In March 2018, Secretary Sonny Perdue of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated, “Disneyland has been kind of the icon of customer service. Many corporations have patterned their customer service after the things that you see and feel, and the experience you have at Disneyland. That’s what we want to do at USDA.”
As Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the USDA, Gary Washington is leading the way towards making that vision a reality. As the lighthouse agency for the administration’s “IT Modernization Centers of Excellence” initiative, USDA is helping to fundamentally change how the federal government delivers services to its customers. And by leading a top-down approach to change management, Gary is helping to create a culture at USDA that focuses on people and processes, using technology as an enabler to achieve modernization.
After an initial assessment and planning phase in 2018 that identified key USDA modernization goals and helped realize “around $26 million in cost avoidance and savings”, awards were made by GSA for the next phase of Centers of Excellence initiatives at USDA: OneUSDA Contact Center; Voice of the Customer Tool; Data Analytics Capacity Building and Data Visualization and Analytics; Customer Experience Digital Support Services; Business Modernization Office Support Services; and Infrastructure Optimization Cloud Adoption. As work has commenced under these areas with leaders from industry, GSA, and USDA, positive strides have been made, described best in a recently published case study titled “Centers of Excellence Drive Government-Wide Modernization” written by White House Fellow Jeff McLean.
“While early tangible results indicate that the model is successful, perhaps the most important indicator that the teaming concept has promise for major transformation is the palpable excitement evident when speaking with anyone from the USDA / CoE team. These individuals are witnessing the progress, are uniformly amazed by the pace of change, and are very excited to be forming a highly impactful institution within the Government for future results. “I’d never have thought that we would be making progress on this scale, at this pace,” said one USDA employee. While USDA had a vision for modernization, the CoE team has helped accelerate that change, refine the vision, and empower the USDA team to aspire to new heights. As USDA CIO Washington notes, “When you bring in a third party with an objective point of view that’s been there, done that, it really helps change the thinking, you know, which helps change the culture,” he added.”