How did USDA’s MIDAS program lose its golden touch?

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All that glistens is not gold when it comes to the Agriculture Department’s MIDAS information technology program.

A new Government Accountability Office report looks at why MIDAS, short for Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems, was shut down after USDA’s Farm Service Agency spent $423 million on the program.

Originally, the Farm Service Agency hoped MIDAS would provide a platform that would host data, tools and applications for administering farm program benefits. That would be linked to USDA financial, geospatial and data warehouse systems. However, the agency rolled out a system that did not host critical functions that the agency had planned on, particularly the ability to use acreage reporting tools as well as an online portal for farmers. It also wasn’t linked to USDA’s financial system and enterprise data warehouse.

In all, the agency delivered about 20 percent of what was planned, the report said. Meanwhile, cost estimates for MIDAS grew from $330 million to $659 million. After the launch of a second MIDAS software release a year ago, the secretary of Agriculture decided to stop the program.

In its report, GAO found that poor program performance and uncertainty regarding future plans were critical factors that led to the program’s demise. It said FSA did not establish “key program management disciplines” as it pursued MIDAS — particularly in requirements development and management, project planning and monitoring, system testing, and executive-level governance.

Authors advised caution as the FSA starts planning new strategies to modernize its farm services program.

“[T]he agency has not yet established plans to improve its management capabilities. Until FSA establishes and implements such a plan, the agency will continue to lack the fundamental capacity to manage IT acquisitions,” according to the report.

GAO laid out five recommendations for the agency going forward.

In a response to the report, Farm Service Agency Administrator Val Dolcini acknowledged there were “opportunities” to improve IT program oversight.

“FSA has taken active steps to address the issues raised in the draft report,” she wrote in a letter to GAO, which was included in the final report. “Specifically, the agencies has selected a new Chief Information Officer (CIO), who has initiated steps to acquire a third party assessor to holistically evaluate the technology solution chosen for MIDAS, and to provide recommendations that can, and should inform a coherent IT strategy and future IT Service delivery model.”

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Congress, Department of Agriculture (USDA), Departments, Government Accountability Office (GAO), Government IT News
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