USDA Dollars

March 14, 2000

Where does your money go? At USDA I believe that a lot of money is spent for a lot of good reasons. Farm support payments to help struggling farmers through tough times. Export funds to move our products into the international market place. Funding to care for our forests . Even food stamps to help needy families.

But I read an article last week that was shocking. According to the Inspector General, more than 20 million dollars of money at USDA that was designated to Natural Resources was diverted to areas that have nothing to do with soil conservation or flood prevention.

You be the judge if our soil conservation money should be used in this way: Pay transportation costs for Sierra Club outings in Los Angeles. Hire an artist to build and paint murals on residential buildings in Los Angeles. Finance "urban habitat classrooms" in Denver and underwrite educational programs of the group Embracing Horses, which allows urban children contact with animals. Back a lawsuit by the Catholic Urban Programs Neighborhood Law Office against owners of derelict properties in East St. Louis, Illinois. Provide almost $750,000 for salaries and benefits of coordinators for the urban projects, even though they were not federal employees.

Now I understand better than most how mistakes can be made in a department as large as USDA. But these were not simple oversights. These projects were not authorized by Congress nor put out for public bid. They were political payoffs. You might take the cynical point of view and say, "Well, that's what goes on all the time in government." My answer is: Not at USDA! USDA is supposed to have more integrity than that.