USDA to seek extra money to fix computer glitch

In what appeared to be an acute embarrassment for the Bush administration, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns acknowledged Tuesday that the Farm Service Agency computer system that provides payments to farmers has broken down and that he will have to ask Congress for a special allocation to fix it.

Since the 1930s, USDA has operated a system of offices in every county in the country to which farmers go to register their acreage and sign up for subsidies and disaster aid. In past years, the administration has argued that USDA could close or consolidate county offices because farmers could file online. Congress, however, has resisted those closures.

Johanns did not mention the computer problem in his formal testimony on the fiscal 2008 budget before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. But he did respond when Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Robert Bennett, R-Utah, noted that he had been receiving complaints from farmers who had been told they should attempt to use the FSA computer system only at certain hours.

Bennett added that he assumed Johanns has a plan to deal with the problem since the administration did not ask for money to address it in the budget.

Johanns told Bennett that he was going to have to ask for "help" with the computer system.

"Does 'help' mean money?" Bennett asked.

"It always does in government," Johanns replied, adding that within three weeks USDA would make a "business case" for its request.

Johanns said the FSA software began to malfunction in 2006 when the agency was trying to use the system for the milk income loss contract program, and that the situation had only gotten worse.

Johanns said that when a farmer puts information into the system, that information is forwarded to the FSA computing center in Kansas City, but that if the agency does not process the information within a certain period of time "the information is knocked out." The computer system is "dark" part of the day in parts of the country, Johanns added.

Johanns said that he would ask for money for a "short-term response," but that it would take three years to build a proper computer system for FSA.

When asked after the hearing if farmers should give up trying to file applications online, Johanns said, "Today would not be a good day to flex your muscles with our system."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.