SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOC47449 CC
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE YEAR 2000 COMPLIANCE ACT
SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS,
NUTRITION, AND FOREIGN AGRICULTURE
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
MARCH 3, 1998
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSerial No. 10542
Printed for the use of the Committee on Agriculture
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
ROBERT F. (BOB) SMITH, Oregon, Chairman
LARRY COMBEST, Texas,
BILL BARRETT, Nebraska
JOHN A. BOEHNER, Ohio
THOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
JOHN T. DOOLITTLE, California
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
NICK SMITH, Michigan
TERRY EVERETT, Alabama
FRANK D. LUCAS, Oklahoma
RON LEWIS, Kentucky
HELEN CHENOWETH, Idaho
JOHN N. HOSTETTLER, Indiana
ED BRYANT, Tennessee
MARK FOLEY, Florida
SAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJO ANN EMERSON, Missouri
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
ROY BLOUNT, Missouri
CHARLES W. (CHIP) PICKERING, Mississippi
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
CHARLES W. STENHOLM, Texas,
Ranking Minority Member
GEORGE E. BROWN, Jr., California
GARY A. CONDIT, California
COLLIN C. PETERSON, Minnesota
CALVIN M. DOOLEY, California
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
DAVID MINGE, Minnesota
EARL F. HILLIARD, Alabama
EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
SCOTTY BAESLER, Kentucky
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr., Georgia
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
SAM FARR, California
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMARION BERRY, Arkansas
VIRGIL H. GOODE, Jr., Virginia
MIKE McINTYRE, North Carolina
DEBBIE STABENOW, Michigan
BOB ETHERIDGE, North Carolina
CHRISTOPHER JOHN, Louisiana
JAY W. JOHNSON, Wisconsin
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
PAUL UNGER, Majority Staff Director
DAVID G. DYE, Chief Counsel
STEPHEN HATERIUS, Minority Staff Director
VERNIE HUBERT, Minority Counsel
Subcommittee on Department Operations, Nutrition, and ForeignAgriculture
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia, Chairman
THOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
NICK SMITH, Michigan
MARK FOLEY, Florida
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMARION BERRY, Arkansas
GEORGE E. BROWN, Jr., California
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr., Georgia
C O N T E N T S
H.R. 3280, To clarify and enhance the authorities of the Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Goodlatte, Hon. Bob, a Representative in Congress from the State of Virginia, opening statement
Latham, Hon. Tom, a Representative in Congress from the State of Iowa
Reed, Anne Thomson, Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Willemssen, Joel, Director, Civil Agencies Information Systems, U.S. General Accounting Office.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE YEAR 2000 COMPLIANCE ACT
TUESDAY, MARCH 3, 1998
House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Department Operations,
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCNutrition, and Foreign Agriculture,
Committee on Agriculture,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:35 a.m., in room 1300, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Bob Goodlatte (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representative Canady, Smith of Michigan, Thune, Clayton, Brown, and Bishop.
Staff present: Kevin Kramp, subcommittee staff director; Bryce Quick, professional staff; Gregory Zerzan, associate counsel;Brian Hard, Jason Vaillancourt, Callista Bisek, Wanda Worsham, clerk; and Russell Middleton, minority staff consultant.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Good morning, this hearing of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Nutrition, and Foreign Agriculture to review legislation to reform information technology procurement at the U.S. Department of Agriculture will now come to order.
We are going to go a little bit out of order here in order to accommodate the schedule of our good friend from Iowa, Mr. Latham. I am going to give my opening statement after he gives his testimony. And so at this point in time, we want to welcome Congressman Tom Latham. Congressman Latham is a former member of this committee and represents the Fifth Congressional District in Iowa.
Congressman Latham, the microphone is yours.
STATEMENT OF HON. TOM LATHAM, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF IOWA
Mr. LATHAM. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I am honored to be back here at the House Agriculture Committee and also on this subcommittee that I served for 2 years. It is truly a pleasure to be back.
I spent my first 2 years in Congress here working on the 1996 farm bill and am pleased to continue working with the committee from my new seat on the House Appropriations Committee. I believe it is important to work closely in conjunction with our authoring brethren, of which I still feel I am, in the interest of American agriculture.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I am here today to lend my full support to H.R. 3280, the USDA Year 2000 Compliance Enhancement Act. This legislation aims to help USDA gets its information technology house in order to satisfactorily deal with the year 2000 problem.
The history of information technology at USDA has been a disaster. More recently, projects, such as Infoshare, come to mind as shining examples of what not to do. Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted in that endeavor. It led this very committee to limit the 1996 farm bill the amount of money available from the Commodity Credit Corporation for computer purchases. The committee did not believe then, and continues to be skeptical about, the planning and procurement of information technology at the Department.
USDA's information technology problems have prompted the Secretary of Agriculture to impose a moratorium on new telecommunications and information technology purchases and has given rise to a new Executive Information Technology Investment Review Board at USDA to prevent the wastefulness of the past. All of these responses from the Department have been welcome but they are bandaids on an otherwise chronic condition and situation.
The real problem at the Department is one of structure and culture. The Department as currently structured has some 29 different independent agencies with broad missions. Each agency is responsible for its own I.T. budget and procurement. As a result of this stovepipe structure, coordination and communication and proper planning in telecommunications and information technology has been nonexistent. These conditions have contributed to the I.T. disasters at USDA. Instead of thinking strategically about telecommunications and I.T. across agencies, the culture at USDA has encouraged fiefdoms and turf-mindedness. The results have been costly financially and harmful to program delivery.
This situation has direct bearing on the year 2000 problem at USDA. It is my understanding that only about 40 percent of the systems at the Department to date are year 2000 compliant. This is truly of great concern to me. It is my understanding, the chief financial officer just received a new system that was not in compliance with the year 2000. Think about where we're heading. I fear that the overall problems with information technology at USDA are threatening to impact the Department's ability to focus on the year 2000 problem.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Part of the year 2000 solution for the Department is to get its overall I.T. house in order. H.R. 3280 is a good first step in accomplishing that goal. This legislation will put the ''chief'' back into the Chief Information Officer. It will begin to affect the culture that has dominated USDA for so long and start to change the thinking throughout the Department by empowering the Chief Information Officer and by directing a portion of each agencies' information technology budgets to the CIO; the CIO will be in a position to facilitate strategic thinking and coordination among USDA's many agencies while at the same time dealing with the year 2000 problem.
I am confident this legislation is the appropriate response to USDA's problems. I stand ready to assist the subcommittee with this bill as it moves through the legislative process to become law.
Again, I want to thank the chairman for the opportunity to be here today, to lend my full support for this bill. We have got to address this problem. It is ongoing, and it is truly a pleasure to have a chance to work with you, Mr. Chairman, and the subcommittee. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, we thank you, Mr. Latham, for your contribution to this effort, and we know that you are going to continue to be very helpful in this regard as a member of the Appropriations Committee, and we hope that you will take a careful look at what tools you can utilize in that committee and subcommittee to encourage the Department to change their approach to information technology.
