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Winter 2001/2002
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Largest GIS Software Acquisition in U.S. Government History

U.S. Department of Agriculture Standardizes on Esri GIS

USDA logoEstablished in 1862 with a mission to acquire information on subjects connected with agriculture and make it available to the American public, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is using GIS to help achieve this mission in the 21st century. No other technology synthesizes and displays complex agricultural, natural resource, environmental, demographic, and socioeconomic information and relationships as completely or intuitively as GIS.

In this spirit, the USDA and Esri have signed a sweeping purchase agreement for a departmentwide site license for Esri software. The agreement will enable USDA to embark on an ambitious and far-reaching program and strengthen program delivery by extending the functionality of GIS throughout the entire organization, providing more efficient and timely services and trimming individual agency costs considerably.

The agreement sets in motion a five-year effort that will expand the use of GIS technology throughout the USDA by providing a complete enterprise suite of Esri's GIS software to all USDA agencies. This significant agreement includes the roll-in of legacy software currently within the U.S. Forest Service and other USDA agencies. GIS software applications and extensions from Esri include ArcInfo, ArcEditor, ArcView, and ArcIMS, which features an array of Internet-aware solutions, browsers, and mobile devices.

"I am pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that includes all of USDA," said Ira Hobbs, acting chief information officer for USDA. "GIS technology will play a very important role in the future of USDA."

USDA has been working toward streamlining the department, and this agreement will facilitate the effort. "The USDA Service Center agencies, including the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Rural Development agencies, have been involved in a modernization effort since 1995," said Dennis Lytle, GIS team leader for the Service Center agencies at USDA. "This includes establishment of colocated offices, a common local area network, Internet service and phone system, a common computing environment, common data management processes, and Business process reengineering. GIS is part of the reengineering of our Business processes."

 screen shot of Geospatial Data Gateway; click to see enlargement
The USDA's Resource Data Gateway offers a single access point to geospatial data and automates many of the manual processes. Users can browse, select, and order data from a particular location in a specified projection and format and have it automatically delivered.

Before choosing Esri, USDA Service Center agencies began a rigorous selection process more than three years ago that involved extensive market research, a benchmark period, and several pilot installations. Esri came out on top as the vendor with the most complete suite of end-to-end software solutions.

"We are dedicated to providing the USDA's many agencies with technology that is rich in functionality, quality, and performance," said Jack Dangermond, Esri president. "We welcome the opportunity to help USDA with its efforts to integrate data, coordinate activities, and serve its community in a more effective, efficient, and sustainable manner."

Providing Diverse Services

With 29 agencies and staff offices, USDA serves Americans through agencies such as the USFS, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), Rural Development agencies, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Agricultural Research Service, and many others. The agencies' activities deal with spatial data about soil, water, air, plants, animals, landownership, demographics, and socioeconomics. USDA has identified GIS technology as a means to efficiently manage this data, make it easily accessible, increase productivity, and improve customer service.

At the USFS, which has existing GIS implementations, the agreement will expand the use of Esri software with ArcSDE and ArcIMS. Located throughout the country, USDA Service Centers will benefit with new GIS installations for increased program support. The Service Centers are one-stop shops that bring together services from NRCS, FSA, and Rural Development agencies. The remaining branches of USDA that provide social, statistical, research, and technological assistance to the public will also implement Esri software. USDA works closely with local conservation districts, and the BPA includes provisions for deploying GIS technology to this local, grassroots level.

"This agreement provides GIS software to all USDA offices and is the framework for a true enterprise GIS implementation," said John Steffenson, USDA account manager for Esri. While some USDA agencies have been longtime Esri users (see sidebar), others have not had access to the technology, according to Steffenson. "This gives us opportunities to extend our services in some areas and also to develop new applications. Esri is honored to have this opportunity to expand our partnership with the Department of Agriculture."

For more information, contact John Steffenson, USDA account manager for Esri (tel.: 303-449-7799, e-mail: or Max Crandall, Esri agriculture solutions manager (tel.: 909-793-2853, ext. 1-2309).

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