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"[ERP] has not yielded any significant military capability" -- USAF spokesperson

Hot on the heels of an election where the two presidential candidates were deeply divided on the issue of military budget cuts comes word that one of the Armed Forces' most costly and ambitious data projects has been scrapped.

I. Money Down the Drain

Dubbed the "Expeditionary Combat Support System" (ECSS), the project involved enterprise resource planning" (ERP). ERP refers to efforts to merge external and internal data flows, such as expenses, manufacturing metrics, logistics, contractor relationships, and unified messaging into a single flow of data.

ERP is an ambitious challenge being tackled by International Business Machines, Inc. (IBM), Google Inc. (GOOG), and a handful of other top players in the data-mining sector.

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) looked to join that select crowd with ECSS and poured a lot of money into the effort -- $1.03B USD since 2005.  But five years later an cool billion out of the pocket, and a USAF spokesperson's diagnosis of the project's health is:

[ECSS] has not yielded any significant military capability.  We estimate it would require an additional $1.1B for about a quarter of the original scope to continue and fielding would not be until 2020. The Air Force has concluded the ECSS program is no longer a viable option for meeting the FY17 Financial Improvement and Audit Readiness (FIAR) statutory requirement. Therefore, we are cancelling the program and moving forward with other options in order to meet both requirements.

Money down the drain
USAF has terminated a $1B+ USD data project, and now may lose up to $15.5B USD in savings that the project would have realized by eliminating redundant parts. [Image Source: Unknown]

In other words, a project that was supposed to cost a relatively hefty $1B USD, ballooned in costs to a problem which USAF think would require at least $8B USD to solve and nearly two decades from the start of the project to deploy.

II. Contractors Offer Little Explanation, Reap New Contracts

In light of that dose of reality USAF has decided to scrap the entire project altogether and start over, writing to ComputerWorld in a statement, "[The funding] will be better served by developing an entirely new strategy versus revamping the ECSS system of record again."

The aforementioned 2017 audit will now have to be run with a slightly tweaked version of the USAF's legacy software set, which dates back to pre-2005 and pre-ECSS.  Comments USAF, "[We will use] existing and modified logistics systems for 2017 audit compliance."

Top contractors like the Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) offered no explanation as to why the project failed. [Image Source: Interbrand]

The failed project may have been a big loss for USAF and U.S. taxpayers, but it was a big win for certain well-paid contractors.  Oracle Corp. (ORCL) scored $88.5M USD for the preliminary work on the project, which it promised would merge 200 partially redundant USAF systems.

Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) then took over scoring, most of the remaining billion in funding to serve as lead systems integrator.  In a response after being fired last year a CSC spokeswoman was unapologetic, writing to Defense News, "CSC demonstrated success in meeting all the major milestones and commitments for the first four years."

In other words, things were going great (or so the contractor says) the first four years, but then on the fifth year something inexplicably went wrong which the contractor was not at liberty to discuss or did not feel was important to discuss.  

Perhaps it's understandable why CSC wouldn't feel overly obligated to give a big explanation of why it failed, given that USAF has shown little signs of punishing it for the failure.  In fact CSC's baffling 2011 report on ECSS didn't stop it from scoring at least one other major cybersecurity service contract from USAF that year.  That contract was worth another $30M USD.

III. 2017 Will Bring a Fresh Look at the Mess

The big issue is that the USAF now has to try to find ways to improve legacy software that have led to major waste.  The problem is somewhat exponential.  USAF has an inventory of $31B USD in parts, of which about half are thought to be redundant and unneeded.  In other words the $1B USD failure could in turn lead USAF to be unable to cut an additional $15.5B USD in waste, which it was expected to do during the 2017 audit.

Michael Krigsman, CEO of consulting firm Asuret and expert on big IT failures was stinging in his analysis.  He comments, "This situation raises more questions than answers.  Why did it take the [Air Force] $1 billion and almost 10 years to realize this project is a disaster? What kind of planning process accepts a billion dollars of waste?  How can they achieve such [an audit] goal when this program is cancelled?"

He expects "many excuses" come 2017 of why the audit failed, and the $15.5B USD in wasted parts linger around, continuing to accumulate.

Source: ComputerWorld

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RE: What a bunch of TAKERS
By Jeffk464 on 11/15/2012 6:24:06 PM , Rating: 2
You do realize this was probably all done by civilian contractors right?

RE: What a bunch of TAKERS
By JasonMick on 11/15/2012 6:33:44 PM , Rating: 4
You do realize this was probably all done by civilian contractors right?
True, but zero accountability, zero results.

If the government operated like a business -- wrote strict contracts, and when something like this happened if it turned around and sued CSC for breach of contract, it would set an example, forcing future contractors to do deliver without excuses.

