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Government The Almighty Buck United States IT

Arlington National Cemetery's Many IT Flaws 191

Posted by Soulskill
from the may-bobby-tables-rest-in-peace dept.
imac.usr writes "A story in today's Washington Post calls to light the utter failure of the nation's most sacred final resting place to modernize its pen-and-paper record system. According to the story, the cemetery's administrators have spent $5 million without managing to accomplish the seemingly simple task of creating a database record of the site's graves. As Virginia senator Mark Warner points out, 'We are one fire, or one flood, or one spilled Starbucks coffee away from some of those records being lost or spoiled.'"
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Arlington National Cemetery's Many IT Flaws

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  • That's All? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Haffner (1349071) on Friday June 25, 2010 @02:58PM (#32695412)
    Only $5 million? At first I thought this story was about the failure to store data electronically, but now I realize that it's about government efficiency.
    • Re:That's All? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Z00L00K (682162) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:10PM (#32695602) Homepage

      And there are already systems available [google.com] that can manage cemeteries so why not purchase one?

      • by PagosaSam (884523)
        I'll translate that app to English for you for only $5.6M USD, delivery in 5 to 7 years. Cash in advance.

        Thank you for your business.

      • Re:That's All? (Score:5, Informative)

        by westlake (615356) on Friday June 25, 2010 @04:24PM (#32696644)

        And there are already systems available that can manage cemeteries so why not purchase one?

        Arlington has 300,000 gravesites on 624 acres.

        "In addition to in-ground burial, Arlington National Cemetery also has one of the larger columbariums for cremated remains in the country. Four courts are currently in use, each with 5,000 niches. When construction is complete, there will be nine courts with a total of 50,000 niches; capacity for 100,000 remains." Arlington National Cemetery [wikipedia.org]

        Does your off-the-shelf package scale to to a cemetery of that size?

        Arlington has extraordinary historical significance. The data base needs to be more than a bare list of names and dates.

        • Does your off-the-shelf package scale to to a cemetery of that size?

          If that was absolutely the only option available (which it isn't) I'm sure it could be made to. Say the cap is at 10,000 plots... Just create a new cemetery file every 10,000 plots. Certainly not idea... But if you were at all logical in your naming of the individual files it'd likely be easier to find information than digging through the mountain of paper they must have now.

          Arlington has extraordinary historical significance. The data base needs to be more than a bare list of names and dates.

          Why?

          What more information is contained in their records now?

          What more information could you want from a cemetery database?

          Joe Smit

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Rich0 (548339)

          As another has pointed out - a few hundred k records is a trivial problem for a database. You could probably do this in MS Access (though I wouldn't recommend it).

          It isn't like Arlington has to deal with 10k bodies drifting in and out of the cemetery every hour or something like that. This is just a big table indexed for easy searching by name/location, and it gets a couple of inserts per day.

          If this takes more than a day or two to put together, somebody is doing something wrong.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Gulthek (12570)

          Good gravy man, that's like table creation 101. A few hundred thousand records with mostly read operations, rare updates, occasional inserts? That problem has been solved, thousands of times already.

          Just grab some digital collections software (Omeka) or customize some Drupal or code up a quick model in Rails/Django and you're in business. Omeka would probably be the quickest startup and provide the capability for tons of rich metadata.

          No want/need for a public web interface? Don't set one up. Done. Lunch ti

    • Five million dollars is good, but I bet there are other agencies that could have blown through way more! Anyone remember the story about the NYC project (i think it was a time clock application)?

      • by Nadaka (224565)

        When I was still at Bearingpoint (before they went under), I worked on a project that was at least 400 million in the hole. And the client still wanted to keep changing requirements!

      • by longacre (1090157)
        Yes, that one is up to $700 million and counting. Pretty impressive waste for a non-Federal project.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You see a hobo on the street corner begging for money every day, claiming that he's down on his luck and can't seem to do anything to change it.
      You buy him a brand new house, and GIVE it to him, free and clear, to end his days as a transient.
      He then sells the house, and blows all the money on drugs, booze, smokes, and hookers.
      You then see him back on the same street corner, begging for money, claiming that he's down on his luck and can't seem to do anything to change it.

