USDA Highlights Customer Service Successes and IT Modernization at Impact Expo
The U.S. Department of Agriculture held the first-ever Impact Expo with employees to celebrate the impact of its customer-focused IT modernization efforts. This event underlined the connection between modernization, customer experience, and USDA’s overall impact. The Expo featured projects from across the Centers of Excellence, Office of Customer Experience, USDA’s Customer Experience Champions program, Office of the Chief Information Officer, and every USDA mission area to show how USDA is working together to modernize to best serve its customers.
Under the leadership of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, USDA set out to become the most efficient, most effective, and most customer-focused department in the federal government. Over the last two and a half years, USDA has made tremendous strides in streamlining and improving customer service and digitizing and modernizing its IT infrastructure for employees and stakeholders alike. While there is still more work to be done, today USDA celebrates and reflects on these accomplishments:
USDA Customer Service and Innovation Successes
Support for Farmers: At the direction of President Trump, USDA took several actions to support farmers impacted by unjustified retaliation and trade disruption. To help ensure this assistance reaches those affected, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) is facilitating the Market Facilitation Program to provide payments to farmers of various commodities; the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is facilitating the Food Purchase and Distribution Program (FPDP) by purchasing surplus commodities affected by trade retaliation for distribution by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to food banks, schools, and other outlets serving low-income individuals; and the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) administered the Agricultural Trade Promotion Program, awarding $300 million in trade development funds to help U.S. farmers and ranchers identify and access new export markets.
Regulatory Reform: While President Trump signed an executive order that requires agencies to revoke two regulations for every new rule they want to issue, under Secretary Perdue’s leadership, USDA has completed 24 deregulatory items for every three regulatory items for a total regulatory savings of $157,791,000.00.
Farmers.gov: USDA’s Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) mission area launched Farmers.gov, an interactive one-stop website with mobile device capability for producers to fill out forms, apply for disaster assistance, and find the most convenient USDA office locations.
Farmers.gov is built around the needs of customers, with farmer-focused content, interactive tools, and a business data dashboard that allows producers more time to focus on their farm and less time filling out antiquated and time intensive paper forms.
H-2A Education Tool: This online Farmers.gov tool helps farmers, ranchers, and producers fill out the required forms faster and more efficiently. No one should have to hire a lawyer to hire a farmworker. The tool contains an interactive checklist with application requirements, fees, forms and a timeline built around a farmer’s hiring needs.
Farm Loan Discovery Tool: This new interactive tool on farmers.gov can help farmers find information on USDA farm loans within minutes. Farmers who are looking for financing options to operate a farm or buy land can answer a few simple questions about what they are looking to fund and how much money they need to borrow. After submitting their answers, farmers will be provided information on farm loans that best fit their specific needs. The results page also provides easy access to the loan application and additional resources and directs farmers to their nearest USDA Service Center.
Disaster Discovery Tool: Agricultural producers now have new resources available on Farmers.gov which allows them to prepare for and recover from impacts of natural disasters. The tool walks producers through five questions to help them identify what USDA disaster assistance programs are available that fit their individual circumstance. A process that historically took nearly a year and a half from when a farmer files a disaster claim to when they receive their payment, now takes less than four months with continuous process improvements expected to continue to minimalize the time lag.
Rural Broadband: Thanks to President Trump’s leadership to establish an Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, a critical need for broadband access in Rural America was identified. Broadband and Next Generation Precision Agriculture are critical components for creating vital access to world-class resources, tools and opportunity for America’s farmers, ranchers, foresters and producers. USDA’s Rural Development (RD) is currently offering up to $600 million in loans and grants to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America.
Recreation.gov: This website and mobile app empowers forest enthusiasts along their entire travel journey to dream, plan, and experience our national treasures, as well as share their memorable experiences to inspire others. Architects of Recreation.gov began from a foundation of federal recreation data and valuable user feedback to create a service with instinctive work flows for visitors and federal recreation managers, enhanced trip-planning and mapping features, and inspirational content for discovery. Since Recreation.gov site launched in October 2018, it has hosted nearly 20 million users, 41.7 million sessions, and 156 million page views. USDA runs Recreation.gov on behalf of the federal government.
ePermits for Christmas Tree Applications: This USDA Forest Service online permitting program was developed to strengthen the connection between the public and their national forests; broaden and increase our customers’ responsible access to public lands through online permit availability; provide a predictable, responsive, and friendly online customer experience; and to reduce administrative burden. A successful pilot application launched in November 2018 on four National Forests resulting in more than 6,000 Christmas tree tags sold (accounting for 41% of all tag sales). The application will be scaled up in the Pacific Northwest region for the 2019 Christmas tree season.
