USDA’s Chad Sheridan Says Goodbye to Government Service—For Now

Sydaproductions/Shutterstock

After driving IT transformation and helping launch Farmers.gov, he’s heading to the private sector to work as a chief innovation officer.

After almost a decade on the frontline of technological transformations at the Agriculture Department, Chad Sheridan’s official last day with the agency is Friday—but he might not be gone for good. He’s leaving, “well, for now, [but] the door’s always open” to return to federal service, he told Nextgov this week. 

In his last post, Sheridan led service delivery and operations for Agriculture’s Farm Production and Conservation, or FPAC, Business Center. He’s spent countless hours over the years modernizing IT efforts across the massive agency and helping create farmer-focused tools—the most notable being the still-evolving farmers.gov portal, which aims to act as producers’ main entry point to a range of ag-related services. During his final week at the agency, Sheridan spoke candidly about his experiences introducing change from within, the emerging technology he believes could rapidly metamorphosize agencies’ productivity and new details about what his future may hold. 

“I've been doing this for a long time—26 years—and I've never worked on anything but hard jobs,” Sheridan explained. “I'm a lightning rod for change and when you've been driving change like I have … the cost of being the lightning rod can be very high.”In June 2011, Sheridan joined Agriculture as the chief information officer of its RIsk Management Agency, where he revamped the IT program and supervised many tech-focused efforts. In early 2018, the agency underwent a reorganization that established new business centers and consolidated each of the mission areas and their supporting functions. In April of that year, Sheridan was pulled in to help lead the consolidation of IT efforts for three agencies that now make up the Farm Production and Conservation, or FPAC mission area. In October 2018, the FPAC business center was formed and he assumed his current role as the chief of information solutions, service delivery and operations—“which is a mouthful,” he admitted. That position falls under the information solutions directorate, which he said is the IT organization in FPAC. There, he’s responsible for development and operations, “so roughly 65 to 70% of the people and 80 to 85% of the spend—I’ve got all the fun stuff. I build and operate everything in my large organization. And I’ve got a great team,” he said. That team is now made up of more than 200 people, and 10 report directly to Sheridan.  

But before joining Agriculture, Sheridan spent about 18 years of active duty and civilian service with the U.S. Navy in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Directorate, or Naval Reactors. “So I grew up building aircraft carriers and designing nuclear propulsion plants,” he said. “I'm actually a nuclear engineer—I used to design nuclear powered aircraft carriers and submarines and build them.” 

When asked if enhancing Agriculture services through the development of customer-friendly tools like farmers.gov was tougher than his work as a nuclear engineer, Sheridan laughed. “Oh, absolutely,” he said. “What we're being asked to do, it's not the impossible, but the improbable.”

Sheridan began working on what would become farmers.gov in October 2017—though when he first started it was the “FPAC portal.” A branding team member recommended the simple title because it connotes the core mission to be built for farmers, by farmers and Sheridan said farmers.gov really started to stick over time—after everyone made jokes about its similarity to the dating site, farmersonly.com. 

“And I don't think anyone is as crazy as we are in trying to craft an informational and transactional capability that tries to bring the business of 40-plus programs across three agencies, six, seven lines of business, to a unifying customer experience, where we can be and show all of us to the farmer and the farmer can bring all of themselves to USDA,” he said. “We haven't completely achieved that vision yet. But that's what farmers.gov is about.”

Farmers.gov aims to be a one-stop digital shop where farmers and ranchers can access a range of services and tools the agency offers. But producing the site did not come without a few troubles and detours along the way. “We did things that weren't done before in terms of timeframes—and boy did it hurt,” Sheridan said. The farmers.gov creators had an initial vision for all the capabilities to include in the buildout, but early in their work agency leadership directed the inclusion of other elements, like accessibility to a broad-based disaster assistance program and tools supporting it and later, a market facilitation program they were asked to launch on the site—in five weeks. It was an incredible feat, he said, but then insiders “tried to get back to the point of what we wanted to build towards the tail end of 2018. Then we had this thing called a shutdown that impeded us.” Since then, officials have continued to create and launch new capabilities through the site, and even more are in the works. Sheridan said having a secretary “that understands the potential value that technology can bring into how we do business” was instrumental in these efforts and beyond. 

He also had a front seat introducing robotic process automation capabilities to alleviate some of the manual burdens Agriculture personnel frequently face. He said RPA is fast to build and an extra benefit is that the nascent technology captures process flow and requirements that could be used to build a system record. And because “every agency has a ton of data and a little bit of knowledge,” insiders should be applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to their heaps of data to free up personnel from “the drudgery of trying to make the data sing for them,” Sheridan said. “It’s the human—plus the machine—that I think is amazing. I start to take away the painful aspects of a digital environment and I start to unleash the intersection of human and machine. I don't even think we’ve scratched the surface of that yet.”

His passion for public (and customer) service resonated in all that he said, but when pushed about why he’s exiting federal service now, Sheridan made it clear that he’s been burning himself out. He’s headed to NetImpact Strategies to serve as chief innovation officer of the IT-driven business. Still, Sheridan said that he’s open to returning to a federal agency in the future. “I’ll never say no to the right opportunity, if it came along and it made sense,” he said. But he added that he views himself as a “bureaucracy hacker,” and it would have to be a role in which he was creating solutions. “I’ve got to build stuff. If you ask me to come back into a policy role, I’d struggle,” he said. “I am a doer. I love doing stuff.” 

Looking back on all his work at the farm agency, Sheridan said one of the most critical lessons he hopes to leave behind is to let go of fear. 

“Everything's going to go wrong. Everything's going to break. It's going to be hard. You're going to fall and it’s going to hurt. You’ve got to do it anyway,” he said. “It's daunting. It's exciting. It's wonderful. But it hurts—it really hurts.”

Editor's note: This article was updated to clarify Sheridan's title at NetImpact.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.