USDA spends $30 million for desktop, portable PCs

The Agriculture Department late last month awarded four contracts worth almost $30
million for year 2000-ready desktop and notebook PCs.

USDA will buy 9,151 Compaq DeskPro EPs worth about $15 million from MicroAge Federal of
Vienna, Va., and 6,037 DeskPros worth almost $10 million from Native American Systems Inc.
of Englewood, Colo.

The department will also buy 806 Dell Computer Corp. Latitude CPi266XT notebooks for
about $2.5 million from Intelligent Decisions Inc. of Chantilly, Va., and 485 Latitudes
worth almost $1.7 million from World Wide Technology Inc. of St. Louis, said Bill Gardner,
Agriculture’s senior policy adviser for service center implementation.

“Not only will this hardware solve the agencies’ Y2K problems, it will give
them an initial core to run common office applications and e-mail systems and begin using
the Internet to better serve our customers,” he said.

The contracts establish common desktop systems in Agriculture’s farm, conservation
and rural development agencies, Gardner said.

The contracts are part of Phase 1 of the department’s Common Computing Environment
for the Service Center Program. Through the CCE program, Agriculture wants to create an
overarching systems infrastructure serving users at 3,100 sites. The department plans to
complete the $3 billion program by 2011.

Through the contracts and a follow-on contract next year, USDA agencies will replace
equipment that is not 2000-ready.

The future CCE phases, in 2000 and 2001, will provide additional PCs, create a shared
network and deploy any hardware or software needed for the enterprisewide architecture,
Agriculture officials said.

Meanwhile, the department has come under fire from the General Accounting Office for
its handling of the program.

“USDA has failed in past efforts to plan and manage information technology
modernization, and some of the same fundamental planning and management weaknesses that
caused past failures threaten this effort,” said GAO in a recent report, USDA Service
Centers: Multibillion Dollar Effort to Modernize Processes and Technology Faces
Significant Risks.

The GAO report, citing Agriculture’s plan to provide one-stop service at all of
its service centers, said the department needs to redesign its business practices before
it buys equipment.

The GAO report also said Agriculture is not managing its IT projects for its service
centers as investments and has failed to identify critical milestones. Agriculture agreed
with some of GAO’s findings and recommendations but disagreed with others.

USDA will complete a comprehensive plan identifying critical milestones, project
dependencies and resources required for the systems modernization, said Richard E.
Rominger, deputy secretary of Agriculture and chief operations officer.

Agriculture officials disagreed with GAO’s conclusion that it must define and
document a concept of operations for providing one-stop service in all of its service
centers before investing in new IT.

“Because the business re-engineering process will take several years to complete,
the investments cannot wait until the full process is completed,” Rominger said. n

Agriculture also has improved senior management oversight and project design and
management controls over the past three years, he said.   

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