Mr. Combs: Good Morning, Al.
Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Mike Wasson. Good Morning, Mike.
Mr. Wasson: Good Morning, Al. Good Morning, Dave.
Mr. Combs: Good Morning, Mike.
Mr. Morales: Dave, can you begin by telling us about the history and mission of the Department of Agriculture?
Mr. Combs: Sure. In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln founded the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He called it "The People's Department." In Lincoln's days 58 per cent of the people were farmers. They needed good seeds and helpful information to grow their crops. Well, today, USDA continues Abraham Lincoln's legacy by helping America's farmers and ranchers. But today we also do much more. We lead the federal anti-hunger effort with programs like food stamps, school lunch, school breakfast and the Women, Infants, and Children's, or WIC, program. We are the steward of our nation's 192 million acres of national forests and range lands. We are the country's largest conservation agency. We encourage voluntary efforts to protect soil, water, and wildlife on the 70 percent of America's lands that are in private hands. We bring housing, modern telecommunications, and safe drinking water to rural America. We are responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products. We lead research in everything from human nutrition to new crop technologies that allow us to grow more food and fiber per acre using less water and pesticides. We help ensure open markets for U.S. agricultural products. We provide food aid to needy people overseas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture touches virtually every aspect of rural life in America.
Mr. Morales: Dave, that's a very, very broad mission. Can you tell us about your office specifically, the Office of the Chief Information Officer? How many people work there and what kind of skill sets do you have?
Mr. Combs: The USDA is a very diverse organization as you just saw from our mission. It's comprised of 29 agency and staff offices. And my office, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, is responsible for managing the IT assets and the direction of IT investments needed to improve the quality, timeliness, and cost effectiveness of service delivery by the many agencies of the department. My organization has more than 1100 information technology professionals. And as CIO, I am responsible for nearly $2 billion a year that is spent on information technology to support the entire Department of Agriculture. Our information professionals come from very diverse backgrounds: project management, finance, programming and analysis, policy, telecommunications, and security. But most importantly, we need folks that know how to leverage technology to deliver services. Several of my senior managers do not have technical backgrounds. But they do possess the leadership and customer skills that will get us where we want to go and need to be.
Mr. Morales: I understand that you've been in the Office of the CIO at USDA for some time but you've recently been appointed to the CIO position. Congratulations. Can you tell us a little more specifically about the responsibilities as CIO, and to the extent that you have a typical day, what your typical day looks like?
Mr. Combs: Well, thank you very much. This has been a wonderful opportunity for me. But I want you and the audience to understand upfront that this is not about me. It's about getting results and establishing the people processes and tools that will support the mission of USDA long after my tour of service is over. And under my watch the OCIO has taken an integrated approach to ensure that all technology disciplines are woven together. These disciplines include capital planning, cyber security, e-government, telecommunications, and enterprise architecture. This integrated approach is intended to create a strategy that provides customers with access to the information that they need, protects the safety of USDA information resources, and strengthens the management and use of USDA information technology resources.
This past fall, I took my executive team on a retreat, to take a fresh look at what we do and where we're going. We took a look at the foundational legislation that established this office. And we found that according to the Clinger-Cohen Act, we needed to do several things. We needed to insert ourselves into the USDA agency, CIO selection and evaluation process which we now have done. We've developed performance standards to be used as a critical element in the evaluation of every agency's CIO's performance. We have also established performance standards for agency project managers. And speaking of project management, USDA is leading the federal government with its project management training program. So far we have graduated over 500 students. 200 of these students have received their Project Management Professional or PMP certification. This professional training is critical for USDA as the demand for skilled project managers increases. The President's management agenda is without question my top priority. As the CIO, I am considered the owner of the expanding electronic government initiative. And in this initiative we're evaluated in seven major areas: Enterprise architecture, acceptable business cases, earned value management, IT system certification and accreditation, implementing electronic government lines of business and smart buy initiatives, privacy impact assessments, and systems of records.
