least that's the way I thought when I worked there. Now I wonder whether we wouldn't have been better off just having the county offices maintain two systems for a couple years. We'll never know now.) And, third you have to respond to the demands from the Hill timely to implement new programs while keeping the old ones going.

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