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United States Businesses Technology

How Dumb Policies Scare Tech Giants Away From Federal Projects 143

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-get-what-you-pay-for dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A study published in March found that that the reason why the U.S. government has sub-par IT programs is because leading commercial IT companies established in the U.S. aren't involved in government contracting. Either the government holds closed bidding, essentially stifling competition to its own disadvantage, or prospective companies are put off by the cost-prohibitive regulations associated with government acquisition given the low returns (less than 10% as compared to 20% or more in the commercial world). The dysfunction that results has been documented by the Government Accountability Office: of 15 Department of Defense IT projects studied, 11 had cost increases (one of which was by 2,333%), 13 had schedule slippages (one of which was by six years), and only three met system performance goals. If the U.S. wants to lead other governments in technical capabilities by tapping into the technology being developed within its own borders, then some say that instead of exemptions and workarounds such as was applied with Healthcare.gov, a complete rebuild of the whole acquisition program would need to be implemented."
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How Dumb Policies Scare Tech Giants Away From Federal Projects

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  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @06:24PM (#46954691)
    Juicy contracts go to people that donate. I remember seeing a study that showed that donating to Senators had something like a 50% return on investment. It's not surprising that all that's left after the cronies get a pick are bum contracts. The good contracts go to the Kochs of the world.
    • That's true, but there's also the question of why those "juicy contracts" exist. A juicy contract is one with high profits - one in which the government pays you much more than it costs you to acquire the item you're selling to re government.

      Government routinely pays a lot more than what they could purchase the same item for at Walmart. I've seen it with my own eyes. A government agency can only buy from a vendor approved for the project, after 400 pages of paperwork to get approved. The vendor cha

      • by Obfuscant (592200) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @07:05PM (#46954937)

        To avoid HAVING a juicy contract at all, government agencies should be able to just use Walmart.com.

        If we could guarantee that the widgets they buy from Walmart are made to acceptable standards and with verifiable provenance when necessary, I'd say sure.

        But even though a 30 cent bolt from Walmart looks like a $5 bolt from McDonnell Douglas, the latter has been certified as to material and strength. There is an issue with counterfeit aircraft parts, and aircraft do break when the wrong parts are installed. You wouldn't trust Walmart to provide your aircraft parts, I hope, so buying them there would be a mistake.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Nidi62 (1525137)

          If we could guarantee that the widgets they buy from Walmart are made to acceptable standards and with verifiable provenance when necessary, I'd say sure.

          In all likelihood, except for a very limited number of military-grade equipment (and sometmes even then) the widgets are probably made on the same assembly line in China.

          • by Obfuscant (592200)

            In all likelihood, except for a very limited number of military-grade equipment (and sometmes even then) the widgets are probably made on the same assembly line in China.

            I used aircraft parts as an example, and the likelyhood that the correct parts are made on the same assembly lines in China as the 30 cent Walmart versions is vanishingly small.

            • I used aircraft parts as an example, and the likelyhood that the correct parts are made on the same assembly lines in China as the 30 cent Walmart versions is vanishingly small.

              Actually the chances of them being made on the same assembly line is pretty high. The difference of course is that the line that has to "have" the certification, they'll use a higher grade material and take random samples for stress testing to ensure that it's right. They may even go as far as x-raying the materials before it goes through processing, and after to look for material defects.

              I used to work in heavy industry back oh 15 years ago now. The stuff we sold went to the US military, and was used for scraping your ICBM's(particularly the minutemans). Everything had to be checked like that before it went out, but the differences were trivial in terms of what we sold to the general public and what went to the military.

              • I used to work in heavy industry back oh 15 years ago now. The stuff we sold went to the US military, and was used for scraping your ICBM's(particularly the minutemans). Everything had to be checked like that before it went out, but the differences were trivial in terms of what we sold to the general public and what went to the military.

                Wait wait wait..... You sold parts needed to scrap nuclear missiles to the general public?

                Hmm... seems that everyone needs to have some high-adrenaline hobby nowadays....

                • by Mashiki (184564)

                  Wait wait wait..... You sold parts needed to scrap nuclear missiles to the general public?

                  Hmm... seems that everyone needs to have some high-adrenaline hobby nowadays....

                  Sure. Don't you know that the stuff to scrap nuclear missiles is used in the manufacturing sector quite often, any machine shop or mill will be using the same tools. There isn't anything earth shattering regarding this. The difference is, certification.

