$444 Million Later, USDA Only Achieved 1.5 Percent of its Goal to Update IT System

Project 2 years overdue, $140 million over budget

June 4, 2015

Two years past its deadline and $140 million over budget, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has only completed 1.5 percent of its goal to update its IT system.

The Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems (MIDAS) program was intended to act as a more efficient IT system that streamlines its aid programs for farmers. However, after spending nearly a half a billion dollars on the project, the USDA has only finished one out of 66 of the project’s tasks.

"In response to a longstanding need to modernize the delivery of farm programs, the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) initiated a business enterprise solution called Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems (MIDAS)," according to an audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). "FSA reported to Congress in 2010 that $305 million would allow it to consolidate its 31 farm programs into MIDAS by the end of fiscal year (FY) 2012."

"MIDAS is 2 years overdue and approximately $140 million over budget and has not delivered the promised enterprise solution," the OIG said.

MIDAS was supposed to replace the "Web Farm," a centralized computer server system that keeps track of information on farmers receiving aid from the USDA’s 31 programs, because the system was "antiquated and beginning to fail." The OIG found that only 1.5 percent of its applications had been switched over to MIDAS.

"As of April 1, 2015, FSA had obligated over $444 million to this project and had retired only 1 of the 66 applications which were to be replaced by MIDAS," the audit said. "By 2022, the program is projected to have a total cost of nearly $824 million.

Last July, the USDA was forced to stop the development of MIDAS after an order from Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Congress said the USDA’s mismanagement of MIDAS is "of greatest concern" last year when drafting an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015.

"MIDAS was intended to deliver a modernized, secure, and integrated IT solution," they said. "The planning for MIDAS began over 10 years ago, and after spending over $400 million, USDA ended the MIDAS project by redefining the scope of the project and failing to deliver what USDA had promised Congress and the agricultural community."

In response to the audit, the USDA said it would bring in an outside group to conduct an independent analysis to determine whether the current IT system meets the needs of the agency in a cost effective manner.

"In conclusion, OIG believes the Department made the appropriate decision to halt development, modernization, and enhancement activities under the MIDAS project," the OIG said. "Based upon our review, the future of MIDAS still needs to be determined."

"At a projected annual operational and maintenance cost of over $50 million per year, FSA and the Department must determine whether the benefits derived from the solution warrant that level of resource commitment."