Improving Customer Engagement/Experience Services at the USDA

Published: April 30, 2019

Federal Market AnalysisUSDABudgetCloud ComputingForecasts and SpendingInformation Technology

The Department of Agriculture is leading the way to a new and improved customer engagement experience.

This week’s post continues our look at IT investment in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Working Capital Fund (WCF). As the first federal agency to implement a WCF-centered investment structure similar to the authorization provided in the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act, it is instructive to analyze what the USDA is doing and how it has arranged its finances to accomplish its IT mission goals. This week’s post dives into the Client Experience Center services, which are intended to improve the customer experience at the USDA.

Ever since Congress passed the MGT Act to create a more flexible funding mechanism for agencies to modernize their IT enterprises, improving customer engagement has been an important area of focus. In February 2018 the USDA responded quickly to the change by altering how it delivers IT services, by awarding contracts for Center of Excellence vendors to assist with the transition to cloud-based capabilities delivery, and by enlarging its Working Capital Fund to provide a more flexible method of consuming cloud-based services.

The USDA divided the IT services available under its WCF into three areas: 1) Digital Infrastructure Center Services; 2) Client Experience Center (CEC) Services; and 3) Enterprise Network Services. The CEC is where USDA customers secure end- user services, business application services, communications services, cyber security services, and other integrated services.

The table below details the WCF funding requests for the Client Experience Center made by the offices and components of the USDA from fiscal 2018 to 2020.

Component use of the CEC grew by 16% at the USDA from FY 2018 to FY 2020, with dedicated WCF funding in the latter year rising to almost $576M. As noted with Digital Infrastructure Services last week, growth in the use of the CEC is uneven across the department. Several USDA components and offices have ramped up their use of the CEC in recent years, particularly the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (+146%) and the Office of the Secretary (+103%). The latter is not surprising as the Office of the Secretary is where the new Office of Customer Experience was founded back in March 2018.

Improving customer experience across the federal government is one of the Trump Administration’s signature goals and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue appears to be taking it seriously. USDA awarded contract #47QFDA18F0018 to ICF, Inc. in March 2018 to support the transition to new customer-centric cloud-based platforms for the CEC. Spending on that contract is now approaching $2M vs. a $4.4M ceiling. The USDA is clearly modernizing IT services delivery for both its external customers and internal clients and in that sense it is truly serving as a lighthouse agency for others to follow.