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Who's Controlling Our Vital Information Systems?

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the you-can-trust-us dept.

United States 116

HangingChad writes "Gary Lyndaker talks about Janine Wedel's Shadow Elite; about how our information infrastructure is increasingly being sold off to the low bidder. Contracting in state and federal government is rampant, leaving more and more of our nation's vital information in the hands of contractors, many of whom have their own agenda and set of rules. From the article: 'Over 25 years, as an information systems developer, manager, and administrator in both state and private organizations, I have increasingly come to the conclusion that we are putting our state's operations at risk and compromising the trust of the people of our state by outsourcing core government functions.' I've seen the same thing in my years in government IT, ironically much of it as a contractor. My opinion is this is a dangerous trend that needs to be reversed. We're being fleeced while being put at risk."

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116 comments

Niggers (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869310)

How do you stop five nigger bucks from raping a white woman? Throw em a basketball.

re Who? (4, Funny)

jelizondo (183861) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869316)

Who's on first!

Radical idea? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869676)

Here is a radical idea that meshes with the US Constitution: maybe the government should NOT be in all this business in the first place? Then it wouldn't be an issue.

Re:Radical idea? (3, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869806)

Here is a radical idea that meshes with the US Constitution

That seems to be the definition of "radical" these days. I guess that also makes you a right-wing extremist or an anarcho-libertarian. Isn't that what they call anyone who wants a minimal federal government that derives all of its authority and purpose from a literal, strict reading of the Constitution?

Re:Radical idea? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869954)

I guess that also makes you a right-wing extremist or an anarcho-libertarian. Isn't that what they call anyone who wants a minimal federal government that derives all of its authority and purpose from a literal, strict reading of the Constitution?

The Libertarians would also sell off our roads to the Chinese despite the Constitution calling for federal regulation of them, so you'll need to find some other name for people wanting a literal reading of the Constitution (like "strict constructionist")

Re:Radical idea? (5, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870120)

I guess that also makes you a right-wing extremist or an anarcho-libertarian. Isn't that what they call anyone who wants a minimal federal government that derives all of its authority and purpose from a literal, strict reading of the Constitution?

The Libertarians would also sell off our roads to the Chinese despite the Constitution calling for federal regulation of them, so you'll need to find some other name for people wanting a literal reading of the Constitution (like "strict constructionist")

My whole point was that the labels were not being used correctly. You are merely reiterating my point. It sometimes surprises me that people can feel such a need to do this that the redundancy of it does not deter them.

Having said that, it's my personal belief that the truest Libertarians were the Founding Fathers. Today's Libertarian Party as a political organization can either follow in those footsteps or it can fail to do so, but that does not concern me as an individual. Although, I personally do not know of anyone identifying themselves as Libertarian who advocates having the government take actions that are blatantly illegal under the Constitution. That would be like people who refer to themselves as (i.e.) Christian and then do things that clearly contradict the tenets of Christianity. They can say whatever they want, but they are still engaging in hypocrisy.

If there are self-described "Libertarians" who want to sell public roads to China, they certainly do not represent all Libertarians. Most Libertarian thinkers I have ever heard from are quite the opposite; they believe many of today's problems are caused by the government exceeding its authority and engaging in behaviors that are either unconstitutional or questionably constitutional.

Like any other philosophy that would radically and favorably alter the status quo if correctly understood and implemented, Libertarianism should be easy to understand but the waters have been muddied on purpose. There is no such confusion of terms with the statists who want an even more dictatorial government that is even more involved in the daily lives of its citizens. Libertarianism is a very simple idea: your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. Until and unless you strike my nose, where and how you swing your fist is none of the government's concern, not even if they think they know what's best for you.

This is not a rejection of all law enforcement or all regulation. It's a clarification of the purpose thereof. The confusion comes from the assumption that everyone who has any degree of Libertarian thought is a radical, extremist Libertarian who desires an anarco-capitalist society. The purpose of that is to cause people to dismiss the philosophy as absurd without actually examining it. Unfortunately average people won't put apparent absurdity to the test and find out if it is actual absurdity before choosing to dismiss new ideas. If you practice looking deeply into things, you will find that influential people and monied interests are keenly aware of this fact. One mechanism they use to protect their status quo is the gross misrepresentation of any ideas that would change it if implemented.

Re:Radical idea? (5, Insightful)

raddan (519638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870610)

Like any good programmer, I myself have Libertarian learnings. I mean-- who doesn't like the idea that a simple and elegant system of governance will produce the best outcome? It's a principle that has served me well in my years of building reliable software.

