The Corner

The USDA’s ‘Two Millon Dollar Man’

Gentlemen, we can hire him. We have the audacity. We have the capability to make the world’s first intern position that costs two million dollars. Better than the others before. Better . . . stronger . . . faster.

No, this is not that article from the Onion where the Department of Labor spent $40 billion to create one amazing new job. As Lachlan Markay of the Heritage Foundation points out, this one is all too real. It seems that the Department of Agriculture is beyond parody, and its Office of the Chief Information Officer did really spend $2,013,396 on an internship program that only produced one intern. 

As a general rule, I think internships are great and encourage them in concept. But to really understand how badly this internship program was botched, consider that the taxpayers spend about $500,000 or so a year to pay the president of the United States, with most of the expense being his $400,000 salary. This internship program cost roughly the same as an entire term for the commander-in-chief. Perhaps if this program produced 300 amazing interns in Year One, one could argue it was a good use of taxpayer funds, but in this case the taxpayers would have been better off if the USDA had randomly picked an intern applicant and give him a million dollars in cash in exchange for a promise to never show up to work.

What bothers me the most about these sorts of incidents is the “reform” and “improvements” that are always suggested, as if no one has ever done anything wrong in the office until just now. The discussion seems to revolve around a “fix” that invariably spends more taxpayer money on this or that office. This USDA report asserts that the Office of the Chief Information Officer “could have had more impact if projects and resources had been better planned and effectively managed.” But this office isn’t new — it was established in 1996. Is 16 years not enough for an office led by people making six-figure salaries to plan and effectively manage a program?

The USDA audit addresses much more than the outrageous internship program, and also alludes to three previous audits they have conducted. Shouldn’t the effort to “develop detailed internal control procedures for project management that include the requirement to specify and document project milestones, accurately allocate and track project costs, develop project timelines, and establish project-specific roles and responsibilities” have been at the top of the list in 1996 instead of a “new idea” in 2012? What have they been doing since Clinton’s first term? At what point does the federal government simply say “this office is hopeless” and disband it? Never, it seems. Read the whole report here.  

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