              • by tlhIngan (30335)

                I used aircraft parts as an example, and the likelyhood that the correct parts are made on the same assembly lines in China as the 30 cent Walmart versions is vanishingly small.

                Actually the chances of them being made on the same assembly line is pretty high. The difference of course is that the line that has to "have" the certification, they'll use a higher grade material and take random samples for stress testing to ensure that it's right. They may even go as far as x-raying the materials before it goes th

          • by tsqr (808554) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @08:01PM (#46955331)

            In all likelihood, except for a very limited number of military-grade equipment (and sometmes even then) the widgets are probably made on the same assembly line in China.

            Apparently, you have no familiarity with Federal Acquisition Regulations, and just like to make stuff up that will make all the equally uninformed folks here nod their heads wisely.

          • Or perhaps he actually has some experience with aircraft. Counterfeit bolts are a HUGE issue as is quite a few other things that are supposed to be specced properly and are built in China. Everything from bolts to beams for bridges have had problems - ask San Fran about the latter. It takes all of 5 seconds to find PLENTY of evidence that counterfeit bolts are a problem in multiple industries. Counterfeit electronics are also an issue and for the military this is 100% unacceptable unless you would like to find yourself in a jet fighter coming apart because of it. If you think that it all comes off of the same assembly line you've got a screw loose yourself...

            http://www.choice-distribution... [choice-distribution.com]

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

            www.asminternational.org/pdf/Aug8-12.pdf

          • by rtb61 (674572) on Friday May 09, 2014 @12:24AM (#46956539) Homepage

            Don't get pulled in by the initial distortion. It has nothing to do with buying a particular widget. It is all down to 'VERY LARGE' tenders and contracts. Specifically tenders written in such a way as to exclude the majority of smaller suppliers and targeted at a particular cartel of very large suppliers, this all done purposefully. The cartels pretty much write the tenders they 'er' bid on, it reality just ration them out amongst themselves.

            This all happened when lobbyists fought hard to shrink government ie smaller purchasing and managing units of government were no longer able to manage a complex multifaceted supply chain made up of internal labour and many smaller contracts and were forced to hand out major contracts. These of course come under the purview of lawyers with extraordinarily complex contracts, which the shrunken government departments are not able to audit due to lack of personal. This is top down corruption, facilitated by corrupt corporations, funding corrupt lobbyists who seek to ensure corrupt politicians get elected who in turn insert corrupt political appointees into what is left of government departments. So a straight up conspiracy from the get go by corporations to defraud the treasury, with the rally cry of shrinking government, whilst the reality was, make government agencies incapable of properly managing anything so making easy to steal millions and billions from the public and screw the consequences.

            Reality was and is, things go a whole lot smoother when government does as much work for itself in house as possible and avoids contracting out anything as those contracts feed corruption. The bigger the contracts the greater the corruption and one need look no further than the glaring example of Darth Cheney and Halliburton, billions stolen and hundreds of thousands dead so that 'NO BID' contracts could be handed out with massive profits (not that it was the only element of a particularly corrupt war).

          • Not to mention that the $5 bolt will be made in America whereas the $0.30 bolt will be made in China. Buying the American bolt will prevent sending even more money overseas. And the $5 bolt is guaranteed not to have hidden microphones or intelligence-gathering equipment in it whereas the $0.30 bolt might be designed to fail when someone, who isn't the US government, wants it to.

            People say "OMG! I can't believe that the government has 400 pages of regulations for something as simple as a bolt!" but if you
          • by Anonymous Coward

            This may be true, but what you're missing is that the extra cost isn't in special fabrication methods - but in the TESTING process. So they may make 100 batches of bolts, each with 10,000 bolts in them. They'll test a subset of these batches and if they pass they'll sell them as mil-spec bolts. The ones they don't test they sell as non mil-spec. In theory they might all be the more stringent category, but just not tested....

            *note this isn't true for all components, but it definitely is for some.

        • You wouldn't trust Walmart to provide your aircraft parts, I hope, so buying them there would be a mistake.

          A lot of people trusted Walmart with their pets' internal organs. We saw what that got them.

          Hell, a lot of people trust Walmart with their own internal organs.

