This week the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the launch of a knowledge-based search engine called Ask the Expert.  The new tool is meant to optimize customer experience while conserving taxpayer dollars, the USDA said in a press release.

ask-the-expert.jpg“This exciting new tool is one of the many ways that the USDA is working hard to use technology to provide the public with high quality service while using taxpayer dollars as efficiently as possible,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.  “At, Ask the Expert now welcomes your questions and will continue to develop easily accessible responses to online questions in the months and years ahead.”

The search engine relies on self-service to deliver relevant information twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, which greatly reduces the wait time for consumers as well as the USDA resources associated with the previous system.

The Ask the Expert tool combines pre-existing USDA knowledge-based systems including the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s AskKaren service and the Farm Service Agency’s AskFSA service.  In combining the services, the system now has almost 2,000 questions and answers for a wide range of USDA issues and programs.

“USDA’s Ask Karen is a valuable tool for consumers and food safety educators seeking information on safe food handling. It is great to see the agency promote and expand this online resource with Ask the Experts,” said Shelley Feist, Executive Director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE).

In addition to allowing consumers to visit one place and receive a range of answers, the system provides access to expanded information and resources for easier access to a wide range of information.

Relevant information can be found through the system about Animal Assistance; Loans and Grants; Civil Rights; Commodity Grading and Standards; Conservation; Energy and Environment; Food and Nutrition; Forest Services; Markets and Trade; Research and Education; Rural and Community Development, and others.

Over the past two weeks, Ask the Expert has had over 1,625 customer use sessions and has answered more than 1,475 questions, which affords the program with a self service rate of 90.8 percent.  Over the coming months, additional questions and answers will be added to the database as a result of public inquiries, search patterns, and new information.