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Stabenow, Peters: Spotty IT Affecting Farm Bill Implementation
USAgNet - 08/22/2019

U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to investigate whether Information Technology (IT) changes at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) were improving or interfering with service to Michigan farmers and affecting the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill.

The USDA's IT infrastructure plays an important behind-the-scenes role to connect farmers, ranchers, and other customers with services and information, including new programs in the 2018 Farm Bill. In the past, the Department has faced challenges with costly and rushed modernization efforts that remain incomplete. 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 USDA scheduled enrollment in the Farm Bill's new Dairy Margin Coverage safety net for June in order to provide time to develop the IT -- six months after the Farm Bill was signed into law. Even with this delay, some dairy farmers reported that the IT was initially unreliable and had to make multiple trips to the Farm Services Agency office to complete enrollment. Similarly for the subsequent payment software, some field office employees waited to submit forms for payment until a week after it came online in order to avoid the glitches they have learned to expect. In a letter, the Senators requested the Government Accountability Office to review the effectiveness of the Department's IT modernization efforts.

"Modernizing IT is a challenge across the federal government and this is no different at USDA," wrote the Senators. "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."

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