      • by icebike (68054) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @08:34PM (#46955515)

        Government routinely pays a lot more than what they could purchase the same item for at Walmart. I've seen it with my own eyes. A government agency can only buy from a vendor approved for the project, after 400 pages of paperwork to get approved. The vendor charges $150 for a widget. Walmart charges $30 for the same widget. The vendor buys the item for $30 and sells it to the government for $150. To avoid HAVING a juicy contract at all, government agencies should be able to just use Walmart.com.

        The paperwork just to get on the bidders list can be enormous. So much so, that our company just told any government bidders to go through on of our resellers, because we were not going to jump through all those hoops. Suddenly, a short track paper work trail was available. Still not interested. (We had been down that way before, and wasn't really any shorter.) We got the sales anyway, just had to give our resellers their cut, which was less costly than the paperwork.

      • by evilviper (135110)

        Government routinely pays a lot more than what they could purchase the same item for at Walmart.

        ...in the same way that I could get a set of "Hot Wheels" for a fraction the price of a pickup truck.

        The US Government doesn't want, and doesn't buy the item that Walmart sells. They might be buying a light bulb, but they want one that's ALWAYS going to be EXACTLY the same, and certified as such. They don't want one that's going to be silently changed to a different design... That would cause maintenance nigh

        • by Anonymous Coward

          10% is about the max most companies make although they may very well hide money in the overhead. Auditors look for any issues and are quick to fine and take back funds if they find a problem.

        • The US Government doesn't want, and doesn't buy the item that Walmart sells.

          The problem is, sometimes they do. There are some situations where you need something with exactly known parts and quality that can be replaced with an identical one in ten years (guaranteed by the vendor) if required. There are some situations where you need something that works now and if you have to throw it away in 3 years, that's fine because your next upgrade cycle is in two years anyway. The government doesn't differentiate these in the procurement rules, so even when all you want is a generic whi

          • by Obfuscant (592200)

            so even when all you want is a generic white-box PC for a secretary's desk that will only ever run MS Word and a web browser for the intranet, you still go through almost the same procurement process as for parts for a stealth fighter and end up buying a machine from Dell that is guaranteed to have specific parts,

            Yes. Because someone has to maintain that box, and they're probably maintaining many many others. Someone has to deal with it when it doesn't work the way it is supposed to, or has to treat it in special ways because it doesn't fit in with the rest. You've apparently never come across "identical" computers or hardware that was different in subtle yet significant ways. I have.

            I've just recently had a commodity PC that, for some reason that nobody understands, will freeze up for up to fifteen minutes while

            • by Grishnakh (216268)

              Yes. Because someone has to maintain that box, and they're probably maintaining many many others. Someone has to deal with it when it doesn't work the way it is supposed to, or has to treat it in special ways because it doesn't fit in with the rest. You've apparently never come across "identical" computers or hardware that was different in subtle yet significant ways. I have.

              And this is worth paying many times the normal price?

              Somehow, every other corporation in the country gets along just fine buying regul

        • > They might be buying a light bulb, but they want one that's ALWAYS going to be EXACTLY the same, and certified as such. They don't want one that's going to be silently changed to a different design... That would cause maintenance nightmares, and/or could get people killed.

          > The vendor buys the item for $30 and sells it to the government for $150. ...

          > The added expense may come from the testing and milspec certification of every individual item... Or from being required to stockpile and warehouse

          • by evilviper (135110)

            Except it's usually a light bulb for a control panel on an aircraft carrier.

            The government gets decent prices on most things they buy. The lowest bidder wins, so there's always price pressure.

            The whole article is about the fact that government contracts actually offer SMALLER margins than commercial/private contracts and sales.

            • The government buys a lot more copier paper than they do aircraft carriers . 99.99% of light bulbs are just light bulbs, to illuminate some closet or desk in some office building.

              I think you missed the point of the article. It wasn't about the great efficiencies of the government procurement process and how there is so much competition. The article was about the fact that so many companies do NOT bid - either because they aren't allowed to, or.more often because the bidding process costs $150,000 f

      • it's the closest we can get to socialism in this country. Bascially, America has a huge amount of idle economic capacity. The wealthy can't even begin to tap it, but they have so much of the wealth that left to their own the entire economy would grind to a halt. So we tax and spend because it's the only way to get things moving. It's that or the Dark Ages and 1000 years of nothing...
      • by erroneus (253617)

        Paying too much isn't paying too much. When "stupid government spending" is highlighted, the people are entertained by this as if it were some kind of joke. It's not. This is highlighting and obvious channel by which money is being moved. You're supposed to find out who the government is buying paperclips from, who made the decision and all that. You will find that giving the people's money out to these other people is the return on investment. So what's the investment? That's what we're supposed to

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @07:08PM (#46954951)

      Juicy contracts go to people that donate.