But there are a couple blind spots in the Libertarian philosophy. One is that, even in cases where government intervention is undesirable, merely having their presence ads a great deal of stability. E.g., fundamental science research would be largely stagnant without organizations such as the NSF, NIH, NIST, and NASA (among many others). Becoming an expert (i.e., PhD) in something like physics or computer science takes a great deal of time and personal sacrifice. Making it risky as well would largely kill those fields; and having experts of that kind are a matter of national importance. These organizations keep the flow of money steady so that, for the most part, when you get your degree, you can find employment. Likewise, we really want a stable, enduring organization to ensure that we have roads, bridges, railways, etc. The presence and overall reliability of these things means that commerce can move ahead unimpeded. The cost of maintaining, e.g., the route from California's orchards to Massachusetts' supermarkets is largely externalized from the cost of growing and selling produce.

And that brings me to the other blind spot: global competition. Sadly, we cannot be a nation unto itself anymore. We are a player in a global marketplace-- there's no going back. When you have to compete against nations like China, which artificially manipulates its currency value to stay competitive, which engages in human rights abuses to keep labor costs low, which ignores costly pollution controls (at the expense of the rest of the world) to keep their products cheap-- you cannot compete unless you have a big player that can even the odds a little. Modern statehood is a very complicated thing, and I think that most Libertarians really are living in the past to some degree, evidenced largely by their frequent calls to "Constitutionality". Hey, the world's changed in the last 230 years! It's a good document, but it was also expected to be a living document.

As you suggest, we should indeed clarify the purpose of regulation. E.g., as we've now discovered, the Glass-Steagall act was an essential bit of market regulation-- it kept the markets from being so volatile that people lost their trust in the system. If putting your money into a bank is the same thing as putting your money on a gambling table, well, you're going to put your money under your mattress instead. Given that a safe lending system is a major source of entrepreneurship and upward mobility, having lending dry up is a major problem for an economy that wants to keep growing. We just need to make sure that "re-examining" our legislation is not the same thing as throwing it all out. I'd gladly switch to a simple flat tax if there was some assurance that wealthy people and corporations actually paid up. As it is, those people and their companies use the national infrastructure that is paid for with the hard work of the rest of us.

Re:Radical idea? (1)

jesset77 (759149) | more than 4 years ago | (#30871272)

I think it's important to note that just because competing nations abuse human rights and erode their own foundations is no call for us to do the same.

We believe that an individual's freedom to choose their own destiny is the heart of what makes our nation great and powerful. This is how we founded our nation. If we really believe this we should fight to maintain this standard. Rolling over to government corruption or multinational corporate rape does nothing to strengthen our nation.

So far as the constitution being a living document, yes it is. Yes, many things change relevance in 230 years. When that happens, we should have a reliable system for upgrading the document. Maintain the standard, and then stick to it. Our government at present is simply ignoring the standard which defeats the entire purpose. See George Orwell's Animal Farm [wikipedia.org].

Re:Radical idea? (2, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30871774)

My own beliefs are also strongly influenced by Libertarian philosophy, though I am not inclined to derive any aspect of my identity from simplistic labels. Thus, I don't call myself a Libertarian because I reserve the right to differ from their stated positions.

I recognize three roles that are legitimate purposes of government. Any legitimate authority government has derives from its service of these three things: defense, law enforcement, and public works. Anything else is an overextension and is likely to be blatant tyranny.

Defense consists of the just use of the military to offer armed resistance to national enemies. I strongly agree with Thomas Paine who said "not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder". An example of the legitimate use of defense would be a foreign army aggressively invading Ameican soil. I don't personally recognize as valid the use of flimsy excuses to justify the use of force to interfere with other sovereign nations.

The correct purpose of law enforcement is to prevent one citizen from using force or fraud to deprive any other citizens of their life, their freedom, or their property. It is not valid to use this power to micromanage the lives of people based on some idea of what's good for them. That includes the carrot-and-stick methods of income taxation. I believe that consenting adults should be allowed to do whatever they want, so long as their actions do not impact unwilling participants. So if someone wants to sit at home and smoke crack all day, that is unfortunate and I hope they obtain a higher concept of themselves, but it is not my job to tell them how they should live. However, if they rob other people to pay for their crack habit the government has an obligation to lock them up because they are using force to deprive another person of property. The reason why they did so is immaterial.

