Have you listened to any of these taxpayer-funded podcast?
As a serial podcast listener, I can confirm what you all already know: Everyone has a podcast now. As we learned this year, that “everyone” includes the CIA, which hopes its show, The Langley Files, will make you forget some of the very bad things it’s done. (The title makes it sound a lot more interesting than it is.) However, it seems the CIA isn’t the only U.S. government agency looking to vibe with cool kids via pods.
I was alerted to the existence of additional podcasts paid for by American taxpayer dollars when I received an innocent email from the Food and Drug Administration in October. “Listen to the TechTalk Podcast on Data Exchange,” the email told me. My response: the what?
First off, that is not a good call to action. Just seeing “data exchange” was enough to make my eyes begin to droop. But wait, there’s more! It turns out it wasn’t even called the TechTalk Podcast on Data Exchange, but rather the New Era of Smarter Food Safety TechTalk Podcast. Oof. I feel like I need coffee now.
The CIA and the FDA are not alone. I found more than half a dozen podcast projects helmed by the U.S. government. Some are published quarterly, some are published weekly, and some are published every couple of days. As is to be expected, some agencies started their podcast and then threw their hands up in the air and abandoned it. It’s also a possibility, I imagine, that they just got buried in too much bureaucratic work to continue.
Overall, the thing that stuck out to me the most about these taxpayer-funded podcasts is the topics they focus on. The government likes to talk about some really geeky government things. From weekly morbidity reports and social security numbers to SAM.gov and the U.S. Digital Corps, there’s a podcast episode to tell you all about it.
Click through to check out the various number of strange and bureaucratic things the government thought were interesting enough to put in a podcast.
CDC MMWR Podcast
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a frequent podcaster and releases episodes of its MMWR Weekly Briefing show every week. However, you might not be interested unless you’re a doctor, nurse, epidemiologist, or other type of scientist, the agency /warns/ explains.
MMWR Weekly Briefing summarizes the latest scientific information published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report is “the voice of the CDC,” according to the agency, and highlights notable investigations in public health. It also provides public health recommendations. I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t get through an episode and lost interest, but then again, I’m not the target audience! Bafflingly, MMWR Weekly Briefing has a 4-star rating on Apple Podcasts.
Social Security Publications Podcast
I have to admit, the first thing that came to my mind when I saw that the Social Security Administration had a podcast was, “But what is it going to talk about?!”
As it turns out, the SSA has quite a few things to talk about, such as how people earn work credits, disability benefits, and how to file an unfair treatment complaint against a judge. Yet, the agency seems to have a different definition of “podcast” than you and I. The SSA’s show is called Social Security Publications and literally consists of a presenter reading one of the agency’s publications word for word.
According to Apple Podcasts, the Social Security Publications was last updated in 2014. However, in many episodes, the presenter has read a time stamp from 2021 or 2022. If the SSA wanted to refresh or republish its series, it seems that it forgot to change the publication date.
Federal Acquisition Service’s Focus Podcast
Housed under the General Services Administration, the Federal Acquisition Service helps other government entities procure products, technology, and transportation, among other things. That may seem like a very specific subject area, but the division excitedly states that there is no need to have a “special interest in acquisitions” to enjoy its show: GSA FAS Focus.
The GSA FAS Focus podcast is a very geeky government show, although I admire its enthusiasm, which you can hear in its presenter’s voice. It also sounds more like what we now consider to be a podcast and features interviews with different FAS staff about subjects like the U.S. Digital Corps. The corps is a fellowship program aimed at early career technologists to recruit them to work for the government.
The podcast seemed to gain steam in 2021, when it published an episode around twice a month. We haven’t seen any new episodes this year, though.
The FBI’s Inside the FBI Podcast
Given that the CIA has a podcast, it should come as no surprise that the FBI has one, too. Unlike the CIA, which is pushing propaganda, the FBI uses its podcast, titled Inside the FBI, to highlight news and cases that it’s investigating. The podcast resembles a true crime podcast, complete with creepy background music and interviews with its agents on the ground.
Its most recent episode gives an overview of Top 10 fugitive Omar Alexander Cardenas, a person who is wanted in connection with the alleged murder of a man in Sylmar, California in 2019. According to the FBI, Cardenas shot the victim in the head with a semi-automatic handgun, killing him.
Inside the FBI has been published consistently since April 2020. Some episodes are more gripping than others—probably because we podcast listeners are so used to true crime. Like other government podcasts, the FBI’s show also features little-known facts about the agency, such as its Honors Internship Program or how it investigates hate crimes.
USAID Leads Podcast
Next up on obscure podcasts from the government is the U.S. Agency for International Development, more commonly known as USAID. The agency’s podcast, USAID Leads, focuses on showcasing its expertise and its “innovative approach to international development.”
Like other government podcasts, USAID Leads interviews people who work at the agency, often folks with very long titles and sounds like a typical interview-style podcast you’d find online. The show has analyzed America’s aid response to Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and the ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018. Another episode discussed how USAID approaches support to women and girls abroad.
After publishing a few podcasts in 2018 and 2019, USAID Leads has seemingly stopped releasing new episodes. Given that the agency deals with disaster and crises, though, you can’t really blame it for putting a podcast on the back burner.
The FDA Podcast With a Very Long Name
Let me preface this by saying that I think the FDA does good and important work. However, I think it might be overestimating society’s interest in examining its New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, which aims to help the agency trace food to its source in seconds and prevent foodborne illnesses.
The FDA’s show, the New Era of Smarter Food Safety TechTalk Podcast, aims to break down the blueprint for the public and explain technology’s role in carrying out its goals. Published quarterly since 2021, the podcast has featured episodes on whole genome sequencing, artificial intelligence, and data exchange. Each episode runs about 45 minutes.
Considering the amount of emails I get from the FDA about something that’s been recalled or contaminated, this is very important! I just don’t know if I... want to listen to a 45-minute podcast about it. Especially one that you have to actually go to the FDA’s website to listen to.
Government Accountability Office’s Watchdog Report Podcast
This is probably my favorite obscure podcast because its logo has a precious doggo with yellow headphones on it. You can tell the Government Accountability Office put a lot of thought into its show, called Watchdog Report, and has also worked really hard to produce it.
The GSA has been faithfully publishing Watchdog Report since April of this year and usually releases three or four episodes a month. If I were to bet on any one of these podcasts going mainstream—or, well, getting more streams—it would be Watchdog Report.
Department of Energy’s Direct Current Podcast
Finally, we’re ending our list of obscure U.S. government podcasts with the agency that never ran out of energy to continually release new episodes. Yes, it’s the Department of Energy, and yes, it’s a bad joke.
The agency’s Direct Current podcast has been running since 2016, faithfully putting out one episode per month (almost always) on topics ranging from the hidden costs of rooftop solar, bioenergy, and the plutonium it stuck into the battery of NASA’s Perseverance Rover. Furthermore, Direct Current is also sleekly produced with a great guitar intro.
The Department of Energy hasn’t been on top of the ball with releasing episodes in 2022. You can tell that people who work at the agency has put a lot of effort into making a podcast for the general public, and it’s not bad! Definitely takes second place on my personal list. If only the show’s logo had a dog like the GAO’s. The current is pretty cool, though.
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