Stimulus to Give USDA $250 Million for Upgrade

Computer problems may finally be fixed.

According to House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the economic stimulus package will contain $250 million to fix long-term computer problems at USDA.

At a National Farmers Union inaugural party Monday, Peterson said USDA had requested $300 million and that the stimulus package would provide $250 million. Peterson said the request is on target because it came from independent computer professionals hired to evaluate how the agency could modernize its computer systems.

Peterson also said he has urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to retain the same computer experts, and cited in particular the need for USDA to jettison cobalt as its programming language.

In other USDA news, Vilsack has chosen John Norris, chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board, as his chief of staff according to several sources at the Farmers Union event. Carole Jett, a former high ranking Natural Resources Conservation Service official who worked in the Obama Indiana campaign, is also likely to have a top post within the secretary's office. Another name that has been floated is Dallas Tonsager, a Farm Credit Administration Board member, who will likely be named agriculture undersecretary for rural development.

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