      Another big part of the problem is the lack of accountability. Even in the event of massive cost overruns, no one, either government employee or contractor, is held accountable. No one is punished. Nobody's career ends. If project mismanagement meant that the responsible government employee would lose his job (and pension) and the contractors would finish the job on their own dime, things would change.

      • Political corruption always exists.

        As distasteful as it sounds, especially in a democratic society, wealth will always have a disproportionate say in what, why, who, and how things get accomplished. The degree to which it affects ye olde taxpaying citizens is a parallel graph to the degree government is allowed to interfere in the free markets and the allegedly free peoples' everyday lives.

        And you had right up until the oxymoron:

        responsible government employee.

        • by dbIII (701233)
          That's the consequence of "small government". If there are enough people in place to make sure that the boss doesn't put his idiot nephew in charge of a department the damage is less. Such a thing applies everywhere so it's not about government as such.
          Remember that they are working for you so it's your money they are funnelling into their friends pockets.
          • So let me get this straight...to not have corruption you need to have a big government... WOW.

            • "Small government" advocates are frequently shysters who don't want anyone to catch them with their fingers in the till - or the useful idiots of such shysters. Having enough people to ensure that foxes don't get allowed into henhouses unaccompanied does not necessarily mean "big government".
              Is that point put simply enough or should I try again?
      • by Strudelkugel (594414) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @07:51PM (#46955255)

        Actually it's a bit different from what you describe. The government loads contracts with all kinds of deliverables beyond the actual product being requested, such as documentation that never reflects reality since there is never enough time to do all of it and deliver a product. Everyone knows it won't be read anyway.As often as not these things distract the contractors. Then there are the process mandates and contract requirements that employ large numbers of people who are all busy checking checkboxes. All of this is done to prevent failures, but obviously the failures occur anyway. Part of this is often because the government tries to create a Facebook or Google in a couple of years, but also because the regulatory environment designed to prevent failure is so complicated critical information can be lost or obscured. It's not that the "accountable ones" are not held to account because they work for government, it's more the case that the contract complexity almost makes it impossible to determine who really is accountable.

        Obviously when you don't really know who is accountable for something you don't know who to ask for reliable information, so people start making assumptions. "You want escalators, not elevators? But the contract says vertical lift system. We interpreted that to as..."

        • The government loads contracts with all kinds of deliverables beyond the actual product being requested, such as documentation that never reflects reality since there is never enough time to do all of it and deliver a product. Everyone knows it won't be read anyway.As often as not these things distract the contractors. Then there are the process mandates and contract requirements that employ large numbers of people who are all busy checking checkboxes.

          Obviously, this drives up prices. But that alone is no reason NOT to include the extra effort in the bid price and time estimate. Some contractors will intentionally make an unrealistic bid and then try to charge extra anyway. Reminds me of Toll Collect in Germany (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toll_Collect [wikipedia.org]). That was a consortium of really large gompanies BTW. Fraud anyone?

          Obviously when you don't really know who is accountable for something you don't know who to ask for reliable information, so people start making assumptions. "You want escalators, not elevators? But the contract says vertical lift system. We interpreted that to as..."

          OK, that is a problem where the government is at least partly at fault. Any cost overruns coming from that are IMHO more justified.

      • by rsilvergun (571051) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @11:18PM (#46956305)
        It's like that everywhere except small business. Scott Adams was only half joking when he made that Dilbert strip about nobody remembering the outcome of the projects you've been on...
      • Or the opposite... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jopsen (885607) <jopsen@gmail.com> on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:03AM (#46956679) Homepage

        Another big part of the problem is the lack of accountability.

        More likely it's too much accountability, everything being defined in water-fall style specifications, which can't possibly be implemented.
        Less accountability, trust and iterative development have been identified to provide higher project success rates...

        the responsible government employee would lose his job (and pension)

        WTF? Pension is money saved up. Why should anybody ever loose that. In any line of work, that's just messed up.
        There is talk of criminal neglect, do a criminal case...

