Agriculture Department Paid $2 Million for a Single Intern

A report from the Agriculture Department’s Inspector General has revealed some stunning examples of financial waste in the Department’s nascent technology security efforts, which have mismanaged about $63 million in taxpayer funding.

Among the IG’s findings: the USDA spent more than $2 million on an internship program that only hired one full-time intern, $3 million on technology hardware that was never used, and $235,000 on a project that was later canceled due to redundancy.

The office of USDA’s chief information officer, which was the subject of the report, “had not established internal control procedures, such as monitoring and oversight, for project management, and did not adequately plan its projects or how it would utilize resources,” the IG noted in explaining the underlying causes of financial mismanagement.

“With proper coordination within OCIO and improved communication between project managers, these unnecessary costs could have been avoided,” the IG explained. But because USDA has so far failed to address those underlying issues, “the Department is still at significant risk” for further financial losses.

Some highlights from the report:

  • “OCIO [Office of the CIO] funded an intern program for a total of $2 million which, while funded as a security enhancement project, only resulted in one intern being hired full-time for ASOC [the Agriculture Security Operations Center]… This project is intended to develop and sustain a highly skilled IT security and computer technology workforce.  Expenditures for FY 2010 and 2011 included over $686,000 for development and implementation of a networking website and approximately $192,500 in housing costs for two summers.  While the intern program may be a beneficial step in the long-run, it did little to further the more pressing objective of improving USDA’s IT security.”
  • “In FYs 2010 and 2011, OCIO spent at least $1.8 million to acquire four tools for the security sensor array project—which are not currently used—and subsequently spent additional annual maintenance costs of approximately $1.2 million.  In addition, OCIO determined that one of these tools, costing approximately $425,000, could not handle the amount of data that USDA’s network generates.  OCIO has maintained this tool at a cost of approximately $81,000 annually but has not been able to utilize it.”
  • “In FY 2010, OCIO spent $235,000 to research possible solutions for a project intended to prevent data leakage outside of USDA networks. The project was subsequently cancelled because its goals were redundant with another ongoing project, the security sensor array.”
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Source material can be found at this site.

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