USDA has announced the launch of Ask the Expert, a knowledge-based search engine that optimizes customer experience while conserving taxpayer dollars.

This intuitive tool relies on self-service to deliver reliable and relevant information 24/7, greatly reducing wait time and USDA resources associated with the previous system.

"This exciting new tool is one of the many ways that 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,

Ask the Expert connects with pre-existing USDA knowledgebase systems and leverages information from Food Safety and Inspection Service's askKaren and the Farm Service Agency's askFSA, enabling consumers to visit one place and receive a range of answers. Currently, the system holds nearly 2,000 questions and answers for a wide range of USDA issues and programs. This interconnected system provides access to expanded information and resources, better customer experiences and the ability to easily access a wide range of information.

Frequently asked questions are stored in an online knowledgebase that pulls data and information from all of USDA's agency resources. Through this, users can find relevant information on 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, to name a few.

In two short weeks, Ask the Expert has seen more than 1,625 customer use sessions and has answered more than 1,475 questions, boasting a self service rate of 90.8 peercent. Over the next six months, additional questions and answers will be added to the knowledgebase as a result of public inquiries, search patterns and new information.

This system will "learn" based on feedback about the usefulness of answers and will expand over time. Visit Ask the Expert online today and view available information or submit an inquiry at http://www.usda.gov/askexpert.