Does the gentleman from Michigan have any questions?
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just one question would be on the year 2000 issue.
Is that going to be a governmentwide effort to coordinate that? I mean it certainly is not going to go department-by-department.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LATHAM. Well, I think each department is responsible for their own situation from my understanding. But, yes, we are spending, I think, hundreds of millions of dollars governmentwide right now.
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. That's going to be ridiculous. I can't believe that that will happen, that each department would come up with its own system to deal with the year 2000 problem.
Mr. GOODLATTE. If the gentleman will yield, the problem we have right now is not just each department coming up with their own solution but each agency and sometimes offices within each agency are coming up with separate solutions and that's one of the reasons why we feel this legislation is so important for the Department of Agriculture because we need to have the Chief Information Officer authorized to pull together the coordination of that effort. And have one solution to that problem and other information technology problems and, perhaps, this legislation can be a model for other departments of the Federal Government that are having similar difficulties.
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. Mr. Chairman, in the same vein that this is an effort to coordinate the Department of Agriculture, I would certainly hope that there is some effort to coordinate the government overall so we don't reinvent the wheel in every department.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman and I thank the congressman from Iowa for his participation.
Let me go back to my opening statement at this time.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BOB GOODLATTE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF VIRGINIA
Mr. GOODLATTE. Today we review the U.S. Department of Agriculture Year 2000 Compliance Enhancement Act which has been referred to this subcommittee. It is my hope at the completion of this hearing this subcommittee will call to order a business meeting to forward this bill on to the full committee with its recommendation to pass it to the full House of Representatives.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC On Thursday, February 26, 1998, I, along with Congressman Tom Latham of Iowa, introduced H.R. 3280, the USDA Year 2000 Compliance Act to reform the way information technology is procured, acquired, managed, and implemented down at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Last March this committee heard from many of the same witnesses scheduled to testify today, about the decades of mismanagement of information technology and the billions of dollars wasted on the USDA's unquenchable thirst for computer or telecommunications equipment.
Testimony at our hearing detailed horror stories of good money being spent after bad on information technology that was specific to the agency that placed the procurement request. There was no rhyme or reason to information technology procurement, no departmentwide architecture or business plan that dictated what I.T. purchase was necessary. Last March's hearing convinced me that the 10 years of GAO reports detaining a department out of control were accurate and needed the continuing attention of this subcommittee.
The hearing also introduced the Chief Information Officer to the subcommittee. As convinced as I was that this problem needed an effective solution, I was optimistic about Anne Reed Thompson's ability to lead USDA out of this technological quagmire.
Since our hearing last year we have continued to work closely with the CIO in finding a solution for the inadequate management of information technology at the Department of Agriculture.
We also found a well-placed friend who shared our concerns. Congressman Latham sits on the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture Appropriations. As a businessman, Congressman Latham shared my disbelief that a department of the Federal Government could spend taxpayers' money with complete disregard for the efficiency and coordination of information technology management among the agencies of the Department. The lack of planning for the purchase of information technology and the quality of per dollar expended is stunning.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Congressman Latham and I wanted to craft a solution that was more than a letter-writing campaign trying to put the U.S. Department of Agriculture on notice that their failures were being watched. There is too much at stake to allow the USDA to send a letter telling us what they think they want to hear. If we don't act, we don't help the CIO; if we don't help the CIO by giving her the tools she needs to get her arms about the management of information technology at the Department level, billions of taxpayer dollars will continue to be wasted.
Also, the lack of coordination between the agencies of the USDA that is the root of many management problems will continue and any idea of a customer friendly, one-stop shopping center for our farmers will be killed. If the CIO isn't the one and true information technology authority at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fears of the Department not becoming year 2000 compliant will become a reality.
That should strike horror in everyone's heart. Farmers won't get the checks we promised them in last year's farm bill; food stamps will not get to the truly needy in our communities, and no one in the Federal Government will get their paychecks because the National Finance Center in Louisiana, which is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, will crash along with the computers that contain the statistical database of milk production.
Over the last year we've had several meetings with the CIO to determine what additional authority she may need to avoid a year 2000 calamity. It became clear that the Chief Information Officer struggled to be the strategic coordinator that her position demands. She was too busy untangling what the agencies were doing, had done, or about to do, to keep her focus on the Department. H.R. 3280 turns that management style on its ear.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Year 2000 Compliance Enhancement Act recognizes the Chief Information Officer is just that, the chief. We will never get the USDA in an efficient and effective working order if we continue to allow the agencies to dictate the actions of the Department. Instead, we need to eliminate the stovepipe mentality that permeates the Department by enhancing the powers of the Chief Information Officer, so there is one person accountable to Congress and the taxpayers for information resources at USDA.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have assembled uniquely qualified witnesses today. I look forward to hearing their testimony on the USDA Year 2000 Compliance Enhancement Act.
At this time I would recognize the gentlewoman from North Carolina, the ranking member, but it is my understanding that she is still en route and we hope she gets here while the hearing is still under way. If so, we will welcome her statement at that time. If she doesn't, we'll certainly make it a part of the record.
Does the gentleman from Michigan have an opening statement?
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. I don't have an opening statement but would request the right to put one in in writing.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection, the record will remain open for the gentleman to insert his statement.
At this time, I would ask that H.R. 3280 be included at this point in the record.
"The Official Committee record contains additional material here."
Mr. GOODLATTE. We will call our second panel to the witness table. Joining us today is Ms. Anne Thompson Reed, Chief Information Officer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Ms. Reed, we are definitely very pleased to have you back with us again today and we are very interested in hearing your testimony regarding the progress of your efforts and your thoughts on this legislation and you may begin whenever you're ready.
STATEMENT OF ANNE F. THOMSON REED, CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Ms. REED. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I very much appreciate your kind words. I want to thank you for inviting me here today. With your permission, I will submit my full testimony for the record and then offer a few comments here for purposes of discussion.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I am honored to have been chosen by Secretary to serve as the Chief Information Officer of the Department of Agriculture. Though USDA has turned the corner, I believe, on a new path of efficiency and quality program delivery, it is true that we still face many challenges such as assuring year 2000 compliance and the effective implementation of new technologies.
Secretary Glickman has worked long and hard with the White House and with the Congress to lay out a vision for USDA. The President's budget seeks to fund and promote these priorities: expanding opportunities for family farmers in rural communities, making a major commitment to food safety and to fighting hunger in America, providing wide stewardship of our natural resources and protecting the integrity of USDA programs.
Implementing new information technology will help turn these visions into reality. I welcome the opportunity to review H.R. 3280 which seeks to clarify and enhance the authorities of the Chief Information Officer at USDA, building on the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 and better positioning the department to assure year 2000 compliance.
