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Government The Almighty Buck IT

Social Security Administration Joins Other Agencies With $300M "IT Boondoggle" 144

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the should-have-gone-into-government-IT dept.
alphadogg (971356) writes with news that the SSA has joined the long list of federal agencies with giant failed IT projects. From the article: "Six years ago the Social Security Administration embarked on an aggressive plan to replace outdated computer systems overwhelmed by a growing flood of disability claims. Nearly $300 million later, the new system is nowhere near ready and agency officials are struggling to salvage a project racked by delays and mismanagement, according to an internal report commissioned by the agency. In 2008, Social Security said the project was about two to three years from completion. Five years later, it was still two to three years from being done, according to the report by McKinsey and Co., a management consulting firm. Today, with the project still in the testing phase, the agency can't say when it will be completed or how much it will cost.
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Social Security Administration Joins Other Agencies With $300M "IT Boondoggle"

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sounds a lot like Beta Slashdot. How many years until that is out of testing and complete?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Good Lord, hopefully it never gets to that point! The Beta site can't be salvaged. It is a lost cause, and it should have been discarded months ago. It's one of those things that's just so fucking broken in so many inherent ways that it can't be saved. The sooner it's completely thrown away, the better. Keeping it around just causes more harm and more expense.

  • Legacy Systems. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @02:26PM (#47524073)

    Legacy Systems are built with 40 years of code and modifications to meet every requirement the user needs.

    Then you have 5 years to build something new and try to catch 40 years worth of rules and logic.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, it is called a Service Bus and you do validation on the endpoints with rules that are determined through an objective and iterative analysis.

      Something fails validation and it goes into a review queue to be fixed in ways dependent on the type of failure detected.

      You end up with a sieve that acts like an airlock for unreliable data.

      Searching for records first goes to the "safe" side. If no records found use legacy system. Over time the weight shifts from one to the other and personnel requirements for m

      • I love this:

        >> Searching for records first goes to the "safe" side. If no records found use legacy system. ...as if the system consists of a single query, so the solution is simply to scan the new system and then the old system. Versus the reality of ten bazillion queries and thousands of database tables.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You end up with a sieve that acts like an airlock for unreliable data.

        In my experience, a Service Bus gives you a bottleneck that lets some good data through, let's some bad data through, and randomly swallows some data. Why someone would prefer the complexity of a general purpose "bus" versus simple interfaces escapes me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      racked by delays and mismanagement

      40 years of code could mean 2-3 years of development, and then fixing a bug here and there and updating this or that every now and then. Just because some of the code is 40 years old does not equate to 40 years of development time.

      5 years is a pretty long time to focus on straight dev time. Sounds like the mismanagement part had more of an impact than just using the excuse of it being a "legacy system". I realize that management always portays the timeline as 1/3 of what it will actually take to develop

      • It is also important to keep some perspective. Compared to many other government boondoggles, $300 million is not that much. The F-35 program burns through that much EVERY DAY.

        • Re:Legacy Systems. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2014 @03:20PM (#47524469)

          Hmm..
          F-35:
          Lockheed Martin

          New system for Social Security primary contractor:
          Lockheed Martin..

          Yes perspective.. Yea' we wasted $300 million, but at least that is not as much as WE wasted on the F-35 project..
          And lets double our CEO pay while we are at it.

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/lockheed-ceo-hewsons-pay-doubles-to-25-million-in-2013/2014/03/21/c6390418-aebe-11e3-a49e-76adc9210f19_story.html

      • Just think of it as a jobs program/economic stimulus/enrichment of a random company on the public dole. It makes perfect sense if you buy into the economic value of the government scaling big bureaucracies that depend on a competent contractor to help them scale so big being beneficial to the economy. Just think about how much more beneficial it is, then, to have it done three or four times to get it right.

        On the other hand, consumers could have spent that money rather than paying the government to pay thos

      • Re:Legacy Systems. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by AK Marc (707885) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @03:57PM (#47524801)
        Delays and mismanagement is standard for any large enterprise. The only difference is that corporations have more legal room to hide their mistakes.
        • by khallow (566160)

          The only difference is that corporations have more legal room to hide their mistakes.

          Such as needing to turn a profit and being legally required to follow GAAP?

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            GAAP requires private companies to respond to FOI requests?