        But this kind of "accountability", which is more about assigning blame to someone and ruining their career, is exactly why nobody wants to do government contracts.

        and the contractors would finish the job on their own dime, things would change

        Yes, contractor would factor in the risk of failure, or risk of going over price and raise his prices by a factor of 10.
        Or just use a shell company and let that go bankrupts if he fails to deliver the contract. Bottom line: software development is high risk, from a study of 4500 projects over $15M, 45% of it projects goes above budget and 17% threatens the existence of the company.
        See: http://www.mckinsey.com/insigh... [mckinsey.com]

        The inflexibility of contract and specification governed software development is at the heart of the problem here. More accountability isn't going to fix that. More punishment will only cause officials and contractors to do more work to cover their own ass... Instead of taking an actual risk, which is what software project management is all about, it's about managing risk and uncertainty.

    • by erroneus (253617)

      That doesn't explain who or why the Obamacare site people were selected. We already know why, but it just highlights the corrupt process.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In house can lead to cost saving from both less overhead and from being able to consolidate stuff as well having more buying power as one big unit.

    also you can more to getter better people as you are not paying all of the contacting overhead.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      but but private enterprise is always better! my daddy said so, and he's a contractor who bilks the government for millions of dollars so he should know!

    • by dbIII (701233)
      True, but software development and running it in production are different skill sets. While it makes a vast amount of sense to have inhouse software development when you want unique software you have to have enough ongoing work to be able to keep the people who can do it. It becomes a situation that requires good management and good communication between departments and a willingness of management to avoid backstabbing for short term gain. When you have horse judges, cheerleaders and frat boys running th
    • Because there are probably tens of thousands of units or departments that need IT in DoD.

      I just got word that a project I worked on needed an Excel file loaded into SharePoint. But the file contents were large and the file size was 100+ MB and could not be loaded into SharePoint because of some obscure restriction. So what did the project manager do? With several programmers and tech support personnel at their disposal they came up with the great idea to pay a temp person $200 to split the file into f
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 08, 2014 @06:32PM (#46954751)

    There must be a theorem like Godel's that says that any interestingly complex set of rules is gameable.

    There are a lot of studies showing that the contracting procedures of NYC and other larger political entities result in fewer, larger, more politically-connected contractors, and that is the result of several rounds of voters getting fed up with the corruption, voting in 'reformers' and giving them the power to correct the corruption, rinse and repeat.

    By this time in history, we surely understand that more rules does not produce more honesty, more justice? But we keep on making more law, more rules, the inertia of the Status Quo.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      This is exactly why people favor smaller government. If you can't make it a good system, then make it small enough to not cause much damage.
  • Cost Plus (Score:3, Informative)

    by wiredlogic (135348) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @06:33PM (#46954755)

    There's also the lovely open-ended cost plus contracts that force everyone to dramatically underbid in order to win them. The lucky winner gets to write their own checks and rob the government blind.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Cost plus isn't open ended by far and still must work within a budget. I work on such a program and we most certainly must control costs.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The general motivation for a contractor with a cost plus contract is to spend every cent that the contract (and CO/COTR) lets them spend. They will essentially never make more profit off lower revenue by spending less of the "cost" part of the "cost plus". In that sense, yes, they *do* need to control costs... to maximize them within some bound.

  • by hessian (467078) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @06:36PM (#46954771) Homepage Journal

    First, there's all the rules that make sure rules first go to minority- or female-owned companies, or to companies in at risk zones.

    Next there's all the regulation.

    Next there's government slowness. It's not market responsive.

    The result is that people who are interested in running a business go away, UNLESS their business model is making money off government by charging it extra for all of its special demands.

    It's no wonder the DC area is growing faster than anywhere else and salaries are higher there.

    • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @08:02PM (#46955343)

      Don't forget another factor: the government is too well armed to fail.

    • by bfandreas (603438)
      Then there is complexit. Even at a federal level the states still have a lot of wriggle-room to do things slightly different. And even on a lower level different branches of the same agency may be allowed to do things slightly differently.

      Next thing is tha the requirements may not be stable. If it is an IT system for some hot-button political matter(healthcare springs to mind) with lots of eleventh hour requirement changes then you basically don't stand a chance.