I am pleased that you and Congressman Latham have taken such a keen interest in ensuring the continued application of sound business management principles to USDA's information technology programs. The overall bill would provide useful tools to the Office of the Chief Information Officer. I would note that this proposal parallels many of the sound, innovative information technology management principles which Secretary Glickman has ready instituted at the Department.
There are, however, several significant changes to the legislation which we believe are necessary before the Department can support this bill. I have submitted for your review a section-by-section analysis of H.R. 3280.
Essentially, however, the USDA position is as follows:
We have no objection to sections 13 which establish the title, definition, purpose, and findings. We share many of the same issues that you delineate here.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Section 4 specifies that the CIO should report directly to the Secretary and not be under the direction and control of the Deputy Secretary, and establishes that the CIO should serve as the vice chair of the Executive Information Technology Investment Review Board.
We strongly oppose these provisions as they are worded and recommend that they be deleted. As you know, I currently do report directly to Secretary Glickman and have direct access whenever is required on issues. It is important, also, to recognize that the Deputy Secretary plays a key role as the Department's chief operating officer and often acts in place of the Secretary.
I want to add that Deputy Secretary Rich Rominger has been particularly supportive of my efforts as Chief Information Officer at the Department. While USDA has clearly demonstrated the commitment to including the CIO in the senior management team, to formalize this reporting structure by legislation has the effect of limiting the managerial authority of the Secretary.
Current law requires the Secretary to establish a capital investment process which involves senior management. USDA has elected to fulfill this responsibility through the creation of the Executive Information Technology Investment Review Board which is chaired by Deputy Secretary Rominger. I serve as vice chair of the board. I believe that this approach ensures that decisions of the board are program-driven, rather than technology-driven. To formalize this structure in law, however, limits the management prerogative of the Secretary.
Section 5 addresses the CIO's responsibilities with respect to Department's information technology architecture. We share in many of the same objectives that you have here. However, I believe again that the authority of the Secretary needs to be clearly preserved so that it should be reworded to show that the CIO recommends to the Secretary the development, acquisition, procurement, and implementation of information resources.
Section 6 requires offices and agencies to transfer 4 percent of estimated expenditures to be made for equipment and software, indicating that the Secretary will establish the exact amount of the transfer. To assure that this transfer is grounded in need, and to preserve the managerial authority of the Secretary, we strongly believe the language should be changed to permit the transfer of up to 4 percent. It is also important that this provision not be used as a reason to reduce the total direct appropriated budget of the Department for information technology and also of the budget of my office.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC USDA has no objection to the other parts of section 6, which makes the transferred funds available until expended and defines the purposes for which the funds may be used.
We offer an alternative approach to section 7 which would establish within the office of the CIO the position of deputy information officers who would serve as liaisons between the CIO and each USDA office or agency. The model recommended is one which industry has successfully implemented, assuring that agency CIOs operate under the guidance and authority of the Department CIO and giving the Department CIO approval on hiring selections and input into performance appraisal. It also assures that the agency CIO has direct input to the strategic direction of the agency and could work very closely with the agency administrators in that regard.
Please note, too, that we believe that this provision should not be construed to require each agency and office to appoint a separate CIO. There are several instances where agencies and offices have combined resources and are jointly served by a senior IRM resource official who directs the activities of the consolidated information technology office.
USDA has no objection to sections B and C, but does offer clarifying language on section D to provide that those responsible for the procurement of information technology be guided by the CIO with respect to information technology acquisition, strategy, and policy.
I believe that it should clearly remain within the province of the senior procurement executive to warrant contracting officers.
USDA has no objection to section 9, which requires annual reporting by the Comptroller General. However we do note that this may duplicate ongoing responsibilities of both the Comptroller General and the Inspector General. We believe that special consideration should be given to the requirements of the Inspector General Act of 1978. We recommend adding a section to the bill to exempt the Office of the Inspector General.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Again, I want to thank you for allowing me to review this proposed bill. I look forward to continuing to work with the Department to assure that we continue to develop an environment that performs at the highest level of efficiency for the American people.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Reed appears at the conclusion of the hearing.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Ms. Reed.
I wonder if you could take us back to when you assumed your position, which was when?
Ms. REED. In August of 1996.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Right. What was the biggest challenge facing you at that time?
Ms. REED. I think the biggest challenge as I assumed that position was one to which Congressman Latham referred in his presentation, and that is changing the culture of a department which has historically been managed in very disparate ways. But we have begun, I think, to move forward. I've taken very seriously the commands, if you will, of the Clinger-Cohen Act. We have moved to put in a new planning process for capital investments and information technology. The Secretary and the subcabinet today are very engaged in decisions on investments in technology in ways that simply were not true 2 years ago.
The executive board has begun to have an effect so that the senior policy officials understand the importance of technology as an enabler to allow them to accomplish the policy objectives of the Department. We've begun to put in place an architecture. We have begun and are seriously attacking year 2000, which I have to tell you today is my highest priority.
Mr. GOODLATTE. All right. You just answered my second question. What can we do to help you achieve that highest priority?
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. REED. I believe that the continued interest and support of the Department, the awareness of the importance of year 2000 of all policy officials is of paramount importance. I do believe that it would be helpful if the Department has a greater capacity to allocate resources across the Department. Today they are, as you know, appropriated to each individual agency specifically and while I have significant authority in terms of laying out guidelines and procedures and processes, for the Secretary to have authority to allocate the resources in a different way, I think, may prove very useful in addressing year 2000.
Mr. GOODLATTE. All right. And you testified that improving that departmentwide use of telecommunications is one of your five critical objectives. Will this legislation help you in that regard?
Ms. REED. Absolutely. I believe it is very important that the Department move to a single telecommunications infrastructure. Having the capacity to draw the resources of the Department as a whole towards that objective will be most helpful. I do believe downstream that it will result in significant savings to the American taxpayer as well.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The Department is concerned about the limiting effect of the managerial authority of the Secretary in section 4 of H.R. 3280. Would deleting section 4(a)(2)do you have a copy of the bill in front of youaddress the Department's concerns in that regard?
Ms. REED. Let me look here. Section 4(a). Certainly that would be preferable. However, I have to tell you that the Department's position would be to delete the entire section. You understand that the concern of the Secretary is the managerial prerogative in organizing and structuring the Department. Having said that, of course, he has made very clear his commitment to the CIO as being a strong member of the team. He simply believes that it is not advantageous for this kind of managerial aspect to be put into legislation.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I would have some concerns in deleting the entire section because it affirms your position within the Department and your position on the Executive Information Technology Investment Review Board.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. REED. Let me mention too, with respect to the position on the Executive Information Technology Review Board. If you refer back to the Clinger-Cohen legislation, one of the most important things about that is to draw the link between information technology and program delivery. It is critically important that the agency administrator, in this case the Secretary of Agriculture, and devolving to the agencies, they play a major role in this. It would not, I think, be appropriate to give undue authority to a CIO. You'd open yourself to the charge of information technology leading rather than understanding that it is a program requirement.
