USDA expects employees’ use of mobile devices to skyrocket

Gary Kazanjian/AP

The Agriculture Department plans to build a mobile apps store to support 100,000 phones and tablets.

While about 3,000 Agriculture Department employees are authorized to use smartphones and tablets on the job today, officials anticipate more than 100,000 will within five years, contract documents show. To better serve them, officials are in the market for technology to support a departmentwide store for mobile software applications, according to solicitation documents published Friday.

The Next Generation Mobility blanket purchase agreement would also include mobile device management tools that can ensure security for USDA-connected smartphones and tablets, according to the documents.

The final element of the purchase agreement is a “container solution” to protect USDA information on workers’ personal devices and to segregate it from personal data and applications. A large portion of the envisioned 100,000 devices the department expects to join the USDA network over the next five years will likely be personal devices, governed by a “bring your own device” policy, the department said.

“In this rapidly changing environment, [information technology] must create an environment that is secure, reliable, scalable, and enables users at the intersection of mobility and cloud services,” the department said. “Everything must appear ‘seamless’ to end-users while delivering significant business value in a secure manner.”

The value of the purchase agreement won’t exceed $20 million over five years, according to Friday’s statement of work.

Contractors interested in being listed must submit quotations for all three of the purchase agreement’s elements. Those elements can be housed in computer clouds, within USDA divisions or a combination of the two, the documents state.

Agriculture has been preparing for an internal app store since at least 2011. Applications housed in the store will be aimed partly at making USDA field workers more efficient, officials have said, such as an application that would allow department veterinarians to report the results of cow inspections from lots near the U.S.-Mexico border without returning to their desk computers.

The department has been at the forefront of government efforts to cut down on mobile costs through new efficiencies, most notably by slashing about $400,000 per month from its phone bill by consolidating mobile service contracts.

The consolidation efforts are part of the federal digital strategy.

(Image via Digital Storm/