      Then there is almost always somebody on t
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think maybe the U.S. government has sub-par IT programs because the U.S. government is sub par at doing just about everything.

    • The government does a lot of things that private industry does not do - generally things for which the economic incentive model can't work, or where we are not looking for the economic optimum.

      As an example, look at basic science R&D. A commercial company generally won't to basic science because the value of the results is in their very wide scale applicability and that is very difficult to monetize.

      A free market education system would probably not bother to educate the least capable 20% of students, bu

  • by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @06:36PM (#46954779) Homepage

    What? And destroy the current lucrative system of kickbacks, cronyism, and propping up otherwise unprofitable, unaffordable, unworkable systems and businesses? How will Senators and members ever get elected properly without the subtle system of bribes that currently grease the wheels of professional politics? Don't you know *anything* about how to get stuff done inside the Beltway?

    Sheesh...you people need to get a grip and understand how power works in this country.

    • by tomhath (637240)

      What? And destroy the current lucrative system of kickbacks, cronyism, and propping up otherwise unprofitable, unaffordable, unworkable systems and businesses?

      Nobody said a restructuring would replace that.

  • who's gonna build the new bidding website for the new program?!
  • of 3 planes (1 camera/control).... something that should be priced maximum as a regular family sedan if that....?

  • AC for reasons. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 08, 2014 @06:49PM (#46954845)

    I've been an employee of one of these contract IT companies for a little over 2 years, and I can tell you that my contract is undoubtedly no different.

    From my perspective as a software developer, it seems like the issues are all deliberate. There's been a pattern since I've worked here. Everytime a competent developer leaves, they're replaced by someone who can't develop software. Sometimes it's the chief's friend, or some government employee's wife, or whatever. But no fewer than 3 positions on my team have been taken up by people who have no computer science education, no interest in software development, and no inclination to learn.

    Last person that was hired, someone came over to tell me 4 minutes before his interview. I printed off a ludicrously simple programming problem and handed it to him, asked him if he'd have the guy "solve" it. The manager interviewing let the candidate hesitate on the problem for 4 seconds before pulling it from him, and saying "don't worry about it, I want to keep this interview short.". So my team is down another programmer and + another welfare recipient.

    The only reason I've stayed her so long is that the work is occasionally incredibly interesting, but recently my boss decided to pull me so I could do something to "help the team" it involves clicking links and typing into a spreadsheet for 8 hours a day.

    A few months a government employee decided they needed the area that my team's revision control server occupied as their office. My server was decomissioned, the area was converted to an office, and the government employee transferred to another location less than a month later.

    I complain every few months, but the only thing complaining seems to do is make everyone suspicious of me. I need to get out of here.

    • If this were any site but

      /.,

      I would question your fashionably late cry for help, Edward Snowden.

    • You're describing any IT shop in the country where budgets aren't tight. Before the financial collapse I had a director that literally didn't have a job. He just sat in his office watching girls come in and out of the deli next door for 2years. When the layoffs hit, boy did we get to hear all about how the place would fall apart without him. It didn't.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They have you. You must apply to leave your job. forms filled out by hand in triplicate. Then they will be sent to data processing for manual data entry into a form originally written for Lotus Notes. This form is rediculously out of date so your reason for leaving "better opportunity elsewhere" becomes "disgruntled employee".Just so happens that all reasons for leaving are strangely changed into this single available checkbox on the form.

      4 Months after applying to leave, which in the mean time you are requ

  • by aXis100 (690904) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @07:11PM (#46954987)

    I get the feeling that it's nothing to do with being a Government agency. I've seen more than 50% failure rate on very large IT projects for other regular businesses and corporations.

    There seems to be a major problem with sotware projects producing an accurate requirements spec, and following that though to implementation. End users have no idea what they want, fill the requirements full of edge cases, and keep moving the goalposts. Programmers often have no idea how the software will be used so whenever there are gaps they improvise with the most ridiculous schemes. And software architects always say "technology XXXX will save us, it makes YYY so easy", forgetting entirely that you still have to produce a sensible user interface with a sane workflow and that takes 80% of the effort.

    Personally I cant see this getting better for a while. It's not the fault of any one person, it's just human nature when trying to deal with highly complex systems. We need to use a radically different design approach and employ exceptionally good project managers, and even then we might still want to cross our fingers.