            No, it's properly documented for the annual report, but listed as "one time write-off", often as part of an acquisition cost, with insufficient details to determine the actual cause. And when the company turns a multi-billion dollar profit, you can lose $300M on a single project without bankrupting the company.
            • by khallow (566160)

              GAAP requires private companies to respond to FOI requests?

              That's a different issue. FOIA applies to public work done by private companies as it does for public work done by US/UK government organizations.

              • by AK Marc (707885)
                You'd never see that if Mobile did a new middleware upgrade that wasted $300M and never worked.

                And the issue here isn't Lockheed Martin's incompetence in delivering the contract, but the Government's in poorly managing a vendor.

                The hypocrisy is that the government is always blamed.
                • by khallow (566160)

                  The hypocrisy is that the government is always blamed.

                  Yes, it's so unfair to be blamed for monumentally poor management of a project.

                  • by AK Marc (707885)

                    Yes, it's so unfair to be blamed for monumentally poor management of a project.

                    It is when the same incompetence in the private sector isn't condemned.

          • by riverat1 (1048260)

            Around the year 2000 Nike lost something like $100 million in sales because of a failed SAP installation that cost them $400 million. How much did you hear about that?

      • by wideglide (899100)
        I beg to differ. Working 30+ years on airline reservation / check in systems and several 'data hubs' around these beasts. So far NO NEW FANCY data hub has replaced one of the mainframes ... And the software there is partially closer to 50 years than 40. Mostly 370-assembler with a dip of PL/1. The oldest program still in production (on our box here) was written in 1966, modified maybe times but about 20 % are still original. Now talk about a maintenance nightmare :-) But there were a gazillion of 'replaceme
    • by khallow (566160)

      Then you have 5 years to build something new and try to catch 40 years worth of rules and logic.

      Sounds hard, but far from impossible on a $300 million budget and five years.

      • by Desler (1608317)

        Never worked for or with Lockheed, eh? Or maybe never heard of the F35?

        • by khallow (566160)

          Or maybe never heard of the F35?

          That's a non sequitur. Even if Lockheed was being paid to make a viable fighter jet - rather than the reality that they were paid whether or not they made a viable fighter jet - it's not the same as being paid a large pile of money to do an IT project.

          • by Desler (1608317)

            How is it a non-sequitur to point out previous expenses failures that they've been the head contractor for? Also, this is far from being their only IT-related disaster either. So again I ask: You've never worked with or for Lockheed have you? They can't properly finish projects in the same scope with costs many times this one.

        • by clovis (4684)

          Never worked for or with Lockheed, eh? Or maybe never heard of the F35?

          On the other hand Lockheed also made the C-130 Hercules.

    • Don't forget how you can't change anything about how the system works in a way that reduces the work of any particular role in the organization, or the relevant union will get very angry.

  • by raymorris (2726007) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @02:26PM (#47524077)

    These government agencies need to hire some developers for whom a few million hits is just another day. Something like girlsgonewild.com gets more traffic than healthcare.gov, and handles it with two well-configured commodity servers.

    • by jeffmeden (135043) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @02:36PM (#47524145) Homepage Journal

      These government agencies need to hire some developers for whom a few million hits is just another day. Something like girlsgonewild.com gets more traffic than healthcare.gov, and handles it with two well-configured commodity servers.

      Something tells me that with girlsgonewild.com, the "interaction" is mostly "client-side" so the, er, "workload" is actually minimal. And the use case count, I believe, still stands at 1, and they are at best appealing to exactly half of the US population. It's a bit different than a place like the Social Security Administration, an org that has taken on the unenviable task of managing retirement and disability insurance for *every goddamn american* which is a pretty ludicrous scope. If raw horsepower were the issue, yes bring in outside help. The real problem (or at least one of them) is that of all 65,000 employees, many of them have a specific task since the aforementioned scope is so grand. Try finding a way to economize when you are basically building a system for a small clerical office, and then doing it about 15,000 times with each iteration just different enough from the last to require constant rewrites.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      These sites aren't developed by in house programmers.

      Braidamaged, toxic, idiotic, retard conservative culture (You. You heard me. Did I fucking stutter?) has convinced everyone that nothing can be ever developed in house by a government, ever.