      The "surprise" ending is that the hob

    • They should use their own union labor and quit wasting money by using contractors in the private sector that take the money and run. Whats that? You oppose union labor and paying living wages to keep quality people employed rather than leaving to be contractors? Keeping some dead weight employed at the bottom protected by a bargaining agreement is worse than the dead weight at the top that got there by being the nephew of the boss? Who will then hire his nephew and create dead weight to the bottom of the st
      • by Sparr0 (451780)

        Why do you imply that union-mandated dead weight at the bottom (and, I claim, at every level) is mutually exclusive with neoptistic dead weight at the top?

    • by D'Sphitz (699604)

      $5 million? I'll do it for ONLY $4.5 million!

      Stories like this where the government throws $millions around for a simple website or database really piss me off. Maybe there's more to this system than TFA leads me to believe, but from the sounds of it this is a pretty straight forward project, a more reasonable figure would be in the low 6 figures I think (if it includes hardware and manual data entry).

      This reminds me of the $18 mil us taxpayers spent on recovery.gov . I've built several bigger and better

  • Accountability (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Pete Venkman (1659965) on Friday June 25, 2010 @02:59PM (#32695420) Journal

    Where's accountability when 5 million gets spent and nobody can even make something as simple as a SPREADSHEET?

    • It's amazing, $5 million spent and no progress made on something that you could probably do with a few grand in software, and few grand in hardware and setup, and volunteer labor for the data entry. You could make it part of the tour for crying out loud, 'sit down and enter a few names as you go through', double or triple completed to ensure accuracy of course.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        From the article, it's not correct to say no progress was made. For example, they digitized the microfiche. However, they didn't index them correctly.

        IMHO, this whole issue is philosophically interesting. I think it is a mistake to try and indefinitely preserve the bodies of everyone who ever lived. Rather than be a rotting corpse, I would rather come back sooner as pine needles in an alpine forest and affect the future through writings, or photography, or my descendents.

        Of course, none of that real

        • by Red Flayer (890720) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:51PM (#32696202) Journal

          Rather than be a rotting corpse, I would rather come back sooner as pine needles in an alpine forest and affect the future through writings, or photography, or my descendents.

          So at the root of things, you'd be pining for your descendants in the woods instead of your descendants pining for you in a cemetary?

          Fair enough. But wouldn't you appreciate the thought of your descendants sprucing up your gravesite in memoriam?

          • by timeOday (582209)

            Fair enough. But wouldn't you appreciate the thought of your descendants sprucing up your gravesite in memoriam?

            They could always go hiking and pee on my stump.

      • by whit3 (318913)

        Actually, the specifics that were mentioned in the article indicated
        that lots of the money was spent to make computer-readable data
        of the old records (Arlington has over two centuries of records). That
        might actually be worth what they paid.

        We all think of 'making a database' as the center of this kind
        of problem, but IT ISN'T. Pretty certainly, the monies
        spent weren't spent on building softwares... and the
        employees didn't, in their everyday work, feel the need to
        get every shovel-pusher a computer termina

    • by gknoy (899301)

      They should use Google Earth or something and tag each plot with GPS coordinates as well as who's in it.

    • by syousef (465911) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:38PM (#32696028) Journal

      Where's accountability when 5 million gets spent and nobody can even make something as simple as a SPREADSHEET?