    • by tomhath (637240)

      I wish I had some mod points for you.

      Another big part of the problem is that nobody wants to accept limitations in their shiny soon-to-be-built new system. The 80/20 rule always applies, but trying to convince creative architects to accept 80% of their dream at only 20% of the cost is impossible.

    • There seems to be a major problem with sotware projects producing an accurate requirements spec, and following that though to implementation. End users have no idea what they want, fill the requirements full of edge cases, and keep moving the goalposts. Programmers often have no idea how the software will be used so whenever there are gaps they improvise with the most ridiculous schemes. And software architects always say "technology XXXX will save us, it makes YYY so easy", forgetting entirely that you sti

    • by houghi (78078)

      This. Most of the time the end-user is not asked. They also do not like change when not asked. So what happens with a change in user interface where people complained? It went from the lower regions to the supervisor. He told his manager. That manager told the IT department. That person told the IT manager. He had a board meeting to OK the budget. A company was hired and was told what to do. He deliverd on time.
      This is now show to the end user who hates it even more then the faulty interface. This means cha

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There are companies whose sole purpose is getting government contracts. They know how to write the bid and which useless-but-nice-resume people to subcontract. After they get the contract, the subcontractors subcontract to the cheapest shop in india. The people on the bid with the phds write a few emails, collect their checks, and move on. These are usually the same people sitting on a board for some other government project, show up for meetings once a month, and get paid well into 6 figures.

  • Surprised to learn of the low return on gov contracts. From what I heard, private sector usually lowballs initial contracts to be the lowest bidder but charges through the nose for any changes to requirements which are inevitable in large/complex IT projects.
    • by Willuz (1246698)
      Comparing the lower ROI is not entirely accurate due to a differences in commercial vs government business structures. Commercial projects required yearly increases in profit in order to maximize shareholder income. A fixed rate government contract provides income but remains relatively constant over the life of the contract. On shareholder financial reports this looks like stagnant growth and negatively affects the share price. Due to this a company can make 10% a year and still lose money because shar
  • by Loopy (41728)

    I don't remember this sort of incisive analysis going on with regards to healthcare or tax law.

  • ...never experience cost increases, schedule slippages, or fail to meet performance goals?

    Big data projects fail all the time. They just don't get as much publicity when they are private.

  • And when the government's mismanagement of the contract leads a successful contract into ruin, guess who gets the blame? The contractor because the public doesn't get the benefit of seeing how the sausage was made. They'll never see how a contract that may have been a pretty good product got tuned into a clusterfuck because someone changed priorities and an architecture that was mean for one set of requirements "for some strange reason" couldn't neatly be refactored to a different set of requirements.

  • Commercial software and 'cutting edge' tech companies work fast and loose. We just need to make shit work, not necessarily adhere to page after page of specifications. That is the polar opposite of government work. There's no way in hell I'd want my company to take me away from the high-return world of hack programming and force me to read pages of documentation and requirements for each line of code I write.

  • by evilviper (135110) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @08:23PM (#46955439) Journal

    prospective companies are put off by the cost-prohibitive regulations associated with government acquisition given the low returns (less than 10% as compared to 20% or more in the commercial world).

    The head of a major company, that has interests in both defense and private contracts, described it quite simply (paraphrasing):

    You get larger profit margins in the commercial space, but it's uneven and uncertain. The defense contracts offer long-term stable and predictable profits.

    Of course the defense contracts require a bit of revolving-door politics... Hiring former government employees who know all the exhaustive rules and regulations, and can write a contract proposal in such a way that it will get accepted... and a whole team of people similarly focused on the government relationship, and compliance with rules and regulations.

    In the end, on balance the two come out roughly even. But, of course a company that doesn't do any government contracts, can't hope to start getting some without a big investment in a team that get you off the ground.

  • The article suggests there's a lot of room for improvement, but the first problem is that our Congress can't be bothered to do the (admittedly) hard, tedious work of improving it. Seems like all they care about lately is grand-standing to attract more money to buy more TV ads to get re-elected... to do the same thing over again.

    Howabout we actually show up to the polls in decent numbers this year and vote them all out. It don't matter who they are or who the opponent is, even if it's a chimpanzee, we all

  • Seriously, before Clinton and W gutting federal gov. hiring, they had top notch ppl, AND they were mostly secured. Now, we have spies all over via the contractor programs. Worse, many of them are inept, or brought in from India or China, leading to a serious brain drain.