And USDA continues to make tremendous progress in moving this initiative forward. The scoring method is simple: Green, yellow, red. The President made it clear to me in a recent meeting that he does not like red or yellow. And neither do I. We're scored in two categories: Status and progress. And I am proud to report that USDA continues to be green for progress. Right now we're yellow in status but we're closer than ever to green. We're doing well and our goal is to be green by the end of June this year. This is truly a team effort involving a very talented and dedicated team of USDA agency CIOs and IT professionals that I'm proud to work with every day. We're also fortunate to have at USDA the full support of Secretary Johanns and Deputy Secretary Chuck Connor.
Mr. Morales: Dave, you have held several high level positions in federal agencies in the past. Which has best prepared you for your current role?
Mr. Combs: Well, we're all products of our past experiences, and my 30 plus years of experience in the private sector, in IT and telecommunications, and as an entrepreneur, were a great foundation. Serving for a year as acting deputy CIO here at USDA, and working with my good friend and colleague Scott Charbo was also great preparation.
Mr. Morales: Dave, you referenced a little bit of your past. You spent 23 years at AT&T prior to your service in government. And then you also spent some time in your own music business. This is sort of a fascinating background. I'm curious what led you to government and how has your leadership style changed over the years.
Mr. Combs: Well, I came to government primarily to -- first of all, to be in the same town with my wife. She, as you know, works in the federal government as well, as controller at OMB. And, rather than me living in Winston-Salem and her up here I decided to rearrange things in North Carolina and come up here and see what I could do productively as well. So that's how I ended up here. But, in asking about my leadership style, obviously, you know, years of experience certainly have been helpful in my leadership style, and I've come to appreciate the importance of selecting and depending upon an executive management team that will carry out the mission of my organization without being micromanaged. I've learned to delegate more, and always though with the motto of President Reagan: Trust but verify. I have surrounded myself with seasoned professionals and they know what is expected of them. I have a great team.
Mr. Morales: Dave, we talked a little bit prior to the show about your music business. I was hoping you just share a little bit about that business with us.
Mr. Combs: Well, it was basically one of those things, it was a hobby that turned into a career and now back into a hobby for the time being anyway. I come from a musical family and happened to be fortunate to have written a song called "Rachel's song" which kind of took off. Everyone that heard it on the radio and wherever they heard it just fell in love with it, and it's now been played millions of times around the world. And that one song launched me into a career of writing music and I have written over 150 songs and now have 15 albums of music. But that was, it's basically a hobby that kind of took on a life of its own and I had to catch up with it and enjoyed 10 years of doing nothing but my music as a support for my wife and myself.
Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. What is the information technology service? We will ask USDA CIO Dave Combs to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.
Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Albert Morales and this morning's conversation is with Department of Agriculture Chief Information Officer David Combs. Also joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson. Dave, what is the Information Technology Service, otherwise known as ITS? Who are its main customers and how do you ensure that your customers are satisfied with the services provided by ITS?
Mr. Combs: Well, the information technology services, or ITS as we call it for short, was born into OCIO on November 28, 2004. On that date it became the in-house provider of information technology service and support for over 40,000 USDA service center agency employees. ITS supports all their networked computers, IT equipment, and the shared infrastructure that their agency networks and applications run on. The shared infrastructure is also known as the common computing environment or CCE for short. Our customers are the three service center agencies and their partner organizations. They are the Farm Service Agency, or FSA; the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS; and Rural Development, or RD. The Farm Service Agency, FSA, administers farm commodity, crop insurance, credit, environmental, conservation, and emergency assistance programs for farmers and ranchers. The Natural Resource Conservation Service, NRCS, is the primary federal agency that works with private landowners to help them conserve, maintain, and improve their natural resources. And Rural Development, RD, creates partnerships with rural communities to fund projects that bring housing, community facilities, utilities, and other services to increase rural Americans' economic opportunities and improve their quality of life. The service center agencies use many sophisticated applications to provide over $55 billion in vital programs to over 6 million farmers and thousands of rural communities across the country. These programs include loans, grants, technical assistance, and basic information.
