Pushing USDA’s Office of Communications Off the Cliff

Farm writer/television host John Phipps shares some comments he’s reading this morning about USDA’s Office of Communications in light of the growing assumption that farm programs will be gutted even further in the 2012 Farm Bill:


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. 

I particularly like Phipps’ comments about the article: “This may seem like just a cheap shot at a relatively tiny piece of government, but until it dawns on us how we will really have to reduce spending – i.e. eliminate thousands of tiny bureaucracies/programs for penny-by-penny savings – we won’t make any progress at all.”

Perhaps even more insightful is this from a commenter named Virginia: “While PR is a tiny piece of government as you say, it is bigger than you think. The data you cite is just from the Secretary’s Office of Communication. On top of that, each of the 26 agencies within USDA also have their own PR shops. Multiply this across government and it adds up.”

In other words, look at each Cabinet-level office or Department, assume it has a much bigger PR arm than USDA (think the State Department doesn’t have more PR flacks than USDA? Doubtful…), and start doing the math in your head.

Now, before my friends at USDA’s radio shop think I’m throwing them under the bus, there are a couple of really good reporters on staff who supply us with in-person audio from USDA folks like the Secretary that we wouldn’t otherwise have on a daily basis. That is a useful function that helps our business save money (since we don’t generally have the resources to employ a full-time DC reporter). The positions that soak up the most dough in the Communications budget however, I’m assuming, are going not to the rank and file reporters, but to the political appointees to whom they report.

The only caveat to the disparity between government wage and private pay, in my mind, is the cost of living in the DC metro. Knowing some close friends who work on Capitol Hill, DC is one of the most expensive places in the country in which to live. In the context of getting our budget back in order, however, perhaps fewer folks working in the DC metro would send the cost of living in a supply/demand induced decline, making it cheaper to live and work in the District…