      It all must be contracted out to whoever can bribe officials the best and can lie on their proposal the best. This method will always go over cost and under deliver. Every time. By design.

      When the project blows up, conservatives blame the government and the cheating co

      • by Curunir_wolf (588405) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @03:21PM (#47524475) Homepage Journal

        Braidamaged, toxic, idiotic, retard conservative culture (You. You heard me. Did I fucking stutter?) has convinced everyone that nothing can be ever developed in house by a government, ever.

        It's known as "crony capitalism", or "Public-private-partnerships (PPP)", and we called it Fascism in the 1930's and 1940's. Leadership on the "progressive" or "liberal" side is at least as guilty of promoting these things as conservative culture, in fact it seems to be conservatives that want to back away from it, while the Democrats are doubling-down. It was the Democrat governor Mark Warner that handed all of Virginia's IT work over to Northrop Grumman many years ago. And, of course, the liberal appointees at Obama's HHS that outsourced the HealthCare.gov website for millions of dollars more than should have been spent to do it.

      • Unlike liberal Texas (Score:4, Informative)

        by raymorris (2726007) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @03:29PM (#47524541)

        Unlike Texas, where the state government employs thousands of programmers because they are so liberal. I just got out of a meeting with a bunch of government programmers from Texas. They'll all tell you the same thing - getting stuff done within red tape of a government agency takes them twice as long as long as it took them in the private sector jobs - unless there is a federal grant or contract involved, in which case it takes twenty times as long.

        One project they did last year was for a federal government contract, for OSHA. They spent a year and a half developing the system, then during the beta test OSHA cancelled the project. This is after the feds had them write a system where it would print all the database records on paper, to be sent to the feds, who would manually enter it into a computer file, then send that file back to Texas, right back to the same agency who had sent it to them in the first place. That's about typical for the federal government. Government is one thing - it's supposed to be fair and deliberate, not far and efficient. The FEDERAL government is something else entirely.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          I suspect those programs are used to ignoring good design and engineering principle in the private sector.
          I can built a road quicker then the government, but you will be replacing it in a year becasue it won't be engineered.

          • TFS mentions that the contractor is trying to replace hundreds of different incompatible, overlapping study systems that the government has built or ordered. Does having hundreds of different systems with overlapping functionality trying to talk to ready other sound like proper engineering practice to you? That's what the government decision makers have come up with.

            From my experience, government systems are designed for two primary goals. First, give each fiefdom it's piece and second, compliance. Compl

  • by NaCh0 (6124) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @02:27PM (#47524093)

    Until the vendors who are building this system get their company name in the headlines, the status quo will continue.

    • by netsavior (627338) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @02:37PM (#47524165)
      The contractor is Lockheed Martin, which is why it is not in the headlines.
      Any time you ask them a question you get: "Well sorry, the reason it is late is classified." It is their typical scapegoat, so nobody even bothers asking them questions anymore.
      "We have an excuse, we only work with the government, we didn't realize it actually had to work... we just thought we had to grease the right palms...Also we need more H1Bs please."
      • by jcochran (309950) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @03:18PM (#47524459)

        Oh good god...

        I was a LM employee a few years back. Brought in on a project that was failing. And the main issue with the failure was their process.
        For instance, LM was using Common Criteria and they were trying to get the system to EAL4. And frankly, getting there is quite doable. Unfortunately, management and the customers for the project didn't bother to actually understand anything about requirements.

        For instance, in Common Criteria, your need to tailor the documents. An example would be this template being tailored to the system requirement:
        FPT_FLS.1.1 The TSF shall preserve a secure state when the following types of
        failures occur: [assignment: list of types of failures in the TSF].

        The above template is obviously intended to be tailored to include a list of possible or predictable failures upon which the system will still remain secure. But this is how LM tailored that little beauty:
        FPT_FLS.1.1 The TSF shall preserve a secure state upon a partial system failure.

        Notice how the tailoring totally removed anything concrete about the requirement? What kind of partial failure? How do you test it? When is it violated? etc, etc, etc, ad nasium.

        And that kind of bullshit "tailoring" was done EVERYWHERE. There would be multi-hour meetings just change, tailor, and interpret specifications tailored that way. And any suggestion by anyone working in the trenches stating that the requirements were badly done and needed to be redone properly in order to actually get a functional system was met by "We can't do that, it would be too costly."

