USDA places focus on reskilling after Centers of Excellence modernization

A major challenge "that doesn't get discussed is how you prepare your workforce to be able to support this new environment" after modernization, said USDA CIO Gary Washington.
Gary Washington, USDA CIO
Gary Washington speaks Nov. 14, 2019, at the Workforce Summit presented by FedScoop and WorkScoop. (Scoop News Group)

The Department of Agriculture has made great strides in the past two years to modernize its IT enterprise. But with that, the department now faces the daunting challenge of bringing its employees up to speed with the new systems and environment.

CIO Gary Washington said a major challenge “that doesn’t get discussed is how you prepare your workforce to be able to support this new environment” after modernization.

USDA was the first agency to partner with the administration’s IT Centers of Excellence program, operated out of the General Services Administration. Washington said Thursday at FedScoop’s Workforce Summit that the initiative has led to USDA “taking a more business-focused approach to IT, and it’s really about providing value to our customers, making sure we get desired outcomes and that kind of thing.”

However, one result of that is consolidation — of data centers, security operations centers, user support functions and more — leaving many employees without work in those areas.


So, USDA is creating programs to train those employees, Washington said. “We need to make sure that our 3,100 federal employees at USDA are in a position to be a part of that journey.”

For instance, as USDA closes some of its data centers, Washington said, USDA is looking to reskill the technicians who operate them, “whether it be cloud computing, helping manage the enterprise data center, whether it be [robotic process automation] or some other skill set.”

The same is happening with USDA’s ongoing security operations center consolidation, led by CISO Venice Goodwine. As the department closes the 17 component SOCs in favor of one to operate across the entire enterprise, USDA wants to “ensure we bring all of these people along and we have an opportunity to train not just on modern concepts but to retain them in USDA,” Washington said.

Separately, USDA over the summer created a robotic process automation reskilling pilot at an office in New Orleans. The first cohort will graduate this month. “These people are hungry,” Washington said. “They don’t want to go back to their old jobs. They want to learn how to do RPA. They want to develop bots, fix business processes, that kind of thing. So as these folks graduate, they’ll be a part of our future moving forward in terms of making sure that people go to more high-value work and we automate those things that can be automated on the back end.”

While not everyone is always up for an opportunity to reskill, Washington said, most are. “What we’re finding is if you give them the opportunity to participate, they would more than welcome and engage in terms of learning something new.”

Billy Mitchell

Written by Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell is Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of Scoop News Group's editorial brands. He oversees operations, strategy and growth of SNG's award-winning tech publications, FedScoop, StateScoop, CyberScoop, EdScoop and DefenseScoop. After earning his journalism degree at Virginia Tech and winning the school's Excellence in Print Journalism award, Billy received his master's degree from New York University in magazine writing while interning at publications like Rolling Stone.

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