      Clearly you don't work in or understand IT. First there have to be meetings. Lots and lots of meetings. First at management level to initiate the project. Then detailed meetings to set up staffing and outline goals. Then middle management needs to be appointed (more meetings) so that they can flesh out those goals in more detail (more meetings). Of course this is after HR recruits the middle management. The middle management goes through the same process to recruit actual staff. Then management meets with staff that provide feedback on those tasks "No I'm sorry you can't magically walk around with a laptop and scanner and have it absorb names off the gravestones. No there's no technology to do that on the horizon". Then middle management needs to report back to senior management (did I mention meetings?) and senior management needs to meet separately to decide what it means to the project. At this point all those discussions will get confusing so will need to be summarised and corrected. Only now can we start to see a plan coming into being (drafted by middle management, approved by senior management. You guessed it more meetings). At this point work may commence but if it is it will typically be halted by a new priority/requirement being pulled out of senior management's rectum^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H ahem I mean coming to light. This will totally screw up every agreement made about the direction and even nature of the work, which will require more meetings at all levels to sort out.

      Oh and don't be fooled this happens in industry as well as government. Privitising just adds another layer to all this mess and provides another opportunity for waste each time someone changes their mind or adds an unreasonable or ill thought through requirement.

      $5 million is nothing. The fact that an intelligent 6th grader could do better is by the by. it's not how the world works.

      • This seems like a really interesting comment. I'm going to schedule a project kickoff meeting for next week where we can discuss some strategies for reading your comment as efficiently as possible. Reading your comment is a very high strategic priority for me, so I'll try to get a hardware provisioning meeting scheduled ASAP after the kickoff meeting so that I can let everybody know that I'm eventually going to request some hardware to use for reading your comment.

        I setting a rough goal of having your comment read before the end of the fiscal year, but there is a good chance that the project will be pushed back a bit somewhere into the next few FY's.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ajlisows (768780)

          Not so fast. People like you always want to just get right into it. Please submit a proposal detailing why the comment is a very high strategic priority and what reading it will mean to the group as a whole.

          Next, we would have to determine if you are the one suited to reading the comment. I mean, we have people that are suited to this specific task. I know you are eager but you have a tendency to step on the feet of others.

          Since you are obviously not a team player, a meeting will have to be called to de

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The jackasses were moving existing remains, and putting new remains into old graves, and putting landscaping on top of existing graves.

      When your problem is that the guy with the backhoe hasn't been trained to speak up if there's already an existing grave where he's been told to dig a new grave, the solution isn't "hire some geeks to program some computers".

      The solution is to create an environment where everyone who works there respects the dead, and to make sure that procedures enable that respect. It's

  • by Late Adopter (1492849) on Friday June 25, 2010 @02:59PM (#32695426)
    They can't even remember who's in the tomb of the unknown soldier!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:00PM (#32695436)
    The government gets huge economies of scale. That's why we should have them in charge of the health care system. Clearly we will be able to save substantially more money than the private sector once the profit motive has been removed.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:01PM (#32695450) Journal
    Arlington National Cemetery is not an organization that can afford to take the risk of having their servers turned into zombies lightly...
  • by bit9 (1702770) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:04PM (#32695502)
    I'll do it for half that amount!
  • How Sad... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Maximus633 (1316457) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:10PM (#32695592)
    For all of our soldiers who have earned the right to be buried there and we can't even get a decent IT system in place to help people or keep such important records.

    To our Fallen Hero's.... I am sorry.

    I do think it is time that companies and even people stop being so damn greedy and do their jobs. Granted we may not have the insight as to what is happening directly but I am left to wonder who is asleep at the controls on this one. We have private sector people doing jobs that are comparable size to this job and I am sure 5 million dollars would have paid for their time and a mojito and Starbucks coffee whenever they wanted it. I think it is time to disband our Government and reform with people that a hell of a lot more honest then some of the guys we have in there now. Sorry to make this political but the fact remains that someone is not doing their job. Any person's loved ones are important to them but a person who defended our rights and country (regardless if the war is right or wrong to which those that feel it is wrong it is time to bitch at the civilian leaders case and point would be the recent Gen. McCrystal deal.) and we can't honor them with keeping accurate records and spending money WISELY when it comes to their final resting place. Sad...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hax4bux (209237)

      I have worked as a DoD contractor and I am a vet. I agree it is sad, but failure on these projects is the routine outcome.

      Navigating the federal procurement process is a nightmare you have to experience to believe.