The goal of ITS is to keep the computing environment operating flawlessly so customers at the service center agencies, offices throughout the country, almost don't even know that it's there. Our goal is for their computers, applications, networks, and communications technologies to do what they're supposed to do and let the agency spend their time supporting the efforts of farmers, property owners, and rural communities.
ITS was formed by combining the service center agency's highly skilled IT specialists and support teams with a core team from OCIO into one organization of about 800 people. These folks are distributed in agency offices all across the country. I believe that this convergent plan is unique in the U.S. government. ITS is adapting best industry practices to organize IT resources and personnel efficiently and deploying them where and when they are needed. The point of creating ITS was to have one unified organization dedicated to supporting both the shared and the diverse IT requirements of the service center agencies and their partner organizations. On the one hand the agencies were already sharing and investing in a common computing environment with its infrastructure and network systems and associated hardware, software, and training. But on the other hand, each agency had to manage its own distinct computer system, software, and IT support teams. By converging both the technology resources and the skilled IT staff into one organization, ITS efficiently focuses on a broad range of technology, investment, and diverse support planning and management services spread equitably back to the agencies replacing what might be considered triplicate efforts. ITS has formed a customer-service support system based upon a central help desk that can flexibly and efficiently dispatch technical support specialists who are co-located in teams at many agency offices.
Mr. Morales: What kind of telecommunications services are provided by your office? And how does centralization impact the costs of services, and what other impacts does centralization drive?
Mr. Combs: During the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2005, we completed the launch of our new wide area network telecommunications infrastructure known as the "Universal Telecommunications Network" or UTN. It's a new corporate data network backbone for providing our customers with more secure, robust, and flexible telecommunications capabilities, and enhanced network support services. The UTN project team worked collaborative with USDA agencies and offices to transform the old USDA telecommunications environment into one that is state-of-the-art and well better to meet the delivery challenges of today and tomorrow.
Telecommunications voice and data services are increasingly critical to successful delivery of USDA programs and services. Since 1998, USDA's Internet access capability has increased 20-fold. The ability to interconnect systems and entire local area networks via the web has created increased demand for telecommunications capacity to carry information in multimedia formats to increasingly sophisticated USDA customers. And greater reliance on the Internet to conduct business and deliver services is also generating requirements for improved access, speed, reliability, robustness, security, and related standards.
In recent trends towards globalization, advances in secure communications, and growing customer expectations that electronic access will be made more widely available by the federal government within a five-year time span, have prompted the department to assess its current state of infrastructure support and explore options for accommodating these future trends as we move further into this century. The Universal Telecommunications Network Project is meeting those challenges.
Mr. Morales: It certainly sounds like a lot of bandwidth that's going to be required.
Mr. Combs: Yes, and very flexible.
Mr. Morales: We understand that your office is taking steps to innovate in the area of asset management. What are the goals of this effort, and what's its current status? And how does an organization called the IT Management Advisory Committee support this effort?
Mr. Combs: USDA has a vast number of IT assets, as you can imagine, and they are currently managed de-centrally, through disparate approaches. These dissimilar approaches present a challenge for managing USDA's IT infrastructure. USDA can gain significant efficiencies and productivity increases by establishing a uniform IT asset-management program that provides the information necessary to manage these IT assets from an enterprise perspective. We are in the early stages of this effort. Our goal is to implement an IT asset-management program that supports the establishment of standards-based technology architecture for USDA.
The IT Asset-Management Program will implement an automated system for managing USDA's IT assets from both an agency and enterprise perspective. Having a good inventory of USDA's IT assets will better enable enterprise approaches for procuring commonly used products. The Information Technology Management Advisory Council, or ITMAC as we call it, is a group of professionals representing many agencies throughout USDA. The ITMAC advises OCIO on best practices and approaches to enterprise issues. And one of the key roles of the ITMAC in this effort is to identify key issues and concerns and management decision points to ensure successful completion of the IT asset management initiative.