        If the above paradigm was used on the Social Security project, I can definitely see why progress has been snail slow and over budget. They're most likely still attempting to get their specifications correct.

    • by jeffmeden (135043) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @04:17PM (#47524989) Homepage Journal

      Until the vendors who are building this system get their company name in the headlines, the status quo will continue.

      The other key information is this: The SSA has 65,000 employees and is in charge of a staggering $736B per year (as of 2011, and it continues to rise). And we are here having a pissing match about all the reasons that $300M is too much to spend on the system that is supposed to make sense of over 300 million "customers" (1 dollar per customer?) One half of one percent of their annual budget is too much to get this right? Most corps spend upwards of 10% of their annual revenue on IT, and surely the SSA is not most corps but the scope of what they do is really impossible to underestimate so a project in the hundreds of millions shouldn't make anyone flinch.

      The real missing key information is exactly why this kind of story is surprising, on any level, to anyone? My gut says it's the fake shock of someone who would protest anything that came out of the SSA.

      • Another huge thing is the continuous requirement changes from the government after the product is already developed.
        • by Desler (1608317)

          As opposed to the same thing that happens developing commercial software? Changing requirements, scope creep, etc. is just par for the course in ALL software development.

      • 1/20th of one percent of their annual budget.

  • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @02:29PM (#47524105)

    I've never heard of such a thing. Thank goodness Slashdot is here to challenge our preconceptions.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @02:31PM (#47524117) Homepage

    And, now they'll say it was all the fault of the contractor.

    In reality, I suspect it's government infighting, poorly defined (and constantly changing) specs, and congress-critters trying to get a piece of the pie for their own districts.

    They always blame the contractor but usually it's being managed by incompetent people without enough accountability and controls.

    In fairness, I've seen a lot of legacy migrations fail, because it's often damned near impossible to understand the existing system well enough to write a replacement for it, and then you end up breaking everything which has been integrated with it for years.

    I've been on a few large legacy replacement projects which fell squarely on their nose as the project progressed, largely because the system is vastly more complex than the initial analysis, and people make it impossible at every turn.

    • poorly defined (and constantly changing) specs

      Been there, done that, probably doing it again next week.

      I love it when some random project manager leaps into a commercial product only to find the requirements they shopped for when purchasing aren't the same as the business requirements. It usually has some hard to find out of the ordinary feature that was specifically requested and then is missing a couple common critical features that were not mentioned by the requester.

    • by Desler (1608317)

      And why shouldn't they be blamed? These large contracting companies are largely incompetent. They get business by lobbying not competency.

    • by Tailhook (98486)

      And, now they'll say it was all the fault of the contractor.

      Reading the story doesn't make it clear. Lockheed Martin was contracted in 2011. However, the project began in 2008.

      So either it took SSA three years to select a contractor (entirely plausible,) or SSA started the project internally and then contracted it out for some reason.

      In any case the cause seems clear enough; the analyst Congress made them hire can't figure out who is in charge of delivering the system. No one in SSA has taken responsibility — so it flounders on — the never ending zomb

    • by Tridus (79566)

      And a lot of the time, the contractor is utterly incompetent and more interested in billing hours than completing the job.

      Let's not pretend that companies taking government contracts are good guys, here.

    • In reality, I suspect it's government infighting, poorly defined (and constantly changing) specs, and congress-critters trying to get a piece of the pie for their own districts.

      Sure, there's no doubt those things come into play. However, Lockheed isn't new here. They've dealt with plenty of government contracts, and they should be well aware of these conditions. Take your estimates and triple or quadruple them if you have to.

    • by kaiser423 (828989)

      In fairness, I've seen a lot of legacy migrations fail, because it's often damned near impossible to understand the existing system well enough to write a replacement for it, and then you end up breaking everything which has been integrated with it for years.

      Exactly. Nobody understands it all, nobody's around/in power long enough to see it through and often times there just isn't the political juice to make all of the silos cooperate effectively.

      Last time I had to replace a whale of a system like this, we were able to target one silo and implement it there. You target one small silo, one manager of an area that you can hone in on and just focus your energies on getting through that. You rationalize the layout, put everything in databases, etc, etc such th

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      And, now they'll say it was all the fault of the contractor.