Public works usually includes things like roads and bridges. I have no problem with this also including the funding of scientific research, because everyone benefits from those advances just like everyone benefits from well-maintained roads. Additionally, much "pure research" is not expected to generate a profit in the foreseeable future so by its very nature it would not do well in the marketplace.

Wealthy people and corporations do not pay up much under the current "progressive" income tax system. The real private wealth in this country is largely held by old-money families. It is inherited and it is invested and otherwise it is unearned income. There are many methods of avoiding even the capital gains tax. The only reason to have an income tax is because it lets you use carrot-and-stick methods to financially reward and punish certain behaviors in order to manipulate people. Otherwise, an income tax is the least efficient and most easily cheated form of taxation in existence.

Corporations do not really pay taxes. Yes, they have a tax rate and yes they send a check to the government to pay that tax. But they rightly consider taxes as a cost of doing business, and as such, it is one factor determining how much they charge for goods and services. If you raise the corporate income tax, the corporation will charge more to its customers to compensate. Its competitors will have to absorb the same cost so competition will not eliminate this. When you pay for goods, about 22% of what you pay is a hidden, embedded cost that comes directly from the income tax on the corporation. For services, it's slightly higher. Corporations don't pay taxes so much as they pass them on and act as collection agents for the government.

The Fair Tax would throw out the income tax entirely, eliminate the IRS, and replace them with a national sales tax. This sales tax has a built-in rebate to guarantee it does not apply to the basic necessities of life, reducing its impact on poor people. As a consumption tax, it does not punish the earning of income. As a consumption tax, it naturally requires wealthy people to pay more taxes because wealthy people purchase more goods and services than poor people.

Because it is collected at each sale, foreigners who temporarily visit the USA would also pay this federal tax, whereas they would not pay an income tax because they do not work here. Additionally, if you go to a store and buy items, that store has to pay the sales tax even if they don't collect it from you, so they have no incentive to help you cheat this tax. It's a simpler system that does not require a huge bureaucracy and law enforcement power to enforce. It would help to place corporations that operate in the USA on more equal ground with other nations, because it removes the incentive to relocate to other nations for tax purposes. It's the kind of thing that might help the USA to recover the manufacturing industries that it once had.

Most of all, if it happened it would represent the largest single transfer of power from the federal government to the people that I have ever witnessed during my lifetime. It would help to get Congress out of the business of engineering behavior by means of financial incentives. It would remove the need for the federal government to keep track of who you are, where you work, how much money you make, and how you allocate that money. It would also remove the burden from average citizens of keeping up with the incredible complexity of the current tax code, and with it, all of the costs of compliance. Very simply, the Fair Tax is the most well-researched piece of legislation in history. That transfer of power is the main reason why our politicians don't want to implement it, for there is no other reason not to.

Incidentally, to me the "living document" aspect of the Constitution has a limited meaning. I'll use the Fourth Amendment for this example. It means that when the Founders spoke of "papers and effects" that in modern times, that also applies to my computer and cellphone. Except for the notion that any excuse will serve a tyrant, I can hardly believe that there has ever been any dispute over such obvious matters. "Living document" should never mean that the principles of the Constitution are invalidated merely because technology advances, for freedom is a timeless principle. The government should have just cause and a demonstrably good reason to interfere with your life, whether they do so in person, by letter, or with modern telecommunications networks, and the burden of proof is on them. The intent of the Founders and the meaning of the Constitution are plain and obvious, and anytime there is any ambiguity, the default should be freedom. Somewhere along the line we lost that, much to our detriment.

Re:Radical idea? (1, Insightful)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 4 years ago | (#30873010)

Great post! I can totally agree, although I wouldn't call myself a libertarian (and a lot of libertarians wouldn't call you a libertarian).

Like any good programmer, I myself have Libertarian learnings. I mean-- who doesn't like the idea that a simple and elegant system of governance will produce the best outcome?

It's just too bad that you started it off by equating people with code :-\

I nearly stopped reading there.

Re:Radical idea? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30873838)

Glass-Steagall act was an essential bit of market regulation-- it kept the markets from being so volatile that people lost their trust in the system.

