Sunday, November 05, 2017

USDA in Vanity Fair

Michael Lewis has an article on USDA in Vanity Fair (hattip to Marginal Revolution). He's a good writer so it's interesting, contrasting the Trump Administration's approach to USDA with interviews with the assistant secretaries from the outgoing administration.  I like it, except for this:
By the time she left the little box marked “Rural Development,” Lillian Salerno had spent the better part of five years inside it.She was a small-business person first and had no affection for the inefficiencies she found inside the federal government. “You have this big federal workforce that hasn’t been invested in forever,” she said. “They can’t be outward-facing. They don’t have any of the tools you need in a modern workplace.” She couldn’t attract young people to work there. Once, she tried to estimate how many of the U.S.D.A.’s roughly 100,000 employees had been taught how to create a spreadsheet. Fewer than 50 people, she decided. [emphasis added]“I was always very aware how we spent money. When I would use words like ‘fiduciary duties’ or say, ‘Those are not our dollars,’ they would say, ‘Are you sure you aren’t a Republican?’ But I was really sensitive to the fact that this wasn’t our money. This was taxpayer money. This was money that had come from some guy working for 15 bucks an hour.”
I'm tempted to cast aspersions on the RD community, but I doubt they're that much different than FSA.  I know by the time I retired  I knew more than 50 people in FSA who were competent with spreadsheet software, including a couple (Joe Bryan and Loren Becker) who were using Lotus (yes, that's how long ago it was--20 years ago now) for very sophisticated purposes.  It might be true that FSA, and probably USDA in general, was slow to adopt personal software.  But in the mid 80's we were using DEC's Allinone software, which included a spreadsheet application.

The one thing in the paragraph I find crdible is "She couldn't attract young people...).

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