Doing Business with the Department of Agriculture

Vital Statistics<@VM>In Profile: Ira Hobbs, acting chief information officer, USDA


Agriculture Department

1400 Independence Ave. SW

Washington, D.C. 20250

(202) 720-3631

Web site:

Founded: 1862

Secretary: Ann Veneman

Employees: 131,385

What it does: The Agriculture Department is largely associated with keeping a watch on the nation's food, particularly to ensure the safety of meat, poultry and egg products. It runs federal food and nutrition programs, such as food stamps, school breakfast and lunch programs and the Women-Infants-Children program. It monitors animal and plant safety and health. It protects national forests and grasslands and encourages conservancy of soil, water and wildlife on private lands; provides housing and conveniences to rural America; leads research on food and nutrition matters; and assists farmers and the hungry worldwide.

Major subagencies: There are seven divisions under the Agriculture umbrella: Farm & Foreign Agriculture Service; Food, Nutrition & Consumer Services; Food Safety; Marketing and Regulatory Programs; Natural Resources & Environment; Rural Department; Research, Education & Economics. Under these, there are 18 program agencies. There are about 7,400 field offices nationwide.

Things to note

Sept. 11 brought concern over the protection of some facilities, including laboratories that perform research on infectious diseases and food supply contamination. To this end, the agency spent an additional $328 million for improvements in security of personnel, laboratories and IT infrastructure. Information on the homeland security portion of the agency's 2003 budget can be found at

Also in the budget: an increase of $75 million in pest and disease exclusion and monitoring programs to guard against the threat of foreign animal diseases, such as Foot and Mouth Disease, and a $175 million increase for combating infestations. Information can be found at the above link.

The USDA Graduate School is a continuing education institution that provides adults more than 1,500 career-related and personal development courses. Everything from management training to speaking a foreign language to creative writing is offered. For more information, visit www.grad.usda. gov/programs_services/index.cfm.

I didn't readily find info on how do to business with the agency, but I found some interesting stuff as a consumer, including how to buy butter, the correct way to prepare goose, the Missing Pet Network and mushroom research and promotion. Who knew? For contracting opportunities, check out

Ira Hobbs

Took the job: February 2001

Hometown: Tallahassee, Fla.

Home now: Mitchellville, Md.

Family: wife, Deborah; son, Lynn, in sixth grade

Hobbies: Golf

Last book read: "The Sum of All Fears" by Tom Clancy

Alma Mater: Bachelor of arts degree in political science from Florida A&M University, master's degree in public administration from Florida State University

What are the IT challenges the agency faces, as you see them?

  • IT work force: Our success today and in the future, depends on our ability to attract and retain a skilled and motivated IT work force.

  • Electronic government: We are working hard to implement the President's Management Agenda and use technology to unify and simplify our services, collaborate, leverage investments and emphasize being citizen-centered in all we do.

  • Cybersecurity: At the Agriculture Department, like all federal agencies, cybersecurity continues to be at the top of our agenda.

  • Enterprise architecture: We are building the processes and tools to better coordinate our information resources management as one department.

What do you look for in companies with which you are thinking of doing business?

Competition is our best friend. Within the competitive arena, we look for partners and companies committed to our success, because they realize our success is their success.

A year from now, where do you see the agency's technology capabilities?

We have consistently improved our IT capabilities. Our focus on e-government, both participating in the president's initiative as well as a similar internal effort within this agency, is moving us to operate more corporately. A year from now, I see our technology capacities better aligned with our program services. I see us developing enterprisewide solutions that make life easier for our customers and employees.

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