    So, time to restore hiring of decent employees.
  • by Zalgon 26 McGee (101431) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @10:38PM (#46956135)

    Government can't hide its mistakes as well as industry can. How many SAP implementations have delivered on time and on budget? How many other projects have cost companies millions more than planned?

    Yes, government IT is bad, but its not unique in that...

    • Yeah, it's hard to imagine what company the government could have gotten to make Healthcare.gov perfect. Would it have been Facebook? Think of all the bugs in Facebook, we're just lucky they don't have our credit card information.
      • FACT: Facebook spent LESS money to roll out its first version than Healthcare.gov.

        Which one was received to be more reliable? More usable?

        The problem is not that Healthcare.gov isn't perfect. The problem is that for an extended period of time it didn't do anything at all!
        • The problems involved in the first version of Facebook were significantly smaller than the problems involved in Healthcare.gov. Specifically, you must look at the integration issues if you want to make any attempt at estimating how much it should have cost.
    • by marcgvky (949079)
      I have worked in both the private and public sectors. Public (i.e. gov't agencies) are FAAAAAAAR worse at IT than business. When you take away to the profit motive and the ability to apply pressure with lawsuits.... you have a unique environment filled with less-than-competent managers, directors and doers.... It would simply AMAZE you....
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A friend of mine had hands on experience with a contract that was "done right." It was a standing offer arrangement to purchase computers within the government. Competitive bids, open competition, it all sounds A-OK, right?

    It wasn't. My friend had to use some of those computers from the winning bidder. They were garbage. Something like 50% of them failed out of the box. Over the course of a year the failure rate approached 100%. The amount of wasted time and effort, and the costs of trying to get tho

  • 1. Big waterfall software projects fail. I collect examples of project successes and failures, and I have never come across a large software project that was successfully delivered on-time and on-budget. It's like unicorns: People dream of them, but they don't really exist. The only way you even have a chance of delivering a big project is to break it into pieces and deliver a lot of small projects.

    2. Government funding forces you to do waterfall projects. Funding for big projects must be approved, meaning

    • The use of "woman-owned" and "minority-owned" as heavy biases (and sometimes hard requirements) is very much sexist and racist, and needs to stop.
  • Dumb policies scare tech giants away from any projects, not just "federal" ones.

    The problem lies with the problematic organization, in this case, the federal bodies and agencies of the government. However, we all know government doesn't attract the best and the brightest, it attracts those with the pursuits of low men.

    If I had a solution for you I'd share it, but it's a complex problem. Perhaps we can get some scientific studies done on the make up and functioning of politician brains (even if we have to hi

  • Given the willful and unpunished abuses against all of us by the NSA, et al... do we really want the national government in toto to be world-class in IT?
  • The banner at the top of the Acquisition Research page linked in the summary includes this juicy tidbit:

    Creating Synergy for Informed Change

    I'm not sure if they are trying to poke fun at themselves, or if they are completely serious with that statement. Pretty much any time I hear corporate buzz-word speak like "synergy", I immediately tune out, and assume the speaker is hiding their ineptitude behind a veil of gobbledegook. I suppose they will also try to tell us that government acquisition needs to "o

  • for the US Army there is PM CHESS and if you have a CAC you can access the purchase list. I have looked items up such as monitors, etc, and the price is not bad at all. Is it the lowest? No, but they are also paying for a guaranteed delivery date. That being said, the prices are competitive to big box stores askin to what we would pay as private citizens.

    Same with typical IT/IS/telephoney services. The Government can look at the commercial sector and see the rates and they have a baseline. There is some
  • And it still isnt working 8 months after due date.
  • Many govt officials survive on https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wik... [wikipedia.org]
  • Heads I Win. Tails You Lose.
  • I don't do projects anywhere near the scale of the article's examples, but we have to follow EU procurement rules.

    I sympathise with the companies that bid for our projects, we have to advertise our procurements over certain limits (around $150k) throughout the EU. We have to be specific about what we want before we start (fairly impossible for off-the-shelf software solutions without unfairly exempting some suppliers) so the suppliers (or their salesmen) have to spend quite a bit preparing bids. Most of the

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