The Department's position, while they support the active engagement of CIO in these decisions, is that this is a managerial prerogative that should remain that of the Secretary and not be put in legislation.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Let me ask you about section 6. I think some concerns were raised in that regard as well. Is the concern in section 6 because it limits the managerial discretion of the Secretary by only authorizing a transfer of 4 percent from the agency's I.T. budget to you?
Ms. REED. I think it's not the amount, it's the absoluteness of the amount that is the issue. I think the Secretary appropriately recognizes that you don't want to transfer resources if you don't have a specific plan for how they might be used.
And I think the Secretary rightfully deserves the authority to review what those plans might be and to make an appropriate adjustment. To give him the authority to transfer up to 4 percent is what he would support. If there is no need for those resources over time in that full amount, you should leave them with the agency so that the work of the agency can go on.
Mr. GOODLATTE. We have been working on some amendments to the legislation that we may offer later this morning that would change that to give you the authority over the entire I.T. budget.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. REED. Well, I would have to look at the wording of that. I also want to make it very, very clear here that part of my objective, and I do feel strongly about this, as a departmental position, and also a personal position, that the authority of the Secretary needs to be respected.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Sure. In fact, because we view you as reporting directly to the Secretary that you are acting at the Secretary's behest, but instead of having this far-flung operation that we have now, where we have a multitude of different agency heads and other people making individual decisions about information technology procurement, where that technology has historically not functioned as a cohesive unit where different computer systems within the Department couldn't communicate with other computer systems.
A farmer going into a local office where the effort has been made to consolidate these agencies into one building, still has to go from work station to work station inputting the same information into different computers within that office. And so our hope is, that by doing this, you will still be asultimately all those agency heads report to the Secretary of Agriculture as well, but by consolidating that authority in one place, closer to the Secretary, but still under the Secretary's direction, that will have better coordination, I hope far better coordination than we have now.
Ms. REED. There are in my mind clearly some things which benefit by a corporate view. I think it is terribly important to remember that the reason that we are procuring this technology, the reason we are fielding this technology is to support the programs of the Department and to serve the American public. The agency's administrators are brought into their position to accomplish their program objectives. Their capacity to use technologies as an enabler to accomplish those objectives is terribly important.
You do not want to create a situation where you are even perceived to have a large information technology infrastructure that is off sort of doing its own thing. It really must be inextricably linked to the program that is being delivered.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. I agree with you 100 percent.
I recognize the gentleman from California, Mr. Brown.
Mr. BROWN. Mr. Chairman, your remark about visiting an agriculture office where they had consolidated functions but still having to go from station to station reminds me of what happens when you go to an hospital emergency room and you have to go from doctor to doctor and each one of them asks you the same information over and over again. It is an endemic problem that needs to be confronted in many situations.
I confess that I haven't been keeping very close track of what has been developing with information systems in the Department of Agriculture, Ms. Reed, but the last time I went through an exercise of this sort, we were talking about the role of the National Library of Agriculture in the information structure of the Department of Agriculture. And at that time, we envisioned a considerable development in the role of the National Library of Agriculture. In fact, we were modeling it after the work of the National Library of Medicine, which is sort of a focal point for health information for the United States, and maybe even for the world, and it is certainly the focus of the communication system with regards to the National Institutes of Health.
Just to help me understand what has been happening the last few years, what have been the developments in the National Library of Agriculture and how does it relate to the general information systems within the Department?
Ms. REED. With your permission, I will take that for the record and get back to you with a full report that encompasses your question.
[The information was not provided for publication in the record.]
Mr. BROWN. If you have a recent report on the library, I would like to have it.
Ms. REED. We will certainly get you whatever information is available on that. I will share with you that I have been very pleased to work with the people at the National Agricultural Library. We are very proud of that resource that exists today. There are several specific initiatives that I have been working with them on. One is developing policies for the preservation of digital information, something with which we are very concerned so that the information continues to be available and accessible to people.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are also working at a staff level with them, and I'm working with Miley Gonzales, who is the Under Secretary for Research and Education, to develop a policy for the Department with respect to managing research information and assuring that that research information is continuously available. We do work closely together, where it is appropriate and are very proud of the resources that the library provides through the Department for information management.
Mr. BROWN. Well, the library was conceived of more as a research resource rather than as a program resource, which is only fitting, but as a research resource, it reaches out to all of the research-performing institutions throughout the United States, and there is need to have a coordinated, up-to-date, high-technology communication network in order to provide for that capability alone, which has something, but not too much, to do with providing information to farmers and others who are served by the programs of the Department of Agriculture, and in a sense the library can serve as a hub for the whole research network of the Department of Agriculture.
I am interested in that aspect of how it is functioning. If you could help me with information on that, I would appreciate it.
Ms.REED. I'd be delighted to do that.
Mr. BROWN. All right. I have no further questions, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Brown.
The gentleman from South Dakota, Mr. Thune.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Ms. Reed, for your participation in helping us address some of these issues. I know that you have worked with the committee in preparing, or at least offering your counsel with respect to legislation that we are looking at today and I know we appreciate that. We had some previous hearings on this subject, last spring I guess it was, and probed into some, I think, detail what might be done to better coordinate all of the various information capabilities that are within the agency today. And I would hope that we are making some progress in that direction.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Just a couple of questions, if I might today: One of the things as I look down the road to the year 2000 issue, and this question I get asked periodically by people back home too, and that is, what happens if, you know, we are not ready with our computer systems? Are there back-up systems that been created or contingency plans that would account for a scenario in which the year 2000 problem has not been effectively addressed and therefore the systems fail. Do you have any insight into that?
Ms. REED. First, I will tell you that I certainly share and appreciate your concern that we be prepared for the year 2000. The more that we learn about the issues surrounding year 2000, the more we understand its complexity and the degree of integration that has to occur, not just within the Department but how we interact with the rest of the world, if you will, and how that impacts what we do.
It truly is an enormously complex problem. We are attacking it very aggressively at the Department. The Secretary has made it very, very clear, not just to me but to every member of the senior management team, that this is one our highest priorities, equal to any other high priority, if not more so, because without fixing this we would not be able to continue to serve our mission.
You've asked specifically about contingency plans and I will have to tell you that we are beginning to look more intensively at that. I understand that GAO has just published a guide for contingency planning. We will be working with that and with the agencies. I have also been working with the people who work through our disaster management community because as you are aware the emergency and disaster management community has a methodology that they use in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. While this is not a natural disaster, it has some of the same characteristics or attributes in how you think about how you would continue to provide service in the event of an interruption caused by year 2000.
