The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Specialty Crops Program helps buyers and sellers of all sizes in the U.S. produce industry to market their perishable products in the most efficient manner. The program offers a wide array of services that span from helping market the quality of products to ensuring that there is fair trade in the produce industry. These speciality crops are used in programs including domestic feeding programs, like school lunches, and military combat rations.
Currently, USDA AMS’s billing, inspection and certificate generation and issuance processes are managed through a combination of manual, paper-based processes and legacy information technology systems that are outdated and difficult to maintain. The inefficiencies of the billing, inspection and certification process cause substantial delays within the program, which are significant when dealing with perishable items.
Modernization of this system is required to ensure that perishable agricultural items are more efficiently moved through the inspection process ensuring the end consumer enjoys the freshest commodities possible. The added operational benefits include increased efficiency and improved customer service. However, modernization takes funding and time - this is where the Technology Transformation Fund comes into play.
Technology Modernization Fund (TMF)
The Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) is an innovative funding vehicle that gives agencies additional ways to deliver services to the American public more quickly, provide better security of sensitive systems and data, and use taxpayer dollars more efficiently.
The TMF was authorized by the Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2017 and is overseen by the Technology Modernization Board, comprised of government IT leaders representing proven expertise in technology, transformation and operations. Agencies submit IT-related project proposals for the Board to review and consider through a two-phased approval process. Approved projects receive incremental funding and technical expertise to ensure project success. To date, the TMF has received $175 million from Congress to fund modernization projects.
Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crops System Modernization
To remedy the inefficiencies of the billing, inspection, and certification process, the USDA was in need of an application that would have a modern, holistic system for its billing, inspection and certificate generation and issuance processes. An application that would also enable AMS Specialty Crops inspectors and other users to comprehensively and securely gather and store field evaluation data, interface with internal and external business applications, and process customer order and billing information. Due to funding, USDA would need to complete this project gradually over a period of five years. However, with the support from the TMF, the project can be conducted as a single effort and be completed by FY 2022.
USDA received an award for TMF loan funds of $8 million to supplement USDA funds and accelerate the build of the SCION application. The SCION application will replace two aging legacy systems and provide a modernized holistic tool to manage business operations and provide an excellent user experience for both external and internal users. To date, The USDA has received $7 million in loan funding and continues the development of the application. TMF loan funds will enable a modernized system to support business operations that result in fresh and processed fruit and vegetable items for America’s domestic feeding programs, including school lunches.