School Meal Flexibilities: Throughout 2018, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) held numerous roundtables with key stakeholders to garner feedback on program successes and challenges. Throughout 2019, USDA has used this information to enhance the school meals programs and tackle operational challenges through publishing a final rule and releasing a variety of policy memos. All of this provides common-sense flexibilities for the food service professionals running USDA programs in nearly 100,000 schools and institutions across the country – key partners in serving our student customers.
Agricultural Resources Management Survey Webtool: USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) rolled out a new tool to report important and timely financial statistics for U.S. farmers and ranchers. Every year, USDA asks farmers for information on the finances of their farming operation. This information gathered through the Agricultural Resources Management Survey (ARMS) is USDA’s primary source of financial information on farm and farm household well-being and is critical to carrying out the research requested by Congress and other critical stakeholders. The tool provides a presentation-quality chart and table of this data and includes an Application Program Interface that bypasses the web interface altogether and allows for more rapid access to the summary data for frequent users.
Environmental Analysis and Decision-Making Reform: USDA’s Forest Service is working diligently to improve the efficiency and timeliness of our environmental analysis and decision-making processes. For example, in 2018 the White River National Forest produced four Environmental Assessments approving work at major ski resorts. The documents averaged 51 pages in length and took 130 days to produce using a repeatable, efficient process. This represents more than an 80% decrease in planning time compared to the national average. The Forest Service also worked collaboratively with ski resort partners to redesign their Facility Design Review process, going from four review stages requiring 14 weeks to two review stages in five weeks, producing more predictable outcomes for partners.
Interactive Visitor Map of Forest Service Lands: Outdoor enthusiasts have a new tool to plan their next forest or grassland adventure thanks to a new mobile app offered by the Forest Service. Whether you’re looking to photograph bursting colors of spring wildflowers, cook s’mores around the summer campfire, or watch leaves change colors this fall, our new interactive Visitor Map will help you explore new opportunities. Find your perfect spot on 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands that include more than 4,300 campgrounds and 158,000 miles of trails. The new app was developed in response to customer feedback and interest in a mobile friendly tool to find outdoor activities. The new app is simple to download to your mobile device and has maps of road, hiking trails, camping sites and many other useful features.
Tell Sonny: USDA created the “Tell Sonny” online feedback tool in coordination with the GSA CoEs which captures citizen feedback on how USDA is doing to improve services to our customers.
Ask USDA Contact Center: The goal of the Ask USDA Contact Center initiative is to ensure customers get the right answer when they contact USDA, the first time, every time. Through the GSA CoEs, USDA piloted an Ask USDA Contact Center in three mission areas allowing it to gain insights into better understanding customers’ needs. It is our goal to have one consolidated phone number for USDA customers or “one front door” by late summer 2020. In 2017, customers who called USDA had an average wait time of over two minutes. Now, wait times in the three piloted mission areas are aligned with the industry standard, and 80% of calls are answered in 20 seconds or less. USDA looks forward to implementing this best in class call center across USDA by August 2020.
Created Optimal Fleet: After reviewing the motor fleet, USDA identified over 17,000 vehicles that may be underutilized, with over 1,600 of those having been driven zero miles over the last year. USDA reduced its fleet size by over 4,200 vehicles since FY 2016, which will avoid an estimated $26 million in costs in fiscal year 2019 alone. Additionally, USDA put fleet caps on all mission areas for FY 2020 and is continuing to encourage further reductions and will pilot telematics in some vehicles to ensure better tracking and accuracy of data reporting.
IT Service Successes
Data Analytics: In partnership with GSA, USDA developed more than 200 dashboards to provide the latest information to customers and employees. These dashboards have more than 20,000 views monthly. The dashboards not only improve internal decision-making but also maximize the impact of citizen-facing programs across 8 mission areas and 7 administrative functions. USDA has made over 1,600 internal datasets available publicly and is safeguarding privacy while also making more information available.
End User Consolidation: Instead of having each USDA mission area determine its own IT costs for equipment and services, the USDA has centralized 60% of USDA end-user services and closed 26 data centers, which will be 100% complete in fall of 2020. This move saves $10 million in duplicative infrastructure costs, which means USDA can put that toward better serving customers. USDA will have a department wide cloud solution for secure, scalable, and efficient services in a fully managed 24/7 environment.
Improvements to USDA’s network service and email accounts for USDA employees: USDA is securing faster and cheaper network services, avoiding $570 million. That’s more cost savings for customers. USDA migrated 100,000 employees to Office 365 and 91% email accounts to a simpler usda.gov account.
Optimized Infrastructure: USDA achieved $42.3 million in cost savings and avoidance by optimizing Enterprise Data Centers, and by consolidating and closing a total of 31 data centers.