Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced that farmers and rural residents will soon benefit from a common customer computer data base used by agencies in USDA Service Centers. The database, called the Service Center Information Management System, or SCIMS, will help reduce the paperwork requirements for USDA programs and will lead to customers being able to sign up for programs from their home computer.

"These enhancements to the information system will lead to our customers being able to access their individual records, apply for loans and sign up for USDA programs from their personal computers or other remote locations," says Veneman. "SCIMS is a major step to provide more convenience and quality service to agency customers."

The first phase of SCIMS allows all USDA service center agencies to share personal profile data of participants in USDA programs. This will eliminate the need for participants to provide the same information to multiple offices, an important feature to those who have farms in more than one state or county.

SCIMS also is a critical link to promoting a "Common Computing Environment" in the centers and will serve as a foundation for subsequent phases of the project. SCIMS both supports and compliments congressionally mandated e-commerce requirements that must be met in June.

Service center agencies include the Farm Service Agency, lead agency for SCIMS, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Rural Development mission area.