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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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This is why entitlements need to go
By superstition on 12/10/2012 2:26:04 PM , Rating: -1
This is why we really need to get rid of entitlements, like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, welfare, and the like. Let them eat cat food.

We need to increase military spending. There's a reason why the military is the most respected institution in the US and our public schools are failing and should be shut down. Blame the lazy selfish unionized teachers. They are what stand in the way of the US achieving greatness in the world.

If we spend more on our military, our country will improve dramatically. As Katie Couric said: "Navy seals rock!"

Is anyone else excited about new video games being developed for increasing recruitment? I am!

By superstition on 12/10/2012 2:37:32 PM , Rating: 2
A U.S. military worth saluting The U.S. military is the most respected institution in American life, according to several polls.

Why do Americans regard the military so highly?

The military is perceived as more effective than other institutions in achieving its goals.

Outward performance matters, but the military has excelled internally as well.

The military is an institution where accountability matters, and this may also account for its popularity.

Big business, big labor and politicians are also seen as self-interested, while the military is not.

The military, like big business, organized labor and Congress, is a large institution, but it is not seen as overly powerful or unaccountable. In an April Gallup poll, only 14% of those surveyed said the military had too much power. Yet 43% felt that labor unions did.

— LA Times 2011

First, military worship is the central religion of America's political and media culture. The military is by far the most respected and beloved institution among the US population - a dangerous fact in any democracy - and, even assuming they wanted to (which they don't), our brave denizens of establishment journalism are petrified of running afoul of that kind of popular sentiment.

Recall the intense controversy that erupted last Memorial Day when MSNBC's Chris Hayes gently pondered whether all soldiers should be considered "heroes". His own network, NBC, quickly assembled a panel on the Today Show to unanimously denounce him in the harshest and most personal terms ("I hope that he doesn't get more viewers as a result of this...this guy is like a – if you've seen him...he looks like a weenie" - "Could you be more inappropriate on Memorial Day?"), and Hayes then subjected himself to the predictable ritual of public apology (though he notably did not retract the substance of his remarks).

Hayes was forced (either overtly or by the rising pressure) to apologize because his comments were blasphemous: of America's true religion. At virtually every major sporting event, some uber-patriotic display of military might is featured as the crowd chants and swoons. It's perfectly reasonable not to hold members of the military responsible for the acts of aggression ordered by US politicians, but that hardly means that the other extreme - compelled reverence - is justifiable either.

Yet US journalists - whose ostensible role is to be adversarial to powerful and secretive political institutions (which includes, first and foremost, the National Security State) - are the most pious high priests of this national religion.

— Greenwald

RE: This is why entitlements need to go
By amanojaku on 12/10/2012 2:52:13 PM , Rating: 2
So, the USAF wastes money, and you blame entitlements? The article even points out that around $6B was wasted on military projects overall. Analysts pointed out the problem wasn't the budget, but rather leadership. No matter how much money you have, it's all for naught if you don't have a competent management team. There are plenty of corporations that have failed for similar reasons. Read up on Lehman Brothers.

RE: This is why entitlements need to go
By superstition on 12/10/2012 2:52:41 PM , Rating: 2
It's called satire, dear.

RE: This is why entitlements need to go
By PontiusP on 12/10/2012 6:57:34 PM , Rating: 2
You're making a logical fallacy.

A and B are a waste of money, so since we're wasting money on A, we must keep wasting it on B.

Dead wrong.

Warfare is a tremendous waste indeed, and so is welfare. Which is why they both need to be dramatically downsized, and even completely repealed in some cases. And yes, teachers' unions have historically stood in the way of reform, so they need to go too.


By superstition on 12/11/2012 2:58:10 PM , Rating: 2
Please continue to lecture erroneously and humorlessly.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen

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