Aug 22, 2019Senators question USDA information technology
Two U.S. Senators – Michigan Democrats Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters – on Aug. 21 asked for an investigation into information technology changes at the USDA.
Stabenow is the Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, while Peters is the Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The two recently wrote a joint open letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office and U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.
“We are particularly interested in whether the changes have improved, interfered with, or added risks for the successful and timely implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill,” they wrote.
Peters and Stabenow raised a specific concern about Michigan dairy farmers who early this summer tried to enroll in a Farm Bill program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had scheduled enrollment in the Farm Bill’s new Dairy Margin Coverage safety net for June in order to provide time to develop the IT, according to the senators – six months after the Farm Bill was signed into law.
“Even with this delay, the IT was initially unreliable and some dairy farmers were told to come back later or had to make multiple trips to complete enrollment,” Peters and Stabenow wrote. “Similarly for the subsequent payment software, some field office employees decided to wait to submit farms for payment until a week after it came on-line in order to avoid the glitches and re-work that they have learned to expect.”
In 2017, the USDA announced a major IT modernization effort, which would merge the IT systems of three agencies, which impact farmers and ranchers most directly: Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Services, and the Risk Management Agency. The goal was to improve the information technology flow between those three agencies, while at the same time improving customer service for farmers and ranchers.
“We have no choice but to modernize – we cannot continue to conduct business for the next 150 years based on splintered and out-of-date operating models,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Steve Censky said in the USDA’s September 2017 press release.
Stabenow and Peters, however, are asking for a more “in-depth analysis” of the USDA’s investments and plans, including the development and functionality of the Farmers.gov portal.
Farmers.gov, coincidentally, was first announced in Michigan – February 2018 at Robinette’s Apple Haus, an orchard and market outside Grand Rapids.
“We’re going to continue to grow Farmers.gov, where you can sit in those autonomous, GPS-driven combines and tractors while you’re scrolling across the web, and you can report your crops, you can connect, you can apply and do different things like that in an electronic format,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said at the time.
Above, Farmers.gov is unveiled at a breakfast hosted by the Michigan Farm Bureau. Photos: Stephen Kloosterman