USAF Staff "Appalled" at Wasting $1B USD on Failed Software Upgrade
December 10, 2012 2:00 PM
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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".
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. (
) -- 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
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
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.
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]."
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.
The New York Times
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Software "engineering" in it’s infancy
12/10/2012 4:30:00 PM
My engineering mentor-ship happened in the 80's. I didn't mix well with many of the other computer educated folks supporting business systems and ended up in an engineering organization. They all had engineering experience and were either retrained as programmers or also had computer software degrees. They were applying engineering discipline to making software. I was mentored by them in the engineering discipline, it was great, and a real eye opener.
After experiencing how most software is made:
1) Make a dummy interface
2) Put a database behind it
3) Make a half way effort to document what you did and call it a "design".
It's not surprising that the DOD project tanked. Probably just your typical programmers were design is at best a secondary thought.
Unfortunately most people are hung up on what something looks like rather than how it works. How your data is stored and how the software works is much more important than what the interface looks like.
Many people too easily impressed by software that looks cool. The is the age where software is form more than function. Software is a new discipline that lacks discipline.
RE: Software "engineering" in it’s infancy
12/11/2012 10:58:10 AM
From the sound of it, it seems like they were trying to take hundreds or thousands of different systems and processes and establish some uniformity. There should have been
very extensive analysis
with a detailed report on the chances of this succeeding. Wasting $1B before you determine that it is going to fail just seems ridiculous to me. Any software person with large systems integration experience knows just how complicated such a task is and the amount of unexpected problems you are likely to encounter, especially at this scale. Granted, I don't know the whole story, but this sounds like a serious management failure.
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