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FCW : August 30, 2014
effort, and the Internal Revenue Ser- vice s Business Systems Modernization took more than 10 years to launch and cost $8 billion. When the Air Force took on ECSS, the project was expected to automate and streamline logistics operations. It began in 2005 with a deployment date of 2012, and Oracle was contracted to develop the system for $88.5 mil- lion. Due to delays, the schedule was pushed back by four years to 2016, and it went from a three-phase to a four-phase project. In 2012, the Defense Department of cially ended ECSS, saying it would cost another $1 billion to get the project up to military standards. In a 2010 study undertaken while ECSS was still being developed, the Government Accountability Office found instances of "unusual logic" that caused activities not to be n- ished on time and led to the track- ing of high-level milestones without a clear program structure. By the time the project was canceled, Air Force of cials noted that they had received usable hardware and software worth less than $150 million. According to GAO, 27 agencies planned to spend about $76 billion on 8,142 IT investments in scal 2014 --- $17.2 billion on development and acquisition and $58.9 billion on opera- tions and maintenance. However, that total does not include the IT investments made by 58 inde- pendent executive branch agencies (including the CIA) or by the legislative or judicial branches. Despite the big investments, large-scale projects are fail- ing at an alarming cost to the government and taxpayers. The Of ce of Management and Budget reported in 2010 that the government had spent more than $600 billion on IT since 2000. However, OMB also reported that the fed- eral government had achieved little productivity from its investments. In fact, IT projects account for a considerably higher number of failures than other types of government megaprojects. OMB requires federal agencies to regularly provide information on their IT investments, capital asset plans and business cases. Over the years, reports from various agencies have revealed several obstacles to IT success that have wasted and continue to waste taxpayer funds and public resources. One thing is certain: 99.9999 per- cent of petascale IT projects will fail. Even if they do end up nominally delivering on their intended objec- tives, they will not meet user expec- tations or be completed within budget or time constraints. Moreover, the fallout from the fail- ures of these projects can be severe --- not only for the IT personnel involved in the effort but for IT proj- ects in other parts of the public sector. IT professionals will be looked upon unfavorably and seen as a liability, consultants can and might lose their jobs, and the overall standing of the IT community in the public sector will be tarnished. It is no secret that most stake- holders involved in failed projects take a hit, to varying degrees. With HealthCare.gov, government admin- istrators were investigated by con- gressional oversight committees and some even resigned, most notably Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebe- lius and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services CIO Tony Trenkle. The main contractor involved, CGI Federal, experienced media scrutiny regarding its role in the debacle, and its past public-sector project failures were magni ed. Given this reality, we must ask: Why are we so obsessed --- some might say to the point of being delusional --- in pursuing projects of this scale and scope and hoping they will succeed? The oft-misattributed quote about the de - nition of insanity being "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" applies here. Four steps to failure on a grand scale Over the next few months, we will be studying petascale IT projects in the public sector with the goal of provid- ing some insights into why these beasts are so dif cult to tame and what can be done about it. In this initial piece, we explore how political shenanigans contribute to the failure of these projects. Political activity plays a crucial role in a project s suc- cess. First, consider the way in which agencies acquire The Air Force abandoned this project in 2012, and the repercussions continue. In July, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called ECSS "a prime example of how a system designed to save money can actually waste billions of taxpayer dollars." Program management 20 August 30, 2014 FCW.COM ECSS
September 15, 2014
August 15, 2014