Microcosms of Government Waste

May 10, 2010

As a fiscal wonk, I spend a lot of time digging through the federal budget looking at the spending trends in the biggest programs such as Medicare. But I’m often struck by the large amounts spent on the tiniest and most obscure activities. Eliminating any one of these tiny activities wouldn’t save much, but they are illustrative of a spending culture in Washington oblivious to the ongoing trillion-dollar deficits.   

Here’s an example: the Department of Agriculture’s $10 million Office of Communications. Of the total, $9 million is spent on wages and benefits for its 77 employees, which equals $116,333 per employee. This almost matches perfectly the overall average annual federal employee compensation of $120,000, which is twice the average in the private sector

So federal workers in a PR office are worth twice the average worker in the private sector? And I’m sure they’re all nice people, but do they really add anything to the nation’s GDP?
This program can be summed up in one word: propaganda. The program’s mission statement makes this clear: 
The mission of the Office of Communications is to provide leadership, expertise, counsel and coordination for the development of communications strategies which are vital to the overall formulation, awareness and acceptance of U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and policies, and serves as the principal USDA contact point for the dissemination of consistent, timely information. 
The operative phrase is “awareness and acceptance” of USDA programs and policies. Taxpayers are being forced to pay for a not-so-subtle effort by the USDA to get them to “accept” a $116 billion bureaucracy that subsidizes wealthy farmers and promotes government dependency through food subsidies.
Here is a sampling of the communication office’s activities:
  • The office uploads propaganda videos to a USDA YouTube site. For instance, this video discusses the USDA’s conservation efforts. Not surprisingly, there’s no mention of the environmental degradation caused by farm subsidies such as that done to the Florida Everglades in Florida as a result of the USDA’s sugar programs
  • The office’s constituent affairs department “acts as a liaison to keep USDA agencies apprised of issues and concerns voiced by stakeholder groups.” In other words, it massages the feelings of the various special interests for whose benefit the USDA exists.   
See here for reasons why the USDA should be abolished instead of being “accepted” by taxpayers.



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