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FCW : November and December 2016
When you think of the Agriculture Department, your first thought might be food safety. Although that’s accu- rate, the department is also planning big moves to offer services to all fed- eral agencies — whether as a platform- as-a-service provider or as a financial services and systems provider. Not surprisingly then, the biggest slices of USDA’s fiscal 2017 IT budget pie are big data and analytics technol- ogy, as well as virtualization, storage and network gear. How big a budget are we talking about? The department has asked for $3.2 billion for IT in fiscal 2017 out of an overall discretionary budget of $24.2 billion. That’s 14 percent more than its fiscal 2016 IT budget, and if approved, it would make USDA’s IT budget the sixth largest of the civilian agencies. That increase in requested dollars appears to be part of a move by USDA to build clout among other agencies and offer services across the govern- ment by playing to its strengths. From practical to fanciful One of USDA’s key strengths is its finan- cial programs. As one of the main federal providers of loaned capital to farmers, the department has considerable interest in building its loan processing and cus- tomer engagement capabilities. USDA’s National Finance Center (NFC) has plans to become the largest financial services platform provider in the gov- ernment, competing with the Interior Department’s Interior Business Center. Furthermore, the Farm Service Agen- cy accounts for 10 percent of USDA’s fis- cal 2017 budget request, with that money aimed at developing loan processing and customer engagement through the Con- solidated Farm Loan Program. On the hardware side, USDA is equally ambitious. The National Infor- mation Technology Center, the depart- ment’s main infrastructure group, spends a great deal of money on data center procurements. NITC has effec- tively become a shared-services center for infrastructure by offering platform- as-a-service to internal and external stakeholders across the government. Then there’s the outright fanciful. When the Federal Aviation Adminis- tration issued permits allowing com- mercial drones to be used in agricul- ture, USDA set plans in motion for its own implementation. To plan for resource allocation and budgeting, the department will need big-data analy- sis of crop imagery and related data gathered by unmanned aerial vehicles. That is a lot of big planning. To ensure success, USDA CIO Jonathan Alboum has emphasized the absolute importance of big data and analytics, along with visualization technology, in USDA’s IT infrastructure. Programs and activities behind the growth And where specifically will that money go? Activities that USDA funds include Enterprise End User Shared Services, which (with its steady-state budgeting level of $231 million) supplies USDA BY KEVIN SHAKER The Agriculture Department’s fiscal 2017 budget request hints at big plans for cross-agency services USDA: A powerhouse in shared services? DrillDown 30 November/December 2016 FCW.COM IT at USDA, by the numbers $24.2 billion the overall discretionary budget for USDA in fiscal 2017 $3.2 billion the amount of that budget that would go toward IT 14% USDA’s increase in IT spending since fiscal 2016 1216fcw_030-031.indd 30 11/8/16 4:10 PM
January and February 2017