USDA Saved Millions So Far Due to Centers of Excellence

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The Agriculture Department has avoided $26 million in spending due to the first phase of its modernization effort.

Less than one year into the White House Centers of Excellence initiative, the first pilot agency is already saving money.

“So far, we’ve realized around $26 million in cost avoidance and savings and now we’re moving on to phase 2, which is the actual implementation of the plan we developed over the past six months,” said Agriculture Department Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky, speaking Tuesday at the Imagine Nation conference in Philadelphia.

The two-phase CoE effort focuses on five areas: customer experience, cloud adoption, infrastructure optimization, contact centers and service delivery analytics. The first phase of the program focused on developing the modernization strategy for those key areas through a collaboration between personnel from the General Services Administration, Agriculture and consulting partners brought in through contracts.

The second phase, which Agriculture will now undertake, involves carrying out the strategy and implementing the tech tools and services the department purchases.

“We expect most of the work to be completed within the next 12 months,” Censky said.

Thus far, Censky said the agency has closed 21 of 39 data centers “on the road to having just one data center and one backup.”

Earlier this year, Censky said Agriculture launched Farmers.gov, a mobile-friendly website where farmers can apply for programs and services online rather than through brick-and-mortar means. In addition, the agency is developing a plan to consolidate 22 end-user services providers down to one, reducing duplicity within the agency.

Censky said he was particularly pleased to have GSA personnel embedded within Agriculture.

“We’re able to sprint in these areas and develop talent and expertise, then when the CoEs move on, we have that institutional knowledge to continue on with our effort,” Censky said.

GSA announced the Housing and Urban Development Department would be the second CoE agency in September and could have the capacity to announce a new CoE every six months, according to Technology Transformation Services acting Director Kelly Olson.