House targets Agriculture IT modernization for budget cuts

House targets Agriculture IT modernization for budget cuts

The Agriculture Department's Common Computing Environment effort could be put on hold if the Senate follows the House's lead on the fiscal 2004 budget.

Last week, the House approved an appropriations bill that would slash almost $77 million from the $178 million President Bush requested for the CCE modernization project and other supporting technology initiatives.

Less funding could also mean a longer wait for USDA to migrate applications and data from legacy systems to CCE, through which USDA plans to provide e-government services to customers, such as farmers, ranchers and commodities organizations, an Agriculture official said.

'If it occurs, it will affect that,' said Richard Roberts, executive project manager for the project in Agriculture's CIO office.

The Senate received the House version of the spending bill, HR 2673, on Thursday. The Senate, which is working on its own version, will debate the bill as early as this week, Senate schedulers said.

The CCE initiative is the foundation for modernizing Agriculture's service center agencies, including the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural Development Mission Area. Through CCE, the department has been building an infrastructure to support its bureaus' ability to share data among themselves and customers and streamline business processes. The chief goal is to allow electronic transactions.

USDA in its budget planned to make critical investments next year in geographic information systems technology that agencies would use to analyze land and soil data electronically.

Further, the Bush administration said in a statement, the budget reduction 'will slow USDA's progress on implementing a geographical information system that would improve USDA's ability to effectively administer commodity and conservation programs and to track natural disasters, animal and plant disease outbreaks, and bioterrorism events.'

Service center agencies have been making modest investments in GIS for the last few years, but budget constraints and program demands slowed their acquisition of land and soil data needed to use the GIS software, USDA officials said.

Most of the $45 million increase requested for CCE was marked for GIS investments, according to the budget request. The House erased that and some funds earmarked for equipment enhancements and some migration projects.

The House bill also rejected increases to meet systems security requirements, the administration statement said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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