We have some work to do on that. There is no question about it. We are working very carefully with our systems. I have a year 2000 project management office and each agency has a senior program executive who is responsible for staying attuned to year 2000. It is literally in their performance element; it's part of their annual performance plan to be responsible for that. That is in in addition to the CIOs and information technology project managers who are working with year 2000. We are working with this from a systems perspective, from the information systems, the hardware, telecommunications, and embedded systems, which takes us out of the traditional realm of information technology and into personal property and management, so we are looking at this from every perspective.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There was a question raised earlier to Congressman Latham, I believe, Congressman Smith, you expressed concern about how we worked across government. I assure you that there is a governmentwide initiative. John Koskinen has just been brought in by the President as a special assistant to lead us in the year 2000 effort. Prior to that, Ms. Sally Katzen at the Office of Management and Budget had played a very significant leadership role. As she moves to the NEC, she will continue to have a responsibility, because the administration recognizes the importance of this to the national economy.
We have a governmentwide year 2000 committee that has been commissioned by the governmentwide CIO Council. The Department of Agriculture participates on that. We share a lot of information with our other agencies and on areas such as telecommunications and embedded technologies, where we across the agencies share common resources. The General Services Administration has been playing a lead coordinating role; we are trying very hard to work together.
We also have begun working with the State and local governments, so that we can coordinate our efforts. We recognize that we share a lot of information with State and local governments and we've begun to work collaboratively with other organizations such as the National Association of State and County Executives, the National Governor's Association. There is quite a lot of effort to work collaboratively to address this issue.
Mr. THUNE. The short answer to the question, I know you guys are preparing, doing everything you can. There is an intensive governmentwide effort to do this, but in the event that it doesn't come off, are there back-up systems in place?
Ms. REED. Where this is most evident right now is if we have new systems that are being planned to come on line, if there is any doubt about their readiness, we're going ahead and making the investment in the existing system. The contingency plan in those instances is that the existing system will be made compliant even if we think in 1999 a new system will be on line and an existing system would not then be required. We are not taking that chance.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. THUNE. My time is up.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection, the gentleman is recognized for 1 additional minute.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you.
One of the other questions I guess I would have in all of this is that it really seems like, and I know your Department has been rapped in the past, and we have seen reports of the progress that you are making against, vis-a-vis relative to other agencies and everything else, the question as to trying to come up with a system that allows you to operate more as a team and less like a bunch of one-on-one basketball players, and I think that has been a problem. It's probably a problem with a lot of government agencies, but clearly the need is there to do this and I'm wondering, in your assessment of House bill 3280, does it give you the necessary authority and resources to lead your Department out of that sort of independent style of management and play?
I know you made some comment with respect to the chairman's questions about that but do you feel that that gives you the authority that is necessary to do this in a manner that is consistent with the objective and that is trying to get a system that is integrated and that works and is responsive and efficient and everything else.
Ms. REED. With the recommended changes that we have, I would say that it does move us substantially towards a more cohesive management opportunity than we have had in the past, but that would be presuming we are able to come to an agreement on the proposed changes that we would have.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you, Ms. Reed. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Smith.
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
USDA is the Government's third or fourth largest Department. However, it provides information to this country's largest industry, and that's agriculture. As we change, Mr. Chairman, our approach to agriculture with the new farm program phase-out bill, the information to individual farmers and ranchers in this country is even more important. And where in the past the information has been used within the Department of Agriculture to develop and make changes in the old traditional farm programs, helping guide how much of each crop might be produced to accomplish what were the projected needs. Now the greater challenge is getting the best possible information to our farmers and ranchers in this country.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And we have, the USDA through the Farm Service Agency. Now there is a tremendous network and communication set up to be utilized if we use it. Now I would suggest to you that as you look at a more strengthened centralized influence in bringing the technology of USDA up to date, you consider looking at how we might utilize the information that USDA now has at its disposal. This would include estimates that can be very accurate predicting harvests in other parts of the world as early as 45 days before harvest. That kind of information, through our county network system that USDA has in its county office system, has a tremendous potential to helping American agriculture make this transition away from the traditional programs of government agriculture.
And I guess my question is, I would like to know, Ms. Reed, if you would consider that possibility because farmers really need that help and guidance rather than getting it secondhand as USDA has outlook conferences, and then they get piecemeal or 30-second sound bites of the results of that conference, rather than a more structured system to provide that information to farmers.
Ms. REED. I think the focus on the use of the information is particularly appropriate and is something that we have a great deal of concern about how that information is collected so that it is not burdensome and how it can be made more generally available.
I do think that you will find that today a significant amount of additional information is available to the broader community because of our ability to put more information on the Internet.
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. Most farmers probably don't have the Internet.
Ms. REED. Yes, I understand that. And in fact, we recognize in the studies that we havethough more than you might expect do. The picture is changing there and that is something that we are watching very closely. We do understand that many of them continue to rely extensively on the face-to-face discussions and contacts that they have at those service centers. Part of the vision for how those service centers can be more effective and how we can build a technical infrastructure is to support the capacity to give that kind of information more readily, make it more readily available to farmers and ranchers. So it is tremendously important.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH of Michigan. Well, yes, but I'm just saying, for all of those farmers that don't have the Internet, there is a tremendous potential to allow that farmer to gain that same information by dropping into the Farm Service Agency
Ms. REED. Exactly. And that is one of the principles for how we've gone through and collected exactly those kinds of requirements as we've moved forward and looking at what technical infrastructure is necessary in those service centers to we can do exactly that. Not only within the service center itself, but we are also looking at capacity. As you know, we provide a lot of technical assistance on the land itself and we want to have an information infrastructure that would allow that information to be on a portable computer that a service center employee could take out to meet with a rancher or farmer and be able to pull that information up and share it on the spot. So we are looking at exactly those kinds of things. It is terribly important.
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. My other thought, just as an old farmer from Michigan, would be the way you structure the information that is now passed out to the more sophisticated print and other media needs to be restructured so it is more usable to farmers and ranchers.
Ms. REED. Yes.
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Smith. We'll do a second round of questions.
Ms. Reed, I just want to clarify something from our earlier discussion. When we say we are going to give you, with the amendment that we are proposing, the legislation, the authority over the entire I.T. budget, what we mean to tell you is that we want to give the Secretary of Agriculture the discretion to give you the entire budget. So I think that comports with your concerns that the Secretary be ultimately in control and it will be his or her decision as to whether or not the CIO has the entire budget or half of it or 4 percent of it, whatever they choose. In my opinion, the more control that you have close to the Secretary, the better you are going to have the ability to coordinate and have systems that function in a cohesive manner.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Your testimony asked the subcommittee to note that not all agencies of the USDA have a CIO. Some agencies are jointly served by a senior information official. Would report language supporting this finding address your concern about that point?
