August 3, 2022

Ministry of Agriculture: Accelerated modernization | Federal News Network

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

A point on each of the projects:

For Farmers.gov, the analysis and proof of concept is complete. We found tremendous value in the comprehensive analysis and its usefulness for our process improvements and IT modernization efforts, same for the proof of concept. A formal decision on next steps is pending. As for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, that effort is complete. This project provided strong lessons learned for our planned and expanded cloud-use efforts.

What did the USDA use TMF board money for?

Here is how the funding was used for each of the investments:

Source: USDA

To what extent has the TMF loan enabled the USDA to modernize each of these projects?

The Technology Modernization Fund loan was an accelerator and, according to the project, helped secure funding sooner than usual. The TMF loan also placed additional – and significant – management attention and oversight on the projects. Without TMF funding, both projects would likely have been addressed in later budget cycles. For example, new broader cloud efforts would have included the Watershed Emergency Program.

Has the USDA repaid any part of the loans?

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

Farmers.gov gate

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

Infrastructure optimization and cloud adoption

  • USDA received $5 million from TMF in November 2018
  • The USDA borrowed $500,000 from the TMF in February 2019
  • USDA used $250,000 for NRCS emergency watershed protection in April 2019
  • The USDA issued its first and final refund to the TMF for $515,000 in September 2020

Agricultural marketing service Specialty Crops Program

  • The USDA received $8 million from the TMF in December 2019 and borrowed $2 million from the TMF the same month
  • USDA borrowed $2.5 million from TMF in April 2020
  • USDA borrowed $2.5 million from TMF in September 2020
  • The USDA will issue its first refund of $515,000 in August 2021

How does the USDA determine how much money it saves?

For the cloud, it is measured by a reduction in hosting costs. When it comes to Farmers.gov, many of the benefits will come from cost avoidance. For example, by improving workflow and system efficiency, agency field staff will spend less time performing registration and program management activities, reducing duplicate data entry and improving the customer experience.

How does the USDA share its lessons learned?

The USDA should provide, and has done so, on a recurring basis, updates to the TMF Board of Directors on project status, lessons learned, etc. other agencies to read and use.

What advice would the USDA give to other agencies?

USDA recommended that other agencies think clearly about expected project results, clear identification of savings and repayment plan, and ensure they have a strong project team and internal executive control in place.