Print 39 comment(s) - last by NellyFromMA.. on Dec 12 at 2:58 PM

Project suffered an excess of ambition, irresponsible contractors, and a broken management structure

The plan was to consolidate a slew of expensive and largely redundant data service platforms at the U.S. Air Force (USAF) down to a more cohesive collection.  The move was supposed to yield billions in savings by locating and selling redundant parts (roughly half of the USAF's $31B USD in parts is thought to be redundant or unneeded).  The new platform of services would come online, just in the nick of time to complete a massive looming 2017 audit.

I. Too Much Ambition, Too Little Execution

Grover Dunn, the Air Force director of transformation at the time remarked, "We’ve never tried to change all the processes, tools and languages of all 250,000 people in our business at once, and that’s essentially what we’re about to do."

However, the transition never finished.  And last month the USAF was forced to make the embarrassing admission that after investing $1.03B USD since 2005, the transformation was being scrapped after it was deemed that the program had failed to yield "any significant military capability".

Air Force computer center
The USAF is being forced to stick with dated hardware stretching back to the 1970s, after fumbling a major infrastructure upgrade bid. [Image Source: A1C-Meyer]

The decision was also made when contractor Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) -- the lead system integrator -- gave a dire prediction that the project would not be ready until 2020, would only implement a quarter of the original promised scope, and would cost $8B USD.

The military plan, which was based off of commercial off-the-shelf software (“COTS”), would be rather ambitious for a more homogenous large corporation.  Amidst a defense division with a myriad of special needs it was incredibly over ambitious, as Director Dunn's comment suggests.  

II. Experts Predicted Program Was in Trouble

So the question people are asking is why it took the USAF $1B USD -- mostly handed to CSC -- to recognize the futility of the effort.

Jamie M. Morin, assistant secretary of the Air Force, testified before a subcommittee of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee and did not mince words about the astonishing nature of the software services SNAFU.  He comments, "I am personally appalled at the limited capabilities that program has produced relative to that amount of investment."

Paul K. Ketrick and Graeme R. Douglas of the Institute for Defense Analyses warned of the upcoming failure last year, and suggested the sinking USAF effort was not alone.  In their 2011 report they estimated that since 2009 $5.9B USD was spent on such software across the U.S. Department of Defense, with only some smaller programs showing success.

The pair believe that a key determinant of success or failure is the size of the program and whether the DoD makes the mistake of appointing a single director over an overly broad effort, as with the USAF program.  Comments Mr. Douglas to The New York Times, "[The successes] got there because they had strong leadership who committed to the program and had the authority to make the changes necessary for success.  It’s rare that a single leader in the Department of Defense has the authority over the span of activities [as with the USAF]."

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

Now left with software and hardware that dates as far back as the 1970s, the USAF is expected to have to try to scrape by on the 2017 audit with the old platforms.  Most expect the audit to go poorly.  So is the USAF to blame for poor planning?  Experts certainly think so.  

But so far there haven't been reports of cohesive repercussions for the DoD officials and contractors involved.  The USAF is carrying on as if the situation is normal when in fact it is all [fouled] up.

Source: The New York Times

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By NellyFromMA on 12/10/2012 2:24:20 PM , Rating: 4
Don't get me wrong, I don't think DoD is without blame, but the contractors obviously milked them for the money. The DoD are not software, network or IT experts, so its' not their fault for trusting the contractor's to, you know, be experts.

Obviously, they are responsible for coordinating benchmarks/milestones for measuring the project but just going on what I know greater than 50% of the blame falls on these contractors. As amatter of fact, that they would milk DoD for so much without settling for a lesser ammount given their fault in the matter should frankly be boycotted by any other business including government contracts.

Thats wreckless to say the least and predatory to say the worst. Worst is, in reality they milked all tax paying Americans. Pricks.

By RufusM on 12/10/2012 2:41:21 PM , Rating: 3
The DoD must have recourse against CSC for this. I've been involved in any manner of county government bids and they all had performance metrics the vendor needed to adhere to along with milestones and timelines. There is usually some flexibility to account for minor changes to deliverables along the way but it's typically laid out clearly.

I would be shocked if the DoD didn't go after the contractor, CSC, for a large part of the money unless they themselves were ultimately to blame. Maybe the DoD couldn't make up its mind or kept changing requirements?

By NellyFromMA on 12/10/2012 4:26:45 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah that doesn't deviate too far from what typically happens in the private sector in my experience, depending on the particulars, of course.

I agree, either the contract wasn't met due to insufficient needs assesment resultant on DoD supplied information and agreed upon by DoD or they will surely go after CSC.

By Manch on 12/11/2012 10:00:47 AM , Rating: 2
"the ever moving goal post" is a common term here in the DoD. See: F-22, F35, B1B, ABL, AFTR, TBA, etc.

By Jaybus on 12/11/2012 12:36:25 PM , Rating: 2
MACs (Multiple Award Contracts) are where multiple companies are awarded contracts and then they compete against each other continuously by bidding on individual tasks. It is supposed to reduce costs, but of course in order to get a piece of the pie, it now means that contractors have to bid low. It pretty much guarantees that every single task will be over budget and makes it impossible to accurately estimate a total project cost. And naturally, with so much red tape the contractor ends up with too many chiefs and not enough Indians.

Then there is the problem of dividing the job into tasks. If there are closely interdependent tasks and different contractors are involved with them, then the situation becomes the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. The end result is completed tasks that when combined don't work together as a whole.