      And there are people who will always automatically say it was the fault of the government.

      The truth is there's probably plenty of blame to spread around to nearly everyone involved.

  • It would be interesting to know what % of this work was outsourced, or in-sourced, to foreign corporations/workers. Also, it would be interesting to know 1) how contracts for this work were let, and how they were monitored along the way; 2) what incentives for good work were included, or disincentives for bad work were included. Does anyone know?
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      And, then contrast that to how much controls were on the people who oversaw it, how well they communicated/knew the requirements, how often they changed them, and how much political infighting they did.

      I've been on several projects trying to replace legacy systems. And, as often as not, the client is fighting among themselves, the definitions are either never nailed down or are constantly shifting, and the people involved have no actual experience in managing large scale IT projects.

      I'm more likely to thin

      • by Desler (1608317)

        The funniest part of your rants is the unfounded assumption that Lockheed is or ever was competent.

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          The funniest part of your rants is the unfounded assumption that Lockheed is or ever was competent.

          I make no such assumption, that's all you.

          I'm saying I'm not willing to conclude the issue was entirely the contractors, and that the people in charge of this quite likely brought their own level of incompetence to the table.

          I'm not willing to assume it was entirely the contractor, because I've seen FAR too many examples of management incompetence on these kinds of things.

  • How man of us have either seen commercials or heard about lawyers colluding with doctors to get people to claim "disability" with the SSA even when they have nothing wrong with them?

    This is definitely one of those programs which needs heavy monitoring to weed out waste and fraud, along with military procurement.

    True story along the same lines. My dad had to appear in court regarding a disability (non SSA) claim one of the company employees claimed they had and why they couldn't come back to work.

    During tes

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      It's all about incentives. When we shut down welfare in the 90s, we did so in a way that encouraged states to migrate people enrolled in welfare over to SS. The states naturally responded to these incentives.

    • I've heard about it, but I know precisely one person who is on SSI for disability - my sister who has schizophrenia - and she has the mental capabilities of a ten year old.

      I have an acquaintance (not a friend, I don't like him) who threw out his back at work and tried for years to get SSI disability, to no avail. He was capable of working, he just didn't want to any more. (We have a lot of call centers here in town. Indoor work with no heavy lifting.) I think all the judges in his case knew that was h
      • I was in a meeting with our Workman's Comp Carrier recently

        A representative of the carrier said "If a person doesn't return to work in 6 months, the odds are they will never work again in their life".

        Made sense, 6 months is the disability term required to get SSI

  • Gee, another $300 million down the drain on a system that doesn't work? What a shocker.

    Contractors are being well-paid, government supervisors are being well-paid, I'm sure no one will be fired and I'm sure at least some folks who have contributed to the problem are getting bonuses. Just like the banks in 2008 -- there is not a shred of real accountability.

    A public that allows this is getting what it pays for. It really has no reason to complain.

    • Look at what happened with the Obamacare website to see how things actually work. Tons of time and money were spent on an important system that was developed by the usual suspects. It didn't work, and it was going to cause problems for someone important, the President. So what happened? The President called in competent people -- the people who had worked on his campaign website, not the people who work for his government. The thing got turned around in no time and started working. See -- people get w

    • by ISoldat53 (977164)
      The same thing happens in the private sector too. We just don't hear as much about it.
  • Have none of these places heard of replacing a system piece-by-piece? Or agile development? You don't take a decades old system and replace it in one step. You replace it piece-by-piece. That's not trivial to do, but these stories about "5-year project cancelled with absolutely nothing to show for it" are crazy.

    • We are about to go live with a system where we're doing just that. 10 year old internal website, originally built for IE6 or somesuch, throws a hissy fit when presented with anything passed IE8. We're rebuilding one page of it that happens to be the most broadly used page, so that 90% of the user base can finally get rid of IE8. The other 10% can wait another few years while we gut and rebuild the rest of it.
  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @02:45PM (#47524227)

    Contractors will give you two basic choices for contracts.

    1. Pay for my time. Do what every you want, change what ever you want... but you pay for my time.

    2. Specify the project in exact detail and the whole thing will get an over all bid to those specifications. Changes cost extra and may require an additional contract.