Ms. REED. I would hope so. It depends on how the lawyers interpret it in a few years.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Now we have heard from a number of agencies within the Department regarding this legislation and they have stated quite forcefully to my staff over the past week that your office has not provided architectural standards and guidelines for their information technology activities. So my question to you is, do you agree with their assessments and, if so, how and when do you plan to correct that failing?
Ms. REED. We have established a baseline architecture. I will tell you that I concur that we have not done as much as I would like to be able to do. We've just completed, an independent external validation, or evaluation, of the work that we had done on the architecture. The results of that have just come in. I have also just, in the last few months, appointed a new director of the office who has a particular expertise in this area so I would expect to see us move out a great deal more smartly in the very near future in this area.
As you know, however, this kind of effort does take resources, dollar and human. We have in the past been able to draw very well upon the talent and resources of the agencies. With the downsizing that has occurred, and, quite frankly, with the employees in information technology who are beginning to leave government, being attracted away by industry, our capacity within the Department to take on these short-term issues is more difficult than it has been in the past.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Does this legislation, H.R. 3280, give you the necessary authority and resources to correct this perceived failing?
Ms. REED. Yes, sir, it would.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. And is your office prepared to take on a more dominant role in the information technology culture at the Department?
Ms. REED. Yes, sir.
Mr. GOODLATTE. And one other commentary we received from the agencies. It is quite apparent that there is a high level of animosity and distrust between your office and the agency CIOs. The agency CIOs don't like, or feel the need to report to you, and they don't like the idea of relinquishing their I.T. funding to your office. In short, they seem to just want to be left alone to continue down the road they have been traveling for the last 10 years. I'd like to have your comments on that observation and whether or not you think this legislation gives you the necessary authority to lead the Department out of this, what I perceive to be a stovepipe culture.
Ms. REED. Let, me say, first, I think that maybeI obviously am not party to the kinds of comments that your staff has been receiving over the last week.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Happens to me, too. I often hear by indirection what is not said to me directly.
Ms. REED. But, let me do say, in many respects, the agency CIOs and their staff have been tremendously supportive of the kinds of things that I have tried to accomplish. Many of them do see that they don't have the resources to continue to do it in the old way and they understand that the new technology and the capacity to use information in new ways is to their benefit, to their agency's benefit at well.
But they are passionately committed to the missions of their individual agencies. This is not inappropriate. They want to be assured that they will have the continued ability to provide the service that allows those missions to be undertaken by the Department. And, clearly, we are in the midst of a culture change.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
Does the gentleman from California have any additional questions or comments?
Mr. BROWN. I would like to suggest that you attempt to document the process of this culture change. It has been a problem with the Department of Agriculture for many years, as I am sure you know, and we might find some lessons here as how to more effectively manage such culture changes. It is a governmentwide problem, not just a Department of Agriculture. As a student of culture change, I'd be interested in anything I could learn from what you are doing in the Department of Agriculture.
Ms. REED. Thank you. I would actually add that it is not just government changes. I have spent a fair amount of time over the last year or so trying to understand industry models. I find that in industry also they are going through some of the same culture changes and there is a lot to be learned and shared among us.
Mr. BROWN. The difference is that if they don't promptly make the culture change, they cease to exist and that isn't true in government, unfortunately.
Ms. REED. Well, you are absolutely correct with that.
Mr. BROWN. Thank you. I have no further questions.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Brown. And Ms. Reed, we thank you very much for your participation today and for your efforts to get a handle on a very big problem at the Department. Thank you for taking the time.
Ms. REED. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. We'll now call our third witness to the table. We have with us today Mr. Joel Willemssen, director of Civil Agencies Information System at the General Accounting Office.
Mr. Willemssen, welcome and am I pronouncing your name correctly?
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WILLEMSSEN. Yes sir, you are, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. We are glad to have you with us and you may give your testimony, your entire written testimony will be made a part of the record and if you can summarize that for us, we would appreciate it.
STATEMENT OF JOEL C. WILLEMSSEN, DIRECTOR, CIVIL AGENCIES INFORMATION SYSTEMS, ACCOUNTING AND INFORMATIONAL MANAGEMENT DIVISION, U.S. GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. I will, Mr. Chairman, and, again, thank you for inviting GAO to testify today on the USDA CIO position. As you know, information technology, or I.T., is critical to USDA. In fiscal year 1998 alone, USDA plans to spend about $1.2 billion on I.T. Unfortunately, as we testified before you last Spring, USDA has a long history of problems in managing its I.T. investments. Such ineffective management has resulted in USDA wasting millions of dollars.
While many factors have contributed to these problems, a major cause has been a lack of strong leadership, accountability, and oversight. Over the years USDA's component agencies were allowed to independently acquire and manage I.T. investments solely on the basis of their own needs or interests. Because of this, USDA agencies have continued to independently plan, acquire, and develop separate systems without considering opportunities to integrate systems and share data.
A central element of the Clinger-Cohen legislation aimed at improving the management of I.T. was the requirement that the head of each agency appoint a CIO. This top-level executive is to be responsible for mission results through technology by working with senior managers to achieve the agency's strategic goals.
Further the CIO is to promote improvements in work processes, implement an agencywide information technology architecture, and evaluate the performance of I.T. programs. The Secretary of Agriculture established the CIO position in August 1996. However, we have not yet seen a formal delegation describing the CIO's authorities and responsibilities.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, we support your effort to ensure strong and effective CIO leadership at USDA by providing for more accountability and responsibility over the substantial investments the Department makes in I.T.. We see the thrust of your bill, for the most part, as consistent with the goals of Clinger-Cohen and other legislation designed to strengthen executive leadership in I.T. management.
For example, your bill requires the CIO to be responsible for designing and implementing an information technology architecture for the Department. It also requires the CIO to ensure that development, acquisition, and implementation of I.T. by any USDA agency complies with the resulting architecture and results in the best use of resources.
We support these provisions and believe implementation of them can go a long way to controlling USDA's I.T. investments. In February 1997, USDA published an initial draft version of a high-level information technology architecture. However the CIO said that little has been done since then and that much work remains to refine that version.
Regarding having CIOs at the major agency component level, we support such a structure to assist the Department CIO in adequately overseeing and managing specific information needs. However, USDA could not readily provide information to identify the current organizational structures across USDA, where each of its component agency's CIOs was positioned, or a description of their roles and responsibilities.
Addressing areas such as these, having an effective CIO with the authorities and responsibilities to implement sound management practices, and making sure that the CIO is held accountable for discharging her responsibilities are crucial to success at USDA and to overcoming the long history of I.T. problems.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes a summary of my statement and I'd be pleased to address any questions that you may have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Willemssen appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Willemssen.
Over the past few days my staff has been contacted by numerous agency employees about H.R. 3280. There is a high-level of anxiety over the funding transfer authority provided in the bill to the Department CIO from the agency I.T. budget, though I point out that it is all at the discretion of the Secretary of Agriculture, the authority provided in the bill to the CIO to borrow I.T. personnel, and the new management hierarchy created in the bill between the Department CIOs and the agencies' CIOs. Would you give us your professional assessment of these observations and whether you think they are well-founded or not.