Glass-Steagall was designed to protect mortgages and savings accounts from the usurious, predatory and risky practices of investment banks. Trust was not the issue. The issue was risk. Mortgages and savings accounts were completely protected from the likes of Morgan Stanley, Bear Stearns, et al, for nearly 50 years. It wasn't until the 1980 and 90's under Reagan, Bush & Clinton that the banking industry (led by Citibank) began successfully to lobby Congress in order systematically gut the Pecora hearings of the early 30's had determined to be in the best interests of the general population. The combination of this along with the repeal of the usury laws undid any real stability, trust didn't matter when the world was flooded with derivatives based on unsustainable mortgage agreements.

The thing that gets me is how transparent the motivations of leadership in the Federal Reserves system seems, then and now. After all, the Fed leaders come directly from the banking and financial institutions. The President and Congress may appoint the chairman, but the you don't see anyone who else who hasn't come up through the ranks, as a loyal and successful member. Supply side economics and caveat emptor are the rallying cries that should have informed our collective level of trust and which brought us the derivatives that bankrupted Orange County, CA and nearly Iceland. Imagine, an entire country at risk because of the ridiculously complex financial instruments that allowed investment banks to leverage mortgages at 40:1 instead of the traditional ratio of 9:1 in the depository banks. By September, 2008, the banks didn't even trust each other... interbank loans and short term commercial paper had all but dried up.

No... trust may have been a key selling point, but only in order to float stock bonuses for as long as the Moody's and Standard & Poor's ratings could remain untested.

Reply: FYI - Radical idea? THINK! (1)

OldHawk777 (19923) | more than 4 years ago | (#30871634)

The DoI and USA Constitution (IMHO) set forth ideals that enfranchise and empower The People of the USA.

Political, Religious, Economic parties and dogma seek to enfranchise and empower their totalitarian institutions and those individuals that abide and thrive with dogma.

The People that reason effective, know that dogma affected people are not USA Citizens and Patriots, which defend and protect the The DoI from tyranny, The USA Constitution, guaranteed civil rights of The People, and will never seek the oppression of The People by any institutions (Government, Military, Religion, Business/Industry...).

A Nation of The People, Governed by The People, Enfranchising and Empowering The People is clear when reading The DoI and USA Constitution. The Founding Families' and The People's intent when interpreted by dogma regurgitation is an insult to the USA founding Ideals as expressed in The DoI and USA Constitution, and by USA People and Patriots.

THE USA CONSTITUTIONAL REALITY:
A minimal federal governance of The People is critical to USA People, Patriots, Democracy, and Capitalism.
A maximum federal governance of institutions is critical to USA People, Patriots, Democracy, and Capitalism.
If We The People cannot separate Dogma-agenda from State-governance, then the fall is immanent for US.

The present government derives all of its authority and purpose from Government, Military, Religion, Business/Industry... institutions. The USA in no longer a Democracy or Capitalist Economy. The USA is a Plutocracy where the princes of wealth-power are enfranchised to legally exploit citizens.

RETURNING BACK TO TOPIC: Who's Controlling Our Vital Systems? Answer: NOT US FOR DAMN SURE!

I am old, I will die in another one or two decades, too all you younger dogma fools/suckers in the USA - FUCKUS and INGODWETRUST are equivalent statements, you just always hear what you want to always hear. I'll be dead and gone a decade or more before Rome falls into the dark age.

Re:Radical idea? (1)

pgmrdlm (1642279) | more than 4 years ago | (#30872420)

Thomas Jefferson was a strict "strict constructionist", but don't tell the liberals.

But like MUCH of Jeffersons writtings and ideas. Once he was president he found real life did not follow his ideals.

Re:re Who? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30870696)

ME !!! mu ha ha ha !!!

{insert obligatory simpson reference to the masons , illumanti here }

Isn't it obvious? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869336)

Jews control everything.

And this is news... how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869368)

Guess what, this is exactly how the military has been run for decades. What makes a contractor any better or worse at managing information than the government itself?

Re:And this is news... how? (2, Interesting)

tthomas48 (180798) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869574)

Not to answer the broader question, but your question specifically. The difference is that the federal government is (at least somewhat) accountable to the people and has tools like the courts and freedom of information acts to get information out.

Private corporations not so much.

But The Government Is Incompetent (1)

smpoole7 (1467717) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870766)

I guess the only reason why the usual args about Conservative-vs-Liberal-vs-Libertarian always pop up is because of people's basic believes: the first and last tend to distrust government, while liberals/progressives/(choose your label) tend to believe it the answer to most large problems.

Without even getting into that -- (I beg you) -- and trying to simply state and face facts: the government is incompetent. Sure, large corporations have committed their own boners (witness the