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USDA Graduate School

At lunch the other day, my friend Anne reminded me of my favorite pet peeve about government. I’ve often wondered why the agencies engage in activities that have little to do with their mission.

For instance, the Department of Energy spent years, and several billion dollars on a project to map the human genome – a project that could have, perhaps, been done by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Well, as it turns out, genomics are actually important to the effort to combat nuclear waste. There are little tiny microbes that like to consume radioactive sludge and if they can figure out how that works, they can get rid of the stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel and production byproduct, thus making nuclear power a good deal.

So I’ll let DOE’s genome project go, but surely education initiatives would fall squarely under the Department of Education, right? After all, the department name kind of makes that obvious, doesn’t it?

Not to the guys at the Department of Agriculture, apparently. They operate the USDA Graduate School. “Hey”, you may be saying, “This must be like the DOE thing. There’s a logical explanation, right?”

Not that I can find. If this were some sort of program to teach subsidized farmers how to not grow corn, I could understand it. If it were a program to teach failed farmers how to do other things, I could get that to. Instead, this project seems to be a giant community college for anyone living in Washington, DC that wants to learn such critical life needs as: Creating a Podcast; Conversational French; Mushroom Identification; and Screenwriting.

Now, I will admit I have no idea whether the USDA Graduate school is self-sustaining through tuition (I suspect not) or whether the school started with some lofty goal 100 years ago and has become bastardized (as many bureaucratic efforts have).

I also concede an argument that federal employees could use these courses to advance their career and, in doing so, bring more brain power to a bureaucracy in obvious short supply.

But I don’t really care. I just find it appalling while Ag is running a college the Department of Education (which is not actually responsible for educating anyone) is probably running programs to develop missile systems.

We need a top down review of what our government actually does so we can determine whether it needs to do half of it, and how much we’d save if it didn’t do frivolous crap like this.

Written by Michael Turk