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. I think the source of many of the concerns has to do with an issue that has already been discussed to some degree at your hearing today and that has to do with the year 2000 issue. That is the top I.T. priority at the Department.
We agree that it should be the top I.T. priority at the Department. Given that, we would assume that resources are going to have to be moved in order to address that issue, as it needs to be addressed in order to prevent massive failures.
And given that, I would anticipate that there is some anxiety among offices that some of the resources for new I.T. investments that they were counting on may not be available for them because the Department has to address the year 2000 issue first and we support that.
As was mentioned earlier, the Department has been behind, according to OMB, on its year 2000 program. We understand they are beginning to make more progress now and we recently have started an evaluation of their year 2000 program. I would also mention in terms of the component agencies at those major agencies we support having CIOs whose responsibilities mirror that of the departmentwide CIO.
We think it is important that those responsibilities be linked so that those component CIOs not only address the needs of their individual agency, but also the needs of the Department.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. Your office has spent the last decade criticizing the Department for its waste, fraud and abuse, and mismanagement in its information technology activities. The Comptroller has chastised the Department for acting like 29 independent Departments of Agriculture. In your own words you have stated that the Department possesses a stove pipe mentality. Do you think that this legislation H.R. 3280 provides the Secretary of Agriculture, the Chief Information Officer, and the Congress the necessary tools to begin steering the agency away from this stovepipe culture?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. We think there are several provisions in the bill that can help the Department steer away from that stove pipe culture. One, we strongly support the provision on the CIO being responsible for the development of an information technology architecture. Two, we think the provision that discusses that new agency I.T. investments have to be in compliance with that architecture is an excellent step and can help control future I.T. investments. Three, we strongly concur with a message in the bill that the CIO is responsible for the I.T. activities and be held accountable for those activities. Four, we would concur with the reinforcement of the EITRB, the executive board, and the CIO's role in that board.
I think the key now is, given what you've heard from the CIO, with this bill she feels she will have the authority to carry out her job; it is now letting her do it and holding her accountable for doing it, and hopefully we can begin to see more success at the Department.
Mr. GOODLATTE. You also mentioned that the CIO already receives funding from the annual appropriations bill and the working capital fund. Is this enough to tackle all of the criticisms that the General Accounting Office has leveled against the Department over the last 10 years?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. In some cases, it may not, but I would emphasize we have to look first at the business needs and in particular, given where we're at today, the year 2000 needs. If, indeed, the CIO believes that she doesn't have the resources to carry out some key tasks, I think I heard her allude to a potential shortfall in developing an information technology architecture in that regard, then she needs to state her case and make sure that her priorities are set accordingly and that the Secretary is on board with that. But I would emphasize that those business needs have to drive whatever funding that she is given in the I.T. arena.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. And you also mentioned that the responsibilities of the Chief Information Officer at the agency level, the host of different CIOs, should mirror those of the departmental CIO. Isn't that a direct contradiction of an earlier statement that weak departmental information resource leadership allowed the agency to do their own thing for too long, wasting
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. No, I don't think so because one of the things in the last few days that we looked at is trying to get from the Department an understanding of where these additional CIOs are in the component agencies and there isn't a consistent definition of those CIOs. They have differing responsibilities and what we'd like to see are a mirroring of responsibilities with the Department CIO and then those component CIOs at the major agencies addressing their own needs to some regard, but also in addressing their own needs, they must be in compliance with the overall direction of the Department and the information technology architecture.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Right. And one last question. You listed a number of duties, activities, and responsibilities of a CIO in order to achieve this consistency that you are looking for. And I assume you want those CIOs to report to the departmental CIO in the sense that the overall policy will be set from the Secretary of Agriculture's office.
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. Similar to what Ms. Reed said, yes, there has to be an input from her level as well as the component agency level.
Mr. GOODLATTE. How do you think your list of those responsibilities compares with section 5 in the legislation?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. If you could just excuse me and I'll look at section 5 real quickly.
Yes, that section is one we are in support of, in particular the focus on the CIO being responsible for the development of the architecture and making sure that component agencies' I.T. investments in the future are compliant with that architecture.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Willemssen. We've now been joined by the ranking member of the committee.
Mrs. Clayton if you would like to make an opening statement, we would welcome that. If you want to submit it for the record, either way is fine with us, or just ask questions of the witness, whatever you prefer. The time is yours.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you, I appreciate that. We will submit a statement for the record, but let me just ask, in the line of the questions that were given and also given the evaluation that has been made of the CIO in Agriculture and now the proposed legislation, by the way, which seems to be very good legislation, I would just say parenthetically, Mr. Chairman, it would help your ranking member if we had some advance notice so we could arrange to participate fully with you on this, but the legislation seems to be good. I would ask another question. Where would you see that the legislation could propose even a better coordinated effort with achieving what they shouldand I'm assuming he referred you to section 5 and I remember in your statement you indicated that you had made criticisms, or made evaluations, of the agency before, that it was, these are my words, not yours, dysfunctional in terms of meeting its overall efficiency goal.
Where could the legislation improve that more effectively?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. Well, I think one of the areas where it can enhance the current approach at USDA is to get all of the component levels and the departmentwide CIO moving in the same direction rather than disparate directions. The Department, given the immense size that it is, it's probably unrealistic to think that one individual can control all the intimate details of all 30 agencies' I.T. programs. That's why we think it is important for the major component agencies to have a mirroring structure where they also have Chief Information Officers whose roles and responsibilities are clearly spelled out that, again, mirror those of Ms. Reed, and who, not only address the parochial needs of their particular agency, but also, meet the needs of the Department in understanding where the Department wants to go and making sure they are not going in a different direction.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. The legislation achieves that the best, you believe there is no room for improvement? As it is, it will achieve that effectively?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. One element of the legislation, at least the version that I sawan amendment was mentioned earlier, I don't know if that talks about this or notbut a version of the legislation that I saw talks about abolishing the CIOs at the component level and we are just offering up that that might be an area that you might want to reconsider in terms of the immense size of the Department.
Mrs. CLAYTON. One other question. It was reported earlier that we also, USDA also, does some external work with other agencies particularly as it relates to credit. Is there any reason for us feeling that that external formation will have any impact or should have some impact on the relationship of what the CIO now has authority to do as we try to implement the technology being coordinated?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. The external party impact must be strongly considered and I think it goes in line with Ms. Reed's comments earlier that we've got to make sure that in moving in this direction and in giving her additional authority that we not ignore the overall program needs, which include some of our key external customers. What we need to do ideally is to marry the two up. Make sure we are addressing the program needs at the individual component level but at the same time make sure that, in meeting those needs, that we are still in compliance with the overall direction of the Department and its informational technology architecture.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I guess the reference I had particularly was the credit center, the USDA financial services that they do for other components of the government, is that the external you were referring to as well?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. I was referring probably more generically thanI don't have at my disposal the most up-to-date information on that particular area.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. And I may not have the most complete but I am aware that USDA also provides financial services for other agencies other than just USDA and there has to be technology and information sharing between the thrift saving plan as well as some activity with DOD and I was just wondering if that should not be considered.