Mr. Morales: Dave, we understand that many of the forms at the government have now gone electronic. What role does your office play in supporting the forms? What are the benefits of the electronic processes, and what lessons could you share with other government leaders about your experience?
Mr. Combs: Well, that's correct. Over 500 of the department's most commonly used forms are available in an electronic format to provide citizens and businesses with an alternative to traditional paper-based processes. My office plays the lead role in coordinating this effort in several ways. First, we manage the paperwork and reporting burden that USDA imposes on citizens and businesses. To participate in our programs under the Paperwork Reduction Act, using online forms may reduce burden by permitting customers to compile information when it's most convenient for them, and to reuse information from prior submissions of the same or similar information. Electronic forms may also reduce travel time associated with completing the forms at a USDA office.
Further, USDA's participation in the President's interdepartmental E-Government initiatives has provided integrated access to forms required by multiple agencies within specific business areas. For example, businesses may locate forms required to apply for permits, and report compliance in a single location at http://business.usa.gov, regardless of which government agency requires them. Grant applications will find both the common and unique forms required to apply for grants at www.grants.gov. And USDA's export-related assistance and market information has been consolidated with similar information from our partners in the federal and private sector in one location at www.export.gov. There are many other examples.
The demand for electronic interaction in government is continuing to grow at a steady pace. But it isn't for everyone served by USDA. Government is striving to consolidate the presentation of its information and services in a seamless online manner similar to what many state governments have already accomplished. Forms will ultimately be replaced in this venue by fully electronic transaction tools that further simplify interaction with government by reusing information from prior transactions. However, many of the department's program beneficiaries prefer to visit a USDA office, or they do not have easy access to computers or sufficient bandwidth to make using electronic forms a viable alternative.
USDA will continue to offer the more traditional interaction methods for this group of customers. And many of our forms, though, are now electronic. Not all are electronic, but the amount of information we generate has increased exponentially over the past few years. The expectation is that over the coming few years we will generate even more information. There will be commensurate expansion of records, and much of this will be electronic. And my office plays a lead role in coordinating this effort across the department.
Mr. Morales: How do you ensure that customers are involved in technical decision-making, and what role does the Capital Planning Investment and Control play in this effort?
Mr. Combs: In the past, agencies and IT personnel across the department were not used to collaborating on IT. Although the Clinger-Cohen Act required greater coordination of USDA's IT budget at the department level, agencies still planned many investments and activities independently. They often did not collaborate even when other agencies were planning similar investments, usually for the simple reason they did not communicate with other agency IT staffs, and did not know that collaboration opportunities even existed.
Through activities such as what we call CPIC, USDA has been working to increase coordination across agency and department IT activities. This included developing a shared vision and purpose for IT collaboration, as well as developing the enterprise-wide governance structures to integrate coordination into all aspects of the USDA's IT activities. At USDA we have a very active internal CIO council that we call IT Leadership. This council is made up of all of the agencies' CIOs and IT leaders. We meet twice a month with the purpose of communicating on all IT issues, both technical and non-technical.
The foundation for IT portfolio management at USDA is the Capital Planning Investment Control or CPIC process. CPIC is a structured integrated approach to managing IT investments. It ensures that all IT investments align with the USDA mission, and support business needs while minimizing risks and maximizing returns throughout the investment's life cycle. CPIC relies on a systematic pre-selection, selection, control, and ongoing evaluation process to ensure each investment's objectives support the business and mission needs of the department.
Mr. Morales: Dave, how do you ensure your customers' data is secure? And perhaps you can share with us a little bit of the experiences during the recent hurricane disasters.
