Developing a modern USDA for a stronger rural America means equipping USDA’s employees who work in every American state and U.S. territory, as well as in over 50 countries, with information technology tools that ensure they are better informed, better engaged and better able to provide critical feedback to policy makers in real-time.
Mobile devices, enterprise e-mail, video teleconferencing, online employee forums, social media and instant messaging allow employees who fight against hunger, food-borne illness and wildland fires to deliver their mission as well as serve the American public, while coordinating efforts with co-workers and decision makers across vast geographic distances. By remaining connected to both customers in the field and to regional and national government leaders, the on-the-ground knowledge of customer needs can much more quickly drive needed changes in policies and procedures that make USDA’s programs more accessible to the American public.
These tools also make it possible for employees to more effectively work outside the normal office environment. Increasingly, employees are “tele-working” on a regular basis, which drives down the cost of government facilities leases and transit subsidies, and also enables managers and employees to continue their service during inclement weather conditions that force government offices to close.
Just a few of the innovative tools in use today at USDA include:
Your Two Cents, an online platform developed by USDA to serve as a virtual space for employees to talk about innovative solutions to difficult challenges, leading to the increased efficiency and effectiveness of program processes. Your Two Cents and other USDA sites like it are enabling leaders to better harness the collective experience of employees, and to foster an exchange of knowledge between co-workers who might not otherwise have had the opportunity.
USDA Connect is a collaboration tool available to all USDA employees. Equipped with powerful social networking capabilities, it enables teams to work collaboratively on projects, regardless of location. When employees in the field work virtually with colleagues, they are better stewards of taxpayer dollars, saving on travel without sacrificing the ability to share knowledge in the pursuit of innovative solutions.
AgLearn, a virtual university for USDA’s employees, is a low cost, one-stop shop for employee development and training that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. Employees are encouraged to set individual development goals and to take advantage of the more than 7000 courses, 20,000 professional development books, and hundreds of videos that are available at a cost of less than 10 dollars per employee per year.
These and many other innovative tools helped develop the modern USDA for a stronger rural America. Employees are able to get the training they need cost-effectively, to share expertise and knowledge of local conditions with decision-makers and with each other, and to collaborate on projects anywhere, any time. The information technologies USDA has acquired, developed, and managed are making it all possible.