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. I would think that should be considered. Indeed USDA does have many sharing relationships with other agencies. It was mentioned earlier, for example, that the National Finance Center processes the payroll of many of the Government's agencies. They also have a national computing center that does work for other agencies so I think those considerations have to be taken into account and, in particular with the year 2000 computing crisis upon us, many of those other agencies who rely on USDA for those services. Their concern will probably be escalated to make sure that that issue is properly addressed.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Also the issue of resources. Resources in terms of technology and resources in terms of training, either the internal CIOs in the various divisions within the Department or coordinating the technology and the personnel outside. Do you see sufficient resources dedicated for the training and the transition from whatever is needed for the year 2000 as well as for the personnel training?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. Well, the Department probably would be well served by having more of an overall assessment of where it is at from a overall personnel capability standpoint, and I think that goes hand in hand with what has been discussed today and that is shifting priorities and having the authority to shift the resources where you know you have some talent in the I.T. area into the highest priorities of the Department. We think that is an excellent goal to strive for and something we would encourage the Department to do.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Have you looked at the relationship contractual with DOD and the thrift savings plans to see who has the obligation to maintain the technology. Would it be the independent agencies, or is it presumed that Agriculture should have that responsibility?
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WILLEMSSEN. We have not evaluated the technology used by the NFC for the Thrift Savings Plan.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I would appreciate knowing who has what responsibilities.
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. OK.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mrs. Clayton.
Mr. BROWN. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Willemssen, I'm trying to recall back when we first started as a Congress to take an interest in the what we now call information asset or information management problems. That's a relatively new term and before that we mainly referred to computer systems or something of that sort and my mind goes back to the Brooks Act. Are you familiar with that by any chance?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. Yes, sir. Originally enacted in 1965.
Mr. BROWN. And was that the first effort that we made to rationalize the acquisition of information resources?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. As I recall from a governmentwide perspective, yes sir, it was.
Mr. BROWN. And it didn't work, did it?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. Well, the types of technology that we are dealing with today as compared to the 1960's also lends itself to a fresh approach to managing information technology. We don't have any longer the monolithic mainframes and massive data centers that the Brooks Act was intended to address.
Mr. BROWN. We've been focusing on the Department of Agriculture, but again my mind goes back to some other major cases of improper management of information resources over the last few years and I'm trying to get a sense of perspective as to how the Department of Agriculture compares with the problems that we had, for example, with the transformation of the IRS information systems or Social Security's or the Defense Department's efforts to integrate their health information base system which turned out to be a total fiasco.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Do you have sufficient background to kind of give us a feel for how these other systems compare with the Department of Agriculture?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. I can give you some perspective on the civil side of the Government since that's my responsibility on information systems.
I would say that the Department, as is the case with many other departments and agencies, has had problems in managing information technology. And that really led to the enactment of the Clinger-Cohen legislation two years ago to try to end this repeated failure of major I.T. projects. I think when you look at the IRS' and the FAA's in terms of their major modernizations, the key difference there is while we've talked about USDA wasting millions of dollars, in those cases the amount of money has been even more.
In terms of the Social Security Administration, I think they are one of the better managed civil agencies for information technology that I've seen. That's not to say that when we go in and do evaluations we won't find problems there too. But I'm trying to give you a sense of scale here on the civilian side of the government.
Mr. BROWN. Of course, this is the first time we have had a systemwide problem, the year 2000 problem, which gives a new emphasis to try to bring some integration to all of these different systems, some management that would address that kind of a problem.
Can you give me an indication of how well the Department of Agriculture is doing as far as their system is concerned?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. I wish I didn't have to avoid the question but we have recently been asked by the Senate Agriculture Committee to go in and do an assessment at the Department and we plan to have preliminary results on that in the May timeframe. I will tell you that from the executive branch perspective and that of the Office of Management and Budget, in the last few months ago, they did not feel the Department was making adequate progress in the year 2000 area and thought that the efforts of the Department on the year 2000 had to be expedited and more attention had to be paid to the matter.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are going to go in on this new assignment and find out if this is indeed the case and if the issue is being addressed.
Mr. BROWN. Do you know of any departments that are fully on top of that problem as far as their information systems are concerned?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. We have done a variety of reviews. The best one I have seen is the Social Security Administration, in terms of the effectiveness of their year 2000 program. We've done a report on them, but again even there we've identified a number of risk areas, made a number of recommendations that we feel they need to address. One of which is an area we talked about earlier, the need for contingency plans. Contingency plans aren't only necessary when it looks like we are not going to make it on time. They are also necessary when we think we've fixed the systems but you can't have absolute certainty that that is going to be the case, especially for the most mission critical business processes and supporting systems.
Mr. BROWN. Just one final question. Do your reviews also encompass other kinds of information system problems, such as Internet overload, for example, which is rapidly becoming a serious problem? Or this matter of how you parcel out Internet domain names, that kind of thing?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. We have not recently done any evaluation on the Internet. Frankly speaking, Congressman Brown, we have been deluged with so many requests on the year 2000 area at particular agencies that a lot of our efforts are going into that right now.
I mean, if we had the resources to go into some of these other areas, I would totally agree with you. That's one that needs further investigation.
Mr. BROWN. One other example, taxing commercial transactions on the Internet. Have you given any thought to that kind of problem?
Mr. WILLEMSSEN. We have considered it, but again have not done anything at this point.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BROWN. Thank you. That helps me to put things in perspective a little bit.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. The gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Bishop.
Mr. BISHOP. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Madame Ranking Member. I don't have any questions, but I just want you for moving forward on this issue. It is very, very significant. It is of grave concern and unless appropriate steps are taken we will have a catastrophe and I'm just happy that we are moving forward to correct it and I commend the subcommittee for moving forward on it and let's get on with it.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman. Thank you, Mr. Willemssen. We appreciate your contribution today and, at this time, the Chair would seek unanimous consent to allow the record of today's hearing to remain open for 10 days to receive additional material and supplementary written responses from witnesses to any questions posed by any member of the panel.
Without object it is so ordered.
The subcommittee will be moving into a business meeting for consideration of H.R. 3280. I will give the clerk a few minutes to notify counsel and other members who are not here. We expect to begin in about 5 minutes.
The subcommittee stands adjourned.
[Whereupon at 11:00 a.m., the subcommittee adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
"The Official Committee record contains additional material here."