Mr. Combs: Well, securing USDA's IT assets is of paramount importance to the department and an integral part of USDA's enterprise architecture and IT transformation activities. Cyber security considerations are included at every stage of USDA's CPIC process. All proposed investments are required to develop robust and detailed security plans before they are even funded. Systems in the development require creation of adequate security infrastructure and the obtainment of a certification and accreditation, or what we call CNA, for continued funding. Annual security reviews are also required for major investments to receive continued funding.
And the recent experience with the hurricanes and the Katrina certainly emphasize the need to secure the data that we have. For example, at our National Finance Center in New Orleans, to make sure that that was securely transported to our backup site in Philadelphia, brought up, and which was done within a two-week period. And they actually just didn't miss a beat and actually brought on two new customers at the same time. So security and protection of our customers' data is of paramount importance to us.
Mr. Morales: It's a great story. How is the department ensuring data quality? We will ask USDA CIO David Combs to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.
Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Department of Agriculture CIO David Combs. Also joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.
Dave, we understand that your office has implemented a set of quality guidelines for information. Could you share a bit about the guidelines with our listeners? And what was the process that was used to develop and implement them?
Mr. Combs: Sure. The quality guidelines apply to all types of information disseminated by USDA agencies and offices. Now, I won't read them to you, but the basic premise is that USDA will strive to ensure the maximum quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of the information that its agencies and offices disseminate to the public.
Well, what do I mean by "objectivity"? USDA offices and agencies will strive to ensure that the information they disseminate is substantively accurate, reliable, and unbiased, and presented in an accurate, clear, complete, and unbiased manner, and to the extent possible, consistent with confidentiality protections, USDA agencies and offices will identify the source of the information so that the public can assess for themselves whether the information is objective.
And what do I mean by "utility"? USDA offices and agencies will assess the usefulness of the information they disseminate to its intended users, including the public. When transparency of information is relevant for assessing the information's usefulness from the public's perspective, the USDA agencies and offices will ensure that transparency is addressed in their review of the information prior to its dissemination. USDA agencies and offices will ensure that disseminated information is accessible to all persons pursuant to the requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
And what do I mean by "integrity"? USDA agencies and offices will protect information they maintain from unauthorized access or revision to ensure that disseminated information is not compromised through corruption or falsification. USDA agencies and offices will ensure their information resources by implementing the programs and policies required by the Government Information Securities Reform Act. And USDA agencies and offices will maintain the integrity of confidential information and comply with the statutory requirements to protect the information it gathers and disseminates. And these include the Privacy Act of 1974 as amended, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, the Computer Security Act of 1987, the Freedom of Information Act, and OMB Circulars A-123, A-127, and A-130.
Mr. Morales: Dave, we understand that your office has a role in records management for the department. Are all your records stored electronically? And how does your office manage risk and redundancy in storing these records?
Mr. Combs: Yes, as I mentioned earlier, my office leads this effort at the department, and no, not all records are electronic. But the amount of information we generate has increased exponentially over the past few years. The expectation is that over the coming few years we'll generate even more information and much of this will be electronic. We manage the risk and redundancy in storing these records in various ways. We do it through continuity of operations planning, periodic exercises for the deployment of operations. We do it through vital records exercises, where records are positioned at primary and an alternate site. And through ongoing training of our records officers and project managers.
USDA is in the process of evaluating an electronics records management application. And after evaluating this application, we will be conducting a proof of concept pilot. By approaching electronic records management from a department perspective, USDA will benefit from reduced development and maintenance cost as well from the standardization of processes that will support e-records management.
USDA understands the need to manage a project of this magnitude at the department level to ensure conformity of standards across all USDA agencies to manage risk and redundancy.
Mr. Morales: Dave, how is the enterprise architecture that is already in place at USDA impacting operations, and where are you in the process of implementing the target architecture?
Mr. Combs: USDA's IT transformation framework, has better enabled USDA to manage its IT investment portfolio and select the best combinations of IT systems to effectively and efficiently support USDA's mission. Using the department's blueprint for the vision provided by the USDA enterprise architecture, USDA has conducted an extensive review of IT investments during the fiscal year 2005 budget process.
