Agriculture Department Hired '$2 Million Intern'

Friday, 10 Aug 2012 06:21 PM

By Todd Beamon

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A government department failed to properly use $63 million in federal money to protect itself from hackers — spending $2 million on an internship program that had only one intern and $235,000 on one program that duplicated another — an internal report has found.

An audit by the inspector general for the Agriculture Department (USDA)  discovered that the agency’s Office of Chief Information Officer “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 the Agriculture Security Operations Center.

“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 report continued. The $2 million included $686,000 for “development and implementation of a networking website” in fiscal year 2010 and 2011 and another $192, 500 in housing costs for the intern, the audit said.

The program was cited in the agency’s overall failure to manage 16 projects designed to protect the USDA against regular IT security threats. Before 2009, when it requested a $44 million increase to its $18 million security budget, the agency  relied on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other outside agencies to alert it to such threats.

However, the USDA has “made some progress,” the audit noted, but not without difficulties.

For instance, the agency spent “$235,000 on a project that duplicated another project’s objectives, and was subsequently cancelled,” said the report, which was released last week. “This occurred because OCIO did not adequately develop oversight mechanisms and internal controls to plan projects, coordinate and communicate between projects, or determine how it would effectively utilize its resources.

“Because these projects were not effectively planned, coordinated, or managed, the Department’s information systems are still at risk,” the report said.

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