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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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I Told Them This Wouldn't Work...
By DougF on 12/11/2012 2:51:19 PM , Rating: 2
I watched this effort and told the USAF this was doomed from the start. Unfortunately the people I told were way down the totem pole and had no choice but to go along with this wast of time, effort, and money.
The USAF spends 10's of millions of dollars every year trying to make sense of the crap they have for data. Why? Because the systems are so old that they don't/can't repair/upgrade so they killed error reporting and just let the maintenance guys pretty much put in whatever they want. In particular, the C-130 database is so corrupted with meaningless data it takes 5 to 10 analysts several months to sort out the data from just one subsystem. We poured through millions of data entries to get just a few thousand sound data bits on trends. The maintenance guys (and I'm one of them) aren't the real problem, they're working 12hr shifts and the last thing they want to do is upload all the work they've done during the shift. They are motivated to go home and drink beer, not type on a computer trying to access a database half a world away and constantly getting reject notices. So, they figure out what data the system will take and just plug/chug/go home.
I told them the only way to succeed is to cut the old systems (G081, G054, G099, etc) off completely and start from scratch. Don't even try to import that crappy data. If it's really important they'll find some money to sort it out and add it to the new database. But the best solution is just import some functioning system from a large aerospace corporation or other maintenance intensive corporation and change how the USAF does business to match it.

RE: I Told Them This Wouldn't Work...
By knutjb on 12/11/2012 9:50:59 PM , Rating: 2
I know what you mean, a major fix project for the 135 was from a flightline Pro Super's hand written notes because the "database" couldn't track it. I know the major corporations all have issues with this too. It is only exacerbated the longer you push the problem down the road.

What was Oracle, SAP or MS's bid on this. The low bid process costs more in the end than does doing it right the first time. I know because I helped the Corp of Engineers with my, yet again hand written notes, show that the low bid doesn't work on its own. Now, or at least they did when I left, have a process to compare bids apples to apples value rather than bid only.

If you think this is bad now wait till they run your healthcare. (insert long cynical laugh rolling into sad crying from life in tricare)

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