      Those infamous $300 hammers are a bargain: at least they got delivered and performed the task.

      • Amen to that, brother. When I was in the Navy we would go through the 'prices' of things that we would req. We attempted to work out the actual cost of the items, including delivery to our ship. We could never get any number close to what the supply system claimed was the cost of the item. I'm talking $5000 for a PCB with 25 year old components on it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Chris Mattern (191822)

          I'm talking $5000 for a PCB with 25 year old components on it.

          That might almost be reasonable--that sort of thing gets expensive when they're not making them anymore.

          • Currently working on a display for older tanks, price is somewhere in the 100K range for the first 10 units, the price drops on additional ones. We had to redesign everything to meet the old spec.

            We could have done it for half the cost if they would have changed the system feeding the information to the display.

            The old display was not near a crisp as the new display, and was made with obsolete parts.

            But this is better than buying a new tank, so in the end, repair may be cheaper than a whole new system.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by TooMuchToDo (882796)
        Glad to hear the DOD is just as bad as the DOE. On the other hand, OMG so much waste =(
    • Re:How Sad... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by couchslug (175151) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:18PM (#32695702)

      The management at Arlington appears to have been too old. Computer literacy should be required of all Federal job holders and they should be shitcanned if they cannot adapt.

      Hold them to the standards expected of the military, which is to do your job or suffer appropriate punishment.

      • Re:How Sad... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by QuantumRiff (120817) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:36PM (#32696000)

        You know.. Some of those records are over a hundred years old. I dare you to show me any kind of electronic record from more than 30 years ago. Go ahead, I'll wait while you try to find a reel to reel, and a system to use it.

        To modernize they need to re-enter everything, then ensure that backups are carefully followed, then they have to replace all the technology every few years, and pay support. Then they have to convert the data when new format/versions come out. That is a ton of Money and Time.

        A Vet teacher had a sign on a door that pretty much summed up the Marine Corps feelings on Technology.
        A computer with a bullet hole in it is a paperweight. A map with a bullet hole is still a map.

        • Re:How Sad... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Pinball Wizard (161942) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:45PM (#32696122) Homepage Journal

          A computer with an offsite backup still preserves data when the building is bombed, burned down, flooded, or otherwise destroyed. A map in such a building will be gone forever. Sayonara, data. Your Vet teacher and apparently the entire Marine Corps have it wrong.

          • Different environments have different requirements. Why can't you have both a laptop and a map in the field?
          • It is quite possible (and was once quite routine) to maintain offsite backups of paper records.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by HBI (604924)

            The sign was referring to tactical systems. Try doing your offsite backup from Afghanistan. Using satellite comms, at best. Beside which, if your system is the only computer you have, you're out of action until you get another, regardless of what backup you have.

            The Marine Corps has it right, you have it wrong.

            • by couchslug (175151)

              Doing BOTH would make sense, as they are not mutually exclusive.

              Once plots are inventoried, make sure the STONE INVENTORY MARKERS MATCH WHAT'S UNDER THEM.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by dangitman (862676)

              The Marine Corps has it right, you have it wrong.

              Here's a thought: perhaps there are valid points and drawbacks for both methods? Shocking, I know!

          • Overkill? (Score:3, Interesting)

            by bussdriver (620565)

            Ever hear of technology overkill?
            Make 2 maps keep one somewhere else. Have somebody make a copy of the map - or even make a HAND copied map! Whoa! mind blowing concept! wait... what if you don't know how to draw or write because you typed everything from birth?

            What is the temp outside? oh, I'll just press F12 and see what it is at the local airport over the internet OR I could just look out the window to a cleverly placed thermometer...

            Rube-goldberg machine: web browser powered widget communicating over a

          • A computer with an offsite backup still preserves data when the building is bombed, burned down, flooded, or otherwise destroyed. A map in such a building will be gone forever.

            In my world, it's trivially easy to make backup copies of paper data - photocopying, microfilming, xeroxing, or scanning and storing digital copies. (Or hell, even carbon copies.) In fact, people have been using various such methods of backing up important data (and storing it offsite) for centuries.

