Some USDA Centers of Excellence set to expire

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Editor’s Note Oct. 4, 2019 — This story was updated with amended statements from USDA and GSA on the status of the CoEs.


While some of the Centers of Excellence at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are ready to close up shop, not all, it turns out, are quite ready to hang up their hats.

USDA and the General Services Administration, the agency that houses the CoE initiative, told FedScoop in a joint statement that some “workstreams” have been completed, while others will continue into the new fiscal year.

“The workstreams under the CoE will continue as we move forward to deliver enhanced customers service in this next phase of work,” the spokespersons said in the emailed statement. “The Centers of Excellence-USDA partnership remains strong; there is more work to do and we look forward to continuing to deliver results together for the American people.”

This statement amends USDA’s previous statement to FedScoop that the CoE teams would be departing USDA “between Sept. 30 and Oct. 15.” Now, USDA and GSA say that “three of the CoE workstreams were completed by the end of FY 2019.”

For the past 18 months, five distinct centers of excellence have been operating at USDA — one focused on each IT Infrastructure Optimization, Cloud Adoption, Customer Experience, Data Analytics and Contact Center.

The workstreams focused on data analytics, infrastructure optimization and cloud adoption have all wrapped up, according to the two agencies. The work focused on “implementing the ASK USDA Contact Center and the creation of ‘one front door’ for USDA customers,” meanwhile, will continue.

A USDA spokesperson previously told FedScoop that the agency would not be exercising the option years attached to its Phase II contracts. “The ‘option contracts,’ which as the title suggests are ‘optional,’ were assessed against our goals, and given the GSA and USDA teams collectively achieved or exceeded nearly everything it set out to do, the ‘option’ contracts weren’t deemed necessary to continue at this time,” the spokesperson told FedScoop. Again, this apparently holds for some of the contracts but not all.

Still, the completion of some of the work is a big milestone for the CoE initiative, which began its journey at USDA after being born out of the White House Office of American Innovation as a way to “drive enterprise-level change at the agency level.” In the months since, the CoEs have been invited into the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Office of Personnel Management.

USDA’s Phase I work kicked off in April 2018. During this “exploratory” phase, contractor teams from four companies worked alongside GSA and USDA detailees on five teams organized around the effort’s five focus areas.

“It helps tremendously to have somebody with an objective point of view come in and help you,” USDA CIO Washington told FedScoop in a conversation about the initiative in June 2018. “When you bring in a third party with an objective point of view that’s been there done that, it really helps change the thinking, you know, which helps change the culture.”

Then, in October 2018, GSA picked contractors for Phase II, the implementation phase. Again, contractors worked on blended teams with USDA staff and GSA staff to address each of the five “excellence” areas.

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Centers of excellence, Department of Agriculture (USDA), General Services Administration (GSA), IT Modernization
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