All USDA investments, major and non-major, were evaluated to determine whether they aligned with the enterprise architecture and provided a necessary and efficient service. The process particularly focused on consolidation with systems providing similar functionality identified using the tools and structure provided by the USDA and the Federal Enterprise Architecture. This careful review allowed USDA to eliminate nearly 150 of its 500 IT investments through consolidation and realignment, saving around $160 million annually. USDA's IT transformation activities have resulted in additional IT portfolio improvements as well. This was accomplished by having the department focus on developing enterprise-wide systems and services to serve business needs and replace the duplicative agency-specific approaches previously used. This activity has increased from 24 major investments to 66 over five years, nearly a 200 percent increase. And at the same time the number of small and generally agency-specific investments has declined significantly from 605 down to 330.
Mr. Morales: What is the directives system, how did the system evolve, and what can you share with us about the results that this office has seen in making directives centrally available and electronic?
Mr. Combs: The USDA directives system is basically an online repository of all USDA departmental regulations and notices, manuals, and secretarial memoranda. The old process was paper intensive, and a great deal of time and effort was put into copying and storing those paper forms. Well, that process was transformed basically into a print-on-demand function, online, and our customers now have access to the information they need without having to go through any other organization, pretty simple.
Mr. Morales: David, earlier you mentioned the programs you have to support the development of project management skills among your technical staff. I think you mentioned you had somewhere on the order of about 500 folks going through these programs. How have your efforts improved technical outcomes?
Mr. Combs: The USDA IT investment project management training program provides participants with the tools and techniques needed to manage IT projects effectively with an emphasis on the issues encountered in managing within the capital planning investment control process and other federal guidance.
This training program was initiated in response to the results of a survey of USDA IT executives which indicated the need for more training in project management. And the Federal CIO council as well as industry leaders considers project management to be a critical competency for IT managers. As I mentioned before, USDA has graduated over 500 students from this five-week course, and over 200 now have their project management professional certification. And our multimillion dollar IT development projects demand professional, experienced, and effective project managers.
Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the Department of Agriculture? We will ask Chief Information Officer David Combs to discuss this with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.
Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I am your host Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with David Combs, chief information officer at the Department of Agriculture. Also joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.
Dave, we talk a great deal with government leaders about the pending retirement wave. Can you tell us about the steps that your office has taken to manage the retirement wave within the USDA, and what lessons learned could you share with other leaders in government?
Mr. Combs: In an effort to address an increasing shortage of skilled information technology workers at USDA, OCIO and our Office of Human Resources Management work closely together to provide USDA managers with recommendations and solutions on how to continually improve their IT work force.
The increased focus on the strategic management of human capital dates back to the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. And one of the requirements of this act is the mandate for all federal agencies to perform an IT workforce assessment. The act requires the federal chief information officers to implement a professional development strategy to ensure that IT staff possess the knowledge, competencies, and skills necessary to meet agency requirements as they relate to information resource management.
In partnership with our Office of Human Resources Management, we've established a USDA IT HR working group. This working group closely works with every other team within the OCIO to achieve the goal of recruiting, retaining, and training the most qualified team of IT professionals. In addition, this group meets monthly with representatives from numerous agencies, IT, and HR specialists within the department. The working group is focused on developing, implementing, and promoting recruitment and retention strategies to ensure that USDA maintains a quality IT job force capable of leading the department to meet its mission objectives.
Working group members are briefed regularly on all activities occurring at the federal level in the area of IT workforce improvement. They're responsible for achieving USDA's IT and HR leadership, in planning for and implementing effective recruitment, retention, and training strategies. The USDA IT HR working group is the department's only forum for active IT HR collaboration in the area of IT workforce planning.
Mr. Morales: Dave, you touched on this a little bit, but is your office also working on recruitment and retention activities, and how does this fit into the overall HR strategy for OCIO?