            In your world people seem

          • Re:How Sad... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by nametaken (610866) * on Friday June 25, 2010 @05:52PM (#32697754)

            C'mon people, this is pretty straightforward. These are two very different things, and both are best for their jobs.

            A map is more useful to someone trudging around in the sandbox with 80lbs of gear because it's lighter, the battery isn't going to die, it isn't going to break if you leave it in your pocket and it's invulnerable to software bugs or fried parts. Also, you can hand it to anyone else with basic map reading skills without the added encumbrance of old-timers that don't want your newfangled doohickey.

            A large data management task at an office somewhere is obviously is a job for databases and offsite backups. Paper records should still be kept in some vault somewhere to preserve them, but employees, guests, etc. should be working with a database almost exclusively.

        • by BitHive (578094)

          Haven't you read any of the other posts? This is an easy problem, all they need is a MySQL database!

        • by MartijnL (785261)
          You have got to be kidding me. Any decent storage system can do synchronous offsite data replication nowadays and for cemetary data I'm guessing the I/O requirement is pretty low....... Add a decent tape library at both ends with secure storage in some DoD extra secure vault somewhere (hell, put it at NORAD for all I care) and you're done. First order of business for them is to get an electronic backup of the physical records which can be done in frigging Excel 2010 if need be. Then start thinking about f
        • As long as that computer still is working though, you have a much better chance of not being subjected to friendly fire. Paper map? not so much
        • by Hatta (162192)

          I dare you to show me any kind of electronic record from more than 30 years ago.

          There's a bunch of them right here [atariage.com].

      • by timeOday (582209)

        Hold them to the standards expected of the military, which is to do your job or suffer appropriate punishment.

        From the article: "the Army has reprimanded Superintendent John C. Metzler Jr., who is retiring July 2, and [No. 2 administrator] Higginbotham, who was placed on administrative leave pending a disciplinary review." So, yeah, they're shitcanned. I'm sure some will say that's not enough, though keep in mind they were also juggling many other responsibilities besides IT upgrades.

        • So, yeah, they're shitcanned.

          One is being allowed to fall back on his full retirement bennies, and the other is being paid to not work. Yep, that's some kind of punishment, there. (Granted, the one on administrative leave might wind up catching it later. Then again, he might not.) Compare this to the worker who tried to blow the whistle on them a few years ago. They FIRED her ass.

    • I suspect that you'll find that the business of finding and recruiting honest men is harder than it looks. Arguably, most of political philosophy throughout history has basically just been work on assorted toy problems that arise out of our failure to solve that one.

      Even worse, when it comes to complex projects(and IT counts), even a supply of honest men isn't good enough to assure success. Malicious actors can definitely poison the best of projects; but good people sail projects on to the rocks all the
    • by ISoldat53 (977164)
      The US can't even take care of our vets when they are alive. How do you expect them to care when a vet dies?
  • They're just bones. Does it matter which bones are where? Change the name from Arlington National Cemetery to Arlington National Memorial and you don't even need the bones at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by swb (14022)

      As cynical as it seems, there is something to that.

      I'd wager that a lot of the graves belong to people whose living relatives/descendants have no idea they have a grave there and thus the grave is really only symbolic as part of the visual sea of gravestones.

      And then there's the idea that, well, barring the dead walking again, none of those guys are walking again.

