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USDA spends $2M, gets one intern, program fails

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials spent $2 million on an internship program that had one intern, as it failed to use properly $63 million in federal funding provided for USDA to protect itself from hackers.

The USDA inspector general discovered that the Office of Chief Information Officer (OCIO) “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 [Agriculture Security Operations Center],” according to a new report.

“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,” the inspector general said. The $2 million included $686,000 for “development and implementation of a networking website” in FY 2010 and 2011 and another $192, 500 in housing costs for the intern.

The intern program was an example of the USDA’s broader failure to manage 16 projects designed to protect the department from regular IT security threats. Before 2009, when it requested a $44 million increase to its $18 million security budget, the USDA depended on external organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security to alert it to such threats.

The USDA “made some progress,” according to the report, but not the effort was plagued by errors. “Specifically, we found that some of OCIO’s projects did not meet the purposes outlined in the Congressional request for funding or were not targeted to improve the most critical IT security risks,” the inspector general explained. “Additionally, some of these projects were not completely implemented, and were not sufficiently coordinated. This occurred because OCIO did not adequately plan projects and determine how it would utilize both internal and external resources.”

The result of that bureaucratic mismanagement? “[T]he Department’s information systems are still at risk, even after expending $63.4 million of funding increases received in FY 2010 and 2011,” the report found.

H/T Lachlan Markay

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