By SwampEagle on 12/11/2012 1:15:47 PM , Rating: 2
Another important point is that when they started doing this, they did not increase the number of gubment folks doing the reviews/oversight. So now you have 3 contractors competing that need oversight...and the same number of gubment folks that used to oversee one. How do you think that's going to work? Fail. Gubment folks simply cannot devote enough time to properly oversee the multiple contractors in the competition. It's failed before it got started.

By JonnyDough on 12/12/2012 5:54:54 AM , Rating: 2
Use English. Gubment? Erm...

Anyway, the government doles out cash to mega corps to design and estimate costs for production. They have to oversee even this research process, because if they do decide to go with any of the proposed options then it must be secure from the start.

Just PLANNING something like a superior fighting aircraft or naval ship costs in the multi-millions. Actually building it will cost so much more if proper research isn't done ahead of time, because if they have to do research to figure issues out as they're building it then they have wasted waste time/material/payroll, The original estimated building costs will have to be raised and spiral out of control. This makes the DOD quite unhappy but these mega corps have to remain profitable and canceling a project midway is not good for anyone's business. Switching plans would simply cost the government double. Once they choose a design plan they must stick with it, even if it seems to be a poor choice (ie the JSF).

This is why the DOD forces companies to compete within set limitations, and why it scruitinizes plans so heavily. You have to realize though, that making a choice on proposed plans from multiple defense contractors also costs the government a lot of money. So at some point they have to curb THOSE costs and just make an educated decision to the best of their ability. We should all know that with state-of the-art technologies sometimes things don't work quite as they should. As an aircraft mechanice, I know that it often takes years to iron out issues with aircraft. What seems like a minor change can affect flight quite a lot. Maintenance practices change, maintenance schedules change, parts change, pilot pre-flight checks change, etc. It's a lot more complicated and livid than people realize.

Modern day aircraft have little in common with an automobile, but many people still think they do. Most people don't even understand how a jet engine works even though it is perhaps the simplest of any engine, or how an airfoil and differentiating pressures above and below a wing cause lift.

By othercents on 12/10/2012 2:45:13 PM , Rating: 2
The American tax payer money was spent by the DOD dis-regardless of what contractor they choose or how their contract was written. So in the eyes of the public the DOD should have spent more time with the contractors doing proof of concept designs on a smaller scale prior to getting in bed with one contractor.

However yes the contractor is to blame for accepting a contract that they could not fulfill. I would suspect that the contract was written more towards the contractor than the DOD, so there were outs in the contract based on changes in design due to changes in expectations. IE. the contractor had better lawyers.


By Fallen Kell on 12/10/2012 2:54:42 PM , Rating: 2
The DoD are not software, network or IT experts, so its' not their fault for trusting the contractor's to, you know, be experts.

And that is the problem right there. How can you tell if the "experts" you are hiring (at the lowest bid by the way), are actually "experts" and not just good at plating the stuff that comes out of a bull's rear end? The only way to do that is to actually have your own experts in house that know what they are doing. But more and more, the places do not have those kinds of people on staff, and are more and more reliant on the hired "experts".

By RufusM on 12/10/2012 3:30:29 PM , Rating: 2
Typically, you have some expert consultants come in to help identify and document the requirements in conjunction with the employees that know the processes. This consultant is completely independent of the contractors bidding for the work.

Once everything is identified and documented, the RFP is created and it should have certain performance benchmarks and stipulate the penalties for missing them. The penalties typically range from dollars deducted from overall payments or forfeiture of the RFP if the contractor is clearly inept. Most RFPs also require disclosure of previous, similar projects as well as references to contact for some validation the contractor is capable.

By Strunf on 12/11/2012 7:51:11 AM , Rating: 2
You don't call yourself expert if you don't have references, IT companies usually provide examples of their work, and you can of course verify them, it's no different than when you write a C.V. if they verify them or not that's another question.

By nafhan on 12/11/2012 12:19:28 PM , Rating: 2
The DoD are not software, network or IT experts
I've personally known a number of people, in the Air Force, that ARE experts in these fields. Now if you were talking about the Army... kidding!

I guess what I'm trying to say is that your statement about the level of expertise in the AF is simply not true. They do have experts, just not enough of them to complete massive one off projects like this on their own - nor should they.

It really sounds like you're saying the AF should be let off the hook because they are too dumb to know what's going on. Really, that wouldn't be a valid excuse even if it was true. None of this is to say that the contractors aren't at least partially responsible of course. I just feel like you're trying to let the AF off easier than you should.

By JonnyDough on 12/12/2012 5:39:19 AM , Rating: 2
The DoD are not software, network or IT experts, so its' not their fault for trusting the contractor's to, you know, be experts.

Say wha? In the guard we have people who work in the IT industry and then come to work and deploy...

The DOD helps write the book when it comes to codes/security

As for gov contractors, they all milk it. If you want to know where the gov is losing money, that's the biggest spot. Spend more than half a year overseas and you'll realize that the military is pretty good at being frugal when compared to the civilians there.

By NellyFromMA on 12/12/2012 2:58:59 PM , Rating: 2
Surely there are many technical folks throughout all of the the DoD and various domestic and military branches.

However, they are not in the commercial business for which they sought out a professional business to carry out said work clearly valuing the professional value that in theory should exist within that company's organization.

Ugh, misappropriation of our tax money drives me nuts...

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