      The other thing I think of is -- as long as the paper records are maintained (eg, copies stored offsite, new copies made periodically, etc), if th

  • by Fallen Kell (165468) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:21PM (#32695742)
    I mean, really. You can setup a redundant/distributed from bare-metal to running in about 6 hours (including full disk scans). Add a cron job to do a dump every night and even just write that to DVD. Creating a database shouldn't be that big a deal. Even designing a web based front-end to search the records and input new ones wouldn't take more than a couple weeks to hash out and implement. Will it be the flashiest thing, no, but it will work and be better than pen-paper. Now, importing all those paper records, that will be the hard part....
    • Exactly.
      I'd start by firing anyone that knew this was a problem and did nothing to at least set up a temporary system and start inputting data. And in the mean time, get down to kinkos and photocopy the damn paper records.
    • Or, even better, have the Gov dept. procard (Government version of an expense account/credit card) Amazon EC2 and S3. Total cost? No more than a couple hundred dollars a month.
  • take photo of all the graves with their details on and people can browse through them in context, tag them with details etc. I as a mere amature put together a composite image of the 'tablets of the missing' [lifeinmegapixels.com] in the American cemetery in Cambridge,UK which lists the names of a few thousand lost personel. One person has already contacted me to say they found their uncle listed.
    • by plover (150551) *

      That sounds reasonable, until you see Arlington and grasp just how very, very big it really is. There are 300,000 graves on the site. That is a huge task, and would require many people. For a place such as Arlington, volunteers would be plentiful. But even organizing a crowd like that is difficult, much less getting them all to perform a specific task correctly.

      While it might sound efficient to put an HD video camera in the hands of a rider and have a 4-wheeler zip up and down the rows of the cemetery,

    • > take photo of all the graves with their details

      How do you know that the markings on the stone are correct?

  • All the funny comments aside I think this is kind of appalling. This should be a fairly simple project. If I was in a position to make some unilateral decisions, I would ask the National Archives for some assistance in creating the electronic records system.
    It might not be within the strictest interpretation of their (NA's) charter, but I think its certainly within the spirit of their mission.
    • by KarrdeSW (996917) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:35PM (#32695970)

      It might not be within the strictest interpretation of their (NA's) charter, but I think its certainly within the spirit of their mission.

      THIS does not happen enough in the Federal Government. 95% of the time when an agency is in need of a skillset that is outside its purview (or sometimes within its purview, but present in a different department), it contracts it out to some third party vendor with questionable skills and typically high prices. Every federal agency should be ready to consult for other agencies when its primary skills are in need, but it almost never happens that way.

  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:24PM (#32695816)

    The article notes that the Veterans' Administration *has* computerized graves registration elsewhere, successfully, covering ten times the number of graves at one-third the cost of this utterly failed effort.

  • and I'll get some friends together and have a usable system up in a week. (Hardware extra!)
  • Similar Story (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mpapet (761907) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:42PM (#32696080) Homepage

    Computers aren't necessarily the answer to every problem. I heard this story on NPR and part of the uproar is some people aren't buried where they should be. No computer will fix that. Quite disrespectful, but I'm hardly surprised.

    In my younger days I wore many hats at a start-up and one of those hats was logistics. We had parts inventory at a local freight company for free because they did lots of business with our assembler.

    I go in to do a cycle count one day and the guy pulls out a notebook and gives it to me before my count, telling me it's all in there. You know what? It was. He had dozens of notebooks. One for each assembler customer. This guys niche was basically to segregate the shipping paperwork from inventory accounting. It wasn't a one-man shop either. He made it work and work well. Most of the LDL shippers use grand-unified logistics applications with double and triple entry labor that would make his kind of service an expensive proposition.

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:58PM (#32696300)

    'We are one fire, or one flood, or one spilled Starbucks coffee away from some of those records being lost or spoiled.'

    This is not an IT problem. This is a basic information storage problem dealing with backup procedure. If you're a major organization and you don't have copies of your records, whether paper copies, microfiche copies (which seems to be the case here), or electronic ones, you're vulnerable.

    Similarly, IT doesn't necessarily solve this problem. If you digitize all the records to a single server and don't make proper backups, you could still be one fire or flood (or even a coffee) away from losing the records.

    (Btw, I do realize that original paper records may have some value as historical artifacts themselves. But those should be in an archive somewhere protected from floods, fires, and errant cups of coffee, while people accessing these records on a daily basis should be using copies, whether digital or microfiche or whatever.)

