Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Director of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano spoke on behalf of the Obama Administration's new initiative to eliminate waste and abuse from federal contracting. As part of his speech, Vilsack mentioned that he had learned of a USDA contract worth $400,000 that career officials in the department had flagged as "unnecessary." Vilsack was vague, saying only that the contract had come late in the Bush Administration and was likely awarded due to contacts. He added that the contract included questionable international travel.
Pressed by reporters for additional information, Vilsack looked to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, as if asking for permission. When Gibbs did not object, Vilsack revealed that the contract had gone to a man named Stan Johnson, a major operator in Iowa who Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, said he knew personally. (One assumes Vilsack will not be invited to the next Johnson family dinner party.) So the question is, who is Stan Johnson and what did he do (or not do) as part of his "unnecessary" federal contract?
A little bit of online sleuthing reveals that Johnson is primarily a poobah at Iowa State University, having once headed ISU's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development and the university's extension school. Other credits on a lengthy resume: Board of Directors of the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, executive director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, and chair of the Board of the DC-based Institute for Policy Reform.
Not bad for a guy who got his start studying agricultural economics at Western Illinois University. One can see how Johnson had the contacts he needed to get a sweetheart deal from the US government. So what was the contract? USAspending.gov, a website that stores info on federal contracts and grants, says that a man named Stan Johnson has a $20,000 contract with the Forest Service in Alaska. That's not likely to be the right man. Clearly more information is needed. Mother Jones spoke to the USDA main office, which said it is gathering information for reporters, and left a message for the press staff at the Forest Service. We'll let you know if we hear more.