Instead the government is acting more like that buddy who everyone mooches off of, because they know he has no backbone and will never complain.

Kind of like the Offspring song "Self Esteem":
I wrote her off for the tenth time today
And practiced all the things I would say
But she came over, I lost my nerve
I took her back and made her dessert

Now I know I'm being used
That's okay man 'cause I like the abuse
Well, I know she's playing with me
That's okay 'cause I've got no self esteem

Oh wayo, yeah, yeah
Oh yeah, yeah
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah
Oh yeah, yeah

We make plans to go out at night
I wait till 2 then I turn out the light
This rejection's got me so low
If she keeps it up I just might tell her so
That's pretty much the story of the USAF, given their reaction to this -- no self esteem.

When you turn around and give millions to a company who just fleeced you for nearly a billion, that sets a pretty alarming precedent.

Not saying CSC should face a lifetime ban, but until it regains trust, the government should aggressively pursue getting a partial refund on its payments, and it should penalize CSC in terms of future contracts.

Are CSC and Oracle (well, most CSC) to blame for this mess? Sure, in a way. But the real person to blame is the USAF's IT leadership who allowed this to happen. Again, taxpayers should demand more of their government, and the government should demand more of its contractors, and then we wouldn't be in this mess (or have such a massive national debt).

I think the government has forgotten the root of the word "contractor" is "contract", as in someone you give something to, but have a legally binding agreement to get something BACK FROM. If the contractor does not deliver, the contractor thou must sue.

RE: What a bunch of TAKERS
By Master Kenobi on 11/15/2012 11:42:33 PM , Rating: 4
Most government/military projects of this scope have a revolving door of leadership that changes every 90-120 days. Everytime it happens a "whole new outlook" comes down and time/money is wasted.

RE: What a bunch of TAKERS
By FITCamaro on 11/16/2012 9:24:46 AM , Rating: 3
Yup. Or you get people from the military who have no concept of what you're doing put in charge of deciding whether something is good enough. They aren't engineers and don't always understand that changes to the way you were doing things can have large impacts on things you have already done or planned to do.

Saw it at my last job. See at it this job. Can't make up their minds how they want something but expect you to just fix things instantly, for free, and stay on schedule.

RE: What a bunch of TAKERS
By 3minence on 11/16/2012 11:07:27 AM , Rating: 2
Around where I work, CSC is known as a "body shop". They hire people who have the required certifications but no experience, just to fill the billet. They charge the Feds for the person while paying the employee crappy wages. The good employees soon leave because their tired of doing everyone elses job, and the underpaid employees leave as they hate the pay. Its a revolving door on CSC projects.

Maybe the Air Force contract was different, but I doubt it.

RE: What a bunch of TAKERS
By nafhan on 11/16/2012 10:01:31 AM , Rating: 3
zero accountability, zero results
Come on. You know it's not as simple as "CSC didn't do their job!". I'm sure the requirements were changing almost daily basis. Feature creep was probably insane. They may have been doing exactly what they were asked to do.

Basically, I'm not saying this situation was acceptable (or that CSC should have no blame), but I AM saying that laying all the blame on the contractors is probably not painting a realistic picture of what happened here. The contractors are not in charge of the projects.

In fact, I feel like it's pretty reasonable to lay the blame primarily on the Air Force. If nothing else, they hired these guys and kept paying them for 7ish years.

Good song, though!

RE: What a bunch of TAKERS
By martyrant on 11/15/2012 6:52:33 PM , Rating: 2
Glad that our USAF isn't even capable of handling a civilian task. ;)

I know they are civ. contractors, my point being that this is a civilian ordeal (countless companies use an ERP system) and the USAF wasn't even able to execute a simple task that almost any company who isn't a start up (and even start ups use some form of logistics) has had experience with this...and yet our government can't execute a simple business plan.

RE: What a bunch of TAKERS
By Spuke on 11/15/12, Rating: 0
RE: What a bunch of TAKERS
By martyrant on 11/15/2012 10:37:47 PM , Rating: 2
The longest transition I've seen in a company personally for an ERP system was 2 the fact it took them 10 years to get nothing done and then scrap it sounds like anyone involved in this should be fired, discharged, sued, Mick said, you do need to hold your contractors responsible, and if you look at many SLAs, if someone isn't holding up their end of the deal, you do have a right to sue.

The fact of this article is that we had a bunch of idiots who basically just flushed $1 billion dollars--into a few corporations, and to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if some of that money got lost in the ranks of certain "USAF" officials either. Just about anything is on the table these days when you start talking about government...

RE: What a bunch of TAKERS
By maveric7911 on 11/16/2012 10:44:26 AM , Rating: 2
CSC is a joke of a techie company, that's 90% of your issue right there.

"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference

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