    I'm assuming the government keeps going with option 1 and I'm thinking most of these issues would go away if they went with option 2.

    • by Bruce66423 (1678196) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @02:57PM (#47524331)
      The reality is that governments - be it in defence or eslewhere - are always moving the goal posts, and the contractors are running to catch up. So in theory option 2 is the best, but it usually doesn't work out as well as it really ought to. The UK is currently playing the same game with a new system for welfare benefits, and it's equally disasterous. And remember - the private sector is often as bad, they usually get to bury their mistakes without publicity!
      • You're using examples where they were given the option of doing it ad hoc.

        Consider if as part of the appopriations you made it a requirement by law that they go with option 2.

        By all means, you can have some projects that go by option 1. But if you want 300 million dollars and you have a track record of fucking it up... Require them to go with option 2 so our money doesn't get wasted. IF the contractor fails to deliver they don't get paid.

        The burden must be on the government to be very clear about what it wa

        • by geekoid (135745)

          government usually is, and the contractor always says it's clear.
          If I tell you, I want 4 apples for a dollar, is that clear?
          And you say yes.
          Whose fault is it when you bring me 5 tomatoes?

          • contractor is at fault if they sign a contract and then fail to live up to the terms. Further, the government or any customer/client should not be liable to pay for a project that is not completed to contractual specification.

    • by Tridus (79566) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @03:13PM (#47524427) Homepage

      Speaking as a developer who works for a government, option 2 is rarely possible.

      Keep in mind that the "government" is a collection of departments, branches, sections, or whatever you call them. Those are run by managers, which are run by more managers, which all have their own agendas, budgets, and powers to protect. Now add in politicians at the top, who change pretty regularly and have very different goals from everyone else.

      So, in the best case scenario, at the start of a project everyone agrees on what it needs to do, what needs to be replaced, and everything else. You have specs, and you know what the goals are. Great! Then an election happens. New party in power, and priorites change. Now it has to do something else.

      Oh, then a manager retires and a new one comes in. Now it has to do something else.

      A new law is passed, now it has to do something else.

      Someone changed their mind, and now it has to do something else. ... on, and on, and on it goes. This happens *all the time*. And that's if the people actually know what they want, which in my experience often isn't true in itself (like the Air Force ERP that didn't know how many systems it was replacing).

      In a case where there is clear goals and strong management, #2 works great. Often times things just change too much and the only sensible way to accomplish anything is to go with #1 and do the project in smaller, more manageable pieces.

      • they don't change the way bridges are built after the engineers and politicians sign off on the plan.

        you do the same thing... does that mean they'll be constrained to the initial project? Yes. So what... it will get done and then you can change it later AFTER it works.

        Further, this would encourage such people to spend more time in planning rather then just greenlighting things with no consideration.

        The status quo is unacceptable. You have experience in the field? Great... tell us how to fix it. Don't tell m

  • At least it's considerably cheaper than the stupid PPACA exchanges.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      No it's not.

      Not that I expect you to use actual facts when trying to stuff you ideology into a discussion.

  • I'm very curious how the racks caused delays. Were there too many that fell over damaging the servers? Perhaps the under performing vendors are being tortured for their failure?

    Well, how about that, it appears that the word wrack (synonyms, ruin, destruction, wreckage, (v) to cause destruction) have been replaced by the word rack (synonyms: shelf, torture device, (v) subject to extreme stress).

    Bah. My first attempt to be a grammar Nazi and I have to correct myself.
    • by Desler (1608317)

      Rack had been used as an alteration of wrack since 1592 according to Merriam-Webster. You're a few hundred years late to the party.

    • "it appears that the word wrack ... have been replaced by the word rack"

  • There should be 1 federal IT agency that can do all / most of the government IT with out all of the consulting / contracting / subcontracting overhead.

    • by Desler (1608317)

      Good luck funding it.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        IT would be funded from the money the agency pay when they need a major job done.
        Of course, I've seen this sort of thing before. In my case we got what needed to be done, done on time, and done well BUT it took longer the private busines claimed they could do it in, and cost more the what private business claimed they can do it for.

        Neither of which is true becasue they were always extended.

    • I don't see how yet another huge unaccountable Federal agency is going to resolve the problem.
  • replacing a large legacy system will take 2-3 years is ignorant or a liar. Neither of which should be involved.