    • by PPH (736903)

      It certainly is an IT problem. Taking a big picture view of IT, it includes such things as data integrity, security, disaster recovery. And it touches on all aspects of the systems architecture, from applications down to the sheet metal.

      One could even argue that IT is involved with systems based on clipboards and carbon copies.

      • It certainly is an IT problem. Taking a big picture view of IT, it includes such things as data integrity, security, disaster recovery. And it touches on all aspects of the systems architecture, from applications down to the sheet metal.

        I'm not arguing that backup isn't an IT problem. I'm saying that if whether you are a high-tech organization with electronic records or a medieval church with paper records vulnerable to fire, you need to deal with backup. In other words, backup isn't a problem unique to IT.

        One could even argue that IT is involved with systems based on clipboards and carbon copies.

        Well, one could, if one doesn't subscribe to the common definition of IT.

        Yes, one could understand "information technology" to mean any technology dealing with information transfer, in which case, you're right. But that's not what I

      • By the way, if you'd argue that "IT is involved with systems based on clipboards and carbon copies," you might appreciate this, a recreated version of the first "help desk call":

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQHX-SjgQvQ [youtube.com]

  • for $5 million, I'll rent temporary office space, hire people, pay them above industry standard with benefits. Then use these people to build the database, build the web interface, arrange for hosting (perhaps in the cloud), set up the server, enter all the data, have it independently verified. Within 1 year I can hand the keys of the completed project over to the government. Just let me know when you want me to start...
    • > for $5 million...

      You'll have just about enough money to hire all the specialized lawyers and accountants you'll need to comply with Federal procurement regulations.

  • Just let Google take their StreetView trike [blogspot.com], the one for paths too small for a car, down every row in Arlington Cemetery. Then the whole thing would be in StreetView.

  • by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Friday June 25, 2010 @04:24PM (#32696636)

    I bet the contractors all bid in good faith, expecting it to be a cake walk like all of us are assuming right now, until they discovered a seething morass of requirements. Things like

    1. They already had a technical specification for the system (dreamed up by the chief sexton or whatever a cemetery has) which was basically insane and unimplementable but expected it to be followed.
    2. They change the requirements constantly.
    3. The contractors discovered whole other sets of problems concealed in the back of the cupboard ("Oh yeah, we have to keep the form P12 in the cupboard...")
    4. And things too terrible to imagine beyond the ken of engineers.
  • Yes, I think we all remember the two mile island [jt.org] incident, a cup of java [newgrounds.com] could be catastrophic under the right circumstances.
  • by HighOrbit (631451) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @12:36AM (#32700194)
    I used to work for the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) at Veterans Affairs (VA). NCA uses two automated systems: Burial Operations Support System (BOSS) and Automated Monunment Application System (AMAS). They even have an on-line grave locator at http://www.cem.va.gov/ [va.gov] . These systems work very well. The systems are fully linked into the the VA administration of burial benefits due to deceased veterans or deceased military. The system contains information on current burials and has also been loaded with historical data all they way back to the civil war. Arlington already uses AMAS to order headstones. I'm sure the VA would be happy to add Arlington as a site for BOSS (they already manage 128 cemeteries and Arlington would just add one more). It would take some work to load the data, but that would be a one-time effort.

    The interesting thing about the well-functioning VA systems is that they are NOT developed or administered by contractors. They were developed and are maintained by Government employees (civil servants). They are administered daily by civil servants. The programers are all GS employees and the DBAs are all GS employees. Contractors have never touched the systems and hopefully never will. The only thing that contractors did was provide some unskilled labor to do document scanning that was then imported into the system by the Government developers/admins.

    VA has had success when they do in-house development with Government employees and dismal failures when they try to contract-out development. Just Google "CoreFLS" to see how a contractor developed system can fail to the tune of $250 Million and then never be deployed. CoreFLS was a $250 Million boondogle worked on by a bunch of H-1Bs that was so bad the Assistant Secretary for IM was fired by the President. If the President of the United States has to be personally notified that you fscked up, its as bad as it gets.

Programmers do it bit by bit.

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