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back to article US puts $30bn of IT projects up for review

President Obama giveth to the IT vendor community in the United States, and now maybe he is fixing to taketh away. Back in February 2009, when the new president was able to get the $787bn American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) through Congress to help get the US economy spending like the economic meltdown wasn't …

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Wonder if US Govt IT Fail is like UK Gov IT fail

Hugely ambitious goals to effect *massive* change in business processes

Shifting goal posts.

Limited (non existent) *actual* high level buy in.

Blurred lines of responsibility and authority (who depends on *getting* something done is not who can *order* it done).

Little or no training or consultation to front line staff.

Multi-year procurement so that only the *biggest* con-tractors can last the distance.

Once rolling *lots* of con-tractor staff on site of wildly varying skill levels.

This combination usually works pretty well to guarantee*epic* levels of cost and schedule overrun.

Thumbs up for the review. Let's see if actually makes a *difference*.

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untitled

Taxpayer money wasted by the government? Who would have thought? No wonder taxpayers believe they can better spend their money than give it to those assholes.

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Giving it all away

Dumping a 100B on foreign outsourcing and US visa abuse head shops to buy Chinese hardware is no way to run a government.

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How can you spend $5Bn for any single project?

Today's servers have 12 computer cores in a dual-CPU system costing $3000. To spend $5Bn to get a program completed even with customized software smells strongly of how we did business in the 70's, not how its done today.The underlying causes are a) over-specifying by the buying agency (remember the $300 hammer); b) an unwillingness (perhaps a strong positive reluctance) to move to low-cost COTS technology; c) provider pressure to maximize solution complexity.

Making headway on this problem requires a directional dictat from the National CIO's office. One or more of these dinosaur programs should be refunded as a COTS-only program, biting the bullet on the software implications, which may be minimal if a rewrite is already planned. The implication is COTS acquisition costs, support costs and overall risks will much outweigh the dubious benefits from a unique, proprietary design.

COTS has worked very well for the commercial market. Oracle, for instance, converted all of their internal data centers, ironically, from Sun minicomputers to Compaq servers, saving a good deal of money and improving flexibility and stability as well as throughput per $$ and per watt. It is time for these lessons to apply to the government and military space, more than the small steps being implemented at this time.

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Management is mediocre

It's pointless to say "I can buy xxx hardware for $$$". You probably can, but you have no idea what the scope of these projects are. If you take a agency like the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it would be easy to have 500,000 computers involved in a system wide update. How many of those would need to be replaced to be compatible with a core systems update or consolidation project? As a system grows larger it becomes more difficult and less efficient to manage. Ironically, exactly the opposite of the stated goals of combining already bloated agencies into DHS. The Air Force, Treasury, and Interior aren't the size of DHS, but I'd bet they are in the range of Fortune 50 or Fortune 100.

But even on a smaller scale, licensing and labor are the main components of an enterprise solution. A company I am familiar with budgeted $4m to install an ERP. About $100k of that was upgrading hardware. Last I heard they had passed the $6m mark and were well on their way to $10m. And they they only had around 1000 employees.

The scale and scope of many government projects are well beyond COTS solutions, which is why it's encouraging to hear someone at Kundra's level talking about breaking projects into more manageable sizes. I have seen it many times during my IT career; management setting some goal that is so large that staff just sits there with a 'deer in the headlights' look on their face trying figure out where to start.

And COTS worked so well for the US government, they are now suing Oracle for overcharging them. COTS isn't a silver bullet.

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Sounds like a fund-raising move for the November elections

When businesses face the challenge of remaining with their snouts in the U.S. Federal government they reach for their elected congressional representatives.

The best way to attract a politicians is MONEY and given this is a mid-term election period, and Democrats are facing challenges so what better combination exists?

Send the cheques in, guys, and all will be well!

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Right idea

"Instead of killing the projects, Kundra and his team are trying to figure out how to make projects more bite-sized, manageable, and accountable.

"Each of these projects can be scoped in smaller chunks," Vivek told the Journal. "We've overcomplicated how we buy technology in the federal government.""

Best of luck to them.. the tendency to go for huge, monolithic and ridiculously complicated systems has been a feature of government IT projects on this side of the pond, too. We could do with a similar sort of review here.

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Headmaster

OT: Syntax

<quote>President Obama giveth to the IT vendor community in the United States, and now maybe he is fixing to taketh away.</quote>

Argh! If you can't use archaic syntax properly, stay away from it. ...eth is typically a suffix for third person singular present tense. Thus, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away". You can't stick 'eth' onto the end of the infinitive 'to take'.

If thou must purvey cod Elizabethan English, thou shouldst have written:

"President Obama giveth to the IT Vendor Community in the United States, and now maybe he fixeth to take away."

Capitalising nouns merely giveth a nice Olde Worlde feel to the typography, innit.

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Kundra from DC? ... Wasn't he involved in an FBI raid?...

Why, yes he was! (http://www.cio.com/article/484265/FBI_Raids_Washington_D.C._CTO_Office_of_Vivek_Kundra_Obama_s_New_CIO).

Well then, I guess we KNOW this will be a well done project.

As to the funding level and whether or not they can be accomplished, John Smith 19's first five points nail a number of issue. The bits about the contractor size, not so much especially with the current employment retention rules. The reality is that the skill levels of both the Federal and the contracting staff vary just as much. The large contracts are purely a budgeting technique. They are intended to provide some flexibility in contracting. Running through a 6-month budget proposal cycle for any given small project to meet contracting guidelines itself adds tremendously to the cost of each contract. The large companies also can't go it alone, so they need to partner with smaller companies to do the job. Set asides for the various 8a categories, small businesses, economic development zones, etc guarantees that one of the major headaches for whoever wins the contract is making sure they have all THOSE ducks lined up as opposed to whether or not what their line people are proposing are good technical solutions let alone whether or not the good technical solution is appropriate to the business/government issue it is intended to address.

Why do I know all this? I work for a small contract who's a sub to a big contractor at a government agency. The contract under which my company has been working is not being re-competed because it is going to be subsumed under one of those new big vehicles. Or maybe not. The developing story has changed three times in as many weeks. Regardless of whether or not my company is one of the winners on the big contract, whoever wins will have to offer me a job with them. I also know that a major project that was supposed to be under way for our agency has just been put on indefinite hold/canceled and that a new solution is being sought. Rumor is instead of an internally supported system the new specs and the new contract will be in the cloud. I know more and more people are getting comfortable with that, but I really prefer my data and mail to be on servers under the control of the agency. Or at least as under control as it can get when there are more chefs in the kitchen than customers in the cafe.

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