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Government The Almighty Buck IT

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

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 From the article: "Six years ago the Social Security Administration embarked on an aggressive plan to replace outdated computer systems overwhelmed by a growing flood of disability claims.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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  • 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 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.

  • 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!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2014 @03:01PM (#47524349)

    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 contractors are free repeat the process to line their pockets again.

  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2014 @03:15PM (#47524435)

    What are you talking about? Socialism?
    It was Lockheed Martin that did this work.
    A for profit company you know. Private business ALWAYS does it better right?
    Good thing Lockheed Martin NEVER bungles a sweet Gov contract.
    CEO got $25 million last YEAR for pay.. It's not like that is a significant portion of the wasted $300 million or anything.
    That by the way was a raise.. Her pay doubled.
    I mean, just because they waste millions of tax payers $$ every year does not mean that they should get poverty wages like little people.
    Do you know how many pay offs, I mean donations they had to get to steal, I mean get awarded all that tax payer money??
    I mean, think of all the time spent on the bribes, I mean sponsored outings, with policy makers!
    It's hard work to drink all that booze and eat all that lobster!

    Oh, wait, maybe you are just confusing crony capitalism and corruption with socialism.. Yea' maybe that is it.

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

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

    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.

  • 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 website for millions of dollars more than should have been spent to do it.

  • 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 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.

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham