USDA to merge e-mail, data systems

Move is first step in department's consolidation plans

'We are infrastructure support, and my approach is [that] we are here to provide a service, and they pay for it.' David Combs, Agriculture CIO

E-mail will be first on the list to go.
The Agriculture Department plans to consolidate
three platforms and five different
versions into Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange
2003 by October 2007.


And that's only the beginning. The
agency will next target LANs and data
centers for consolidation. In the meantime,
the department's overall security
stature will improve because,
officials say, they have no
choice after receiving failing
grades on the Federal Information
Security Management
scorecard the last five
years.


Agriculture CIO David
Combs and his staff have laid
out an ambitious strategy to
change the way the agency
works.


Combs' plan is to take the
complex issues, worry and
costs out of the hands of the
department's agencies and of-
fices, and let them concentrate
on their mission priorities.


'We are infrastructure support,
and my approach is
[that] we are here to provide
a service, and they pay for it,'
he said recently at a lunch in
Washington sponsored by the
Association for Federal Information
Resources Management.


'Ideally, they will get
efficiencies and spend less
money for e-mail and desktop
services.'


Agriculture spends about $2 billion annually
on IT, with $1.5 billion going for
systems. That includes 330 investments,
of which 66 are classified as major, Combs
said. And it's in that $1.5 billion that his of-
fice is trying to save money.


The CIO's office presented USDA management
with three back-office areas that
could be consolidated'LAN, e-mail and
data centers. E-mail was the first choice.


'We did research and found that the
e-mail would give us the biggest bang
for the buck for the employees,' said
Cheryl McQuery, USDA's assistant chief
information officer in charge of the initiative.


McQuery said 76 percent of the employees
already use Microsoft, while the other
24 percent use Lotus Notes or Novell.


USDA will use existing contracts for
hardware and software, including the
General Services Administration's Federal
Supply Service schedule and an enterprise
software agreement with Microsoft, to
complete the project, she said.


McQuery added that they do not plan to
hire a systems integrator because of the
skills they have in-house within the IT
services center organization.


'We have some policy and design issues
to work on,' she said. 'We also have to figure
out where we will want to host the system
and how to train the users.'


Once the e-mail consolidation is finished,
USDA then will work on the other
two areas. McQuery said she expects the
Office of Management and Budget's
newest Line of Business for IT Infrastructure
to play a role in consolidating the data
center and LAN components.


USDA also is looking to consolidate its
IT service centers, said Bob Suda, the
agency's associate chief information offi-
cer.


Suda, who oversees Agriculture's National
IT Center in Kansas City, Mo., and
the IT services and telecommunications
offices, both of which are in Washington,
said the department has two offices performing
hosting services and three supporting
telecommunications. Officials
want to reduce that to one office for each.


Additionally, Suda said, the offices are
aligning their infrastructures to support
OMB's Line of Business initiatives.


'That is one of our main driving forces.
We are heavily involved in that discussion
with OMB and the [General Services Administration],'
he said.


In the meantime, Agriculture
is shoring up its cybersecurity.


Lynn Allen, USDA's chief
information security officer,
said the agency will release a
request for information later
this month for a blanket purchase
agreement to perform
the certification and accreditation
of its systems and an
independent validation and
verification of the C&A.


A request for proposals
would follow the RFI in late
June or early July, and offi-
cials expect the contract to be
in place by Oct. 1. The BPA
would replace one from
2002, Allen said.


'We have made significant
improvements in our entire
security program since last
year's FISMA scores,' Allen
said. 'We need to update the
BPA because companies have
merged or don't do this kind
of work anymore.'


Allen also is performing
program security reviews
at the bureau level
where his office analyzes
the confidence of all
programs.


'We are prioritizing
based on the financial
systems and how many
dollars those systems are processing,'
Allen said. 'Another factor is how they did
on their last program security review, and
how they are doing currently in the security
arena.'


The CIO's office tracks each bureau
monthly on a scorecard.


Allen said his office already has reviewed
six bureaus and expects to do four more by
the end of the year.

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