Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said modernizing agency information technology systems and addressing the aging work force will be top priorities for him.
He said during a teleconference earlier today:
It is important to me that the USDA be also a place of a modern workforce and a modern workplace. We’ll be focusing on IT improvements, process improvements and an empowered and diverse workforce to make that happen.â€
I later asked Vilsack to expand on what he meant. He said the department needs to consolidate and modernize its aging and divergent IT systems for three reasons:
- To improve citizen services. Vilsack noted the department doesnâ€™t have a Web-based system that is easily accessible to farmers, ranchers and others who rely on the programs USDA runs.Â
- To collect better data. If the department is going to prove it is spending taxpayer dollars wisely, the department has to be able to document results accurately. Doing this is difficult with outdated technology, he said.Â
- To improve efficiency. With the work force being asked to do more and more, employees need the right tools to do their jobs, he said.
Vilsack hopes Congress will include money to modernize IT systems at the department in the stimulus bill.
Regarding the work force, Vilsack noted that 58 percent of department employees were over the age of 45, meaning the department is facing a brain drain. The department needs to think strategically about hiring to replace these workers as they retire. It also needs to address civil rights issues that have faced the department by ensuring its staff reflects the people it works to assist, he said.
It’s going to be important for us to have a strategy in place to make sure that we have a modern workforce and a workforce that is diverse, that reflects the America of today.