    Once again, corporation signed and agreement,. wiggle around for more money and tried to put an organization on the 'it's too late to stop now treadmill'

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In a previous life, my company dealt with the SSA data processing side. Obviously I'm posting anonymously. Just wanted to let you know that this is not news.

    The SSA data processing and software side is big. So big that you can't do anything without waiting for months to get things through their process. To do anything substantial, you have to get multiple departments together and have their managers agree on the change. They have huge spheres like J2EE, databases, back-end big iron, and so on. Their applica

  • by Alsee (515537)

    If there are any other government agencies out there looking for a new IT system, I can fail to deliver for $100 million.

    -

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If these sorts of projects would actually be cheaper if they paid two companies to do them, the one that completes qualification first gets to keep it during the upkeep phase.

    Yes, it would require paying for development twice, but you'd be more likely to get a timely result, assuming the upkeep was lucrative and the companies didn't collude.

    • by Desler (1608317)

      Because you think they wouldn't game this? Corporations never collude or anything, right?

  • by erp_consultant (2614861) on Thursday July 24, 2014 @06:05PM (#47526053)

    I have worked for a number of government agencies and large contractors. This story does not surprise me in the least. What WOULD surprise me is to find a story where one of these large scale IT projects actually got completed on time and on budget. Now there's a story.

    Probably a rehash for some but here is, in my opinion, the reasons these projects continue to fail:

    1) The procurement and bidding process is flawed, particularly at the federal level. Many firms are forbidden to place bids on projects because that lack this or that credential. As a result, it's the same old players time and time again. IBM. Deloitte. Oracle. Honeywell. Lockheed Martin. Both the Democrats and Republicans know that it's broken and both of them have had a chance to fix it but don't.
    2) Governments insist on doing "fixed bid" (i.e. flat rate) projects. In my experience, fixed bid projects almost always turn out poorly, Particularly for large scale projects. What ends up happening is that the project (for whatever reason) falls behind. But the deliverable dates stay the same. Eventually the contractor has to either go back and ask for more money, do the work at a loss, or start cutting corners.
    3) Government managers, by and large, don't understand the concept of a budget. Often there are no consequences for finishing late or going over budget. They will still have a job tomorrow.
    4) This one happens every time...you go into the project as 50/50 partners with a commitment from the client that they will devote X number of hours per week to the project and hold up their end. The problem is that the government managers have other stuff to do and can't devote X number of hours per week. If you're lucky you get X/2 hours per week. So critical decisions have to wait and delays occur.
    5) For some government managers, big big projects are something they have no experience with. Last week they were trying to decide what color coffee maker to get for the break room. This week, they are installing SAP.
    6) From the article..."It was supposed to replace 54 separate, antiquated computer systems used by state Social Security offices to process disability claims.". That is not a misprint. 54 antiquated systems. That is a huge undertaking. I would be willing to bet that at least a few of them have no documentation whatsoever. And the only person that knows how to run it retired a few years back. Good luck trying to unravel that mess.
    7) The magic bullet theory. Time and time again I hear these management bozos (not just government ones either) spout off about how 'Software package X' is going to revolutionize how you do business..massive efficiency...streamlined processes. Bullshit. The software is only going to be as good as the decisions that are made along the way. And if you make mistakes on a few major decisions these really large software suites (SAP, etc.) can be nearly impossible to change once you start using them.
    8) Team members that don't have a stake in the success of the project. Joe in accounting has been using the old antiquated system for the past 23 years. He's retiring in a few years. Do you really think that Joe wants to learn a brand new system? Not fucking likely. He won't get a raise or a bonus for all the extra work and he'll end up having to train his replacement. Meanwhile, his government manager has limited options for those that don't want to play.
    9) Managers are unwilling, or unable, to change their convoluted business processes that are the root cause of these un-maintainable systems in the first place. Politics.
    10) Lack of documentation. More than once I have been on projects where there is not a single page of documentation describing how the current systems works or what to do if something goes wrong. So you have to sit down and figure it all out yourself and that can take a lot of time.

    Typical client exchange:

    Me: "So tell me, why do you process Voucher payments in this fashion?"
    Client: "Cause that's how Joe showed me to do it when he trained me."
    Me: "And why di

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