Mr. Combs: Yes, this ties directly to the overall HR strategy I just mentioned. We clearly recognize the issue of recruitment and retention. And we've been working very hard over the last year to recruit strong talent to fill these critical vacancies at all levels.
Mr. Morales: Dave, how do you envision the operations of the OCIO in five to ten years? Is the OCIO considering expanding its customer base through shared services or other methods?
Mr. Combs: Well, absolutely. We've already begun to move in that direction. Just last December USDA's executive board granted my office permission to move forward with three major initiatives, a single electronic mail system, a consolidated network with centralized support, and a consolidated data center and disaster recovery infrastructure.
Mr. Morales: Earlier, Dave, we talked a little about enterprise architecture, but can you discuss what impacts will the enterprise architecture planning have on the long term capabilities of the department?
Mr. Combs: The USDA-wide enterprise architecture supports and reinforces the goals of the President's management agenda. The USDA-wide EA repository and EA program is a catalyst for creating easy to find, single points of access to government services. It encourages automating internal processes to reduce the costs. It enables reducing cost by disseminating best practices and coordinating approaches across USDA agencies and staff offices, and it results in reducing duplication of efforts to build similar software systems. The USDA EA program supports the coordination of USDA's participation in the E-Government presidential initiatives.
This year, in its first year of use, the USDA EA repository and program will support initiatives such as FirstGov portal, Recreation One-Stop, e-authentication, e-loans, and e-grants initiatives. This support is in the form of the development of standards, the development of common data sets and structures, identification of common processes, and identification of common technologies. The EA repository also supports the federal architectures being developed for finance, human resources grants, and federal health.
And finally, the EA repository and EA program closely align the E-Government initiatives defined in USDA's E-Government strategic plan leveraging e-authentication, enterprise shared services, web-based supply chain management, and other initiatives. This alignment advances USDA's EA goal of using common enterprise-wide and intergovernmental systems when possible.
The EA repository directly supports the achievement of USDA's EA vision. The information it provides will help the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the executive board to make informed IT investment decisions based on a clear understanding of the department's existing and planned architectures at both the agency level and the federal level. Further, it will help agency and staff office personnel to identify opportunities to leverage existing systems or contracts already in use elsewhere in the department, helping to avoid redundant IT investments.
Mr. Morales: Dave, you've had a highly successful career starting in the private sector. You've turned a passion into a business, and now you're in public service. What advice can you give to a person who is interested in a career in public service, especially in information technology?
Mr. Combs: Well, if you're looking for a rewarding and challenging opportunity, you need to look no further. It's truly an honor and a privilege to be in public service, and the demand for information and the technology to create it, organize it intelligently, and communicate it efficiently and effectively is growing exponentially. The future for informational professionals is bright. Unlike my generation, children today are exposed to information technologies before they can even walk.
IT has become engrained in their everyday routine. From the time they enter kindergarten, sometimes sooner, children are exposed to computers and electronic knowledge. These experiences translate into capabilities that can be applied to future careers in information technology. But you don't have to major in computer science to have a career in IT. The federal IT organizations are always looking for smart, energetic people who are good thinkers and good leaders and not afraid to tackle large and difficult problems. If that description fits you, then there are several people in the federal CIO community that want to talk to you.
Mr. Morales: That's great advice. We've reached the end of our time, and that will have to be our last question. First, I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule. Second, Mike and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the public and our country in the various roles you've held at the Department of Agriculture.
Mr. Combs: Thank you Al and Mike; it's been a pleasure and an honor for me to be here this morning, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss our many missions and areas of -- that we are working on at USDA and it's a big department with a wonderful service mission to the rural parts of United States of America, and actually to all of it, when you consider the food safety protection and everything. So there's hardly an area of American life that we aren't intimately involved with, and it's a real honor and a privilege to work in that department.
Mr. Morales: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with David Combs, chief information officer at the Department of Agriculture. Be sure to visit us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's www.businessofgovernment.org.
As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who can't hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.
For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales; thank you for listening.