Washington, DC — Today, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry passed by voice vote the Freedom to E-File Act (H.R. 852), legislation providing for electronic form filing by producers.
"The biggest obstacle facing farmers is not lack of knowledge, or fear of the unknown," said Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). "Rather, the biggest obstacle to interacting with the USDA over the Internet is the Department's old and outdated computer environment. The stovepipe mentality at the USDA has prevented the department from operating on a common computing environment and threatens to limit the development of farmer friendly Internet applications."
H.R. 852 requires the Secretary of Agriculture to establish an electronic filing and retrieval system to enable the public to file with USDA all required paperwork electronically. H.R. 852 also would allow the interested public to have access to information on farm programs, quarterly trade, economic and production reports and other similar information.
Our society has become more technologically advanced, and so have our farmers," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL) the chief sponsor of H.R. 852. "Like any business, farmers are using computers for a variety of purposes, including financial management, accessing market information, and utilizing precision agriculture management systems. I believe that if given the opportunity, many farmers would choose to file necessary farm program paperwork from their home or office computer."
As passed, H.R. 852 requires that, within 180 days of enactment, the Secretary of Agriculture establish a user-friendly electronic filing and retrieval system, which would allow farmers to download forms from the internet and submit completed and modified forms. Within two years, the completed system must be fully operational, allowing farmers to retrieve and file all relevant forms with USDA.
"The time is long overdue for the USDA to get online with rural America," Goodlatte said. "It is time to expand the Internet into farmer friendly applications and eliminate government interference that impedes the expansion of the Internet. If we don't, I am concerned that our farmers and ranchers will be at an extreme technological disadvantage."