Agriculture technology chief to leave at end of month

The Agriculture Department's chief information officer has announced that he will leave at the end of June, after two years of overseeing the agency's vast information technology infrastructure.

As CIO, David Combs managed USDA's $2 billion information technology budget, which spanned 29 different agencies and offices across the country.

A department spokeswoman said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns "very much appreciates [Combs'] distinguished public service. We will miss him."

Combs plans to go back to North Carolina, the spokeswoman said.

The CIO led efforts to reap savings by eliminating duplicative processes and systems and instituting better management practices. For instance, he used sharing of services and outsourcing as ways to save money and eliminate redundancies.

Combs said in April 2006 that officials at the department's component agencies should not have to worry about e-mail systems or whether computers have the proper security patches. But that idea was a "tough sell" for officials who are used to "controlling everything within their little stovepipe," he said.

His resignation comes about a month after apologizing for exposing thousands of Social Security numbers on the Internet.

The department began eliminating Social Security numbers from its databases last June after a Veterans Affairs Department laptop with millions of Social Security numbers was stolen from the home of an agency employee. But Combs told the House Agriculture Committee in May that even though the department had purged an estimated 29,500 Social Security numbers from its databanks, another 38,700 listed on farm loans and grants escaped the purge.

Combs started working at USDA in 2002 after spending nearly a decade running an independent record company that focused on instrumental piano music, which he founded in 1993. Prior to that, Combs worked at AT&T where he managed IT, manufacturing product planning and telecommunication sales.

Combs' wife, Linda, the Office of Management and Budget's controller, will continue to serve in that job, an OMB spokeswoman said. Linda Combs has been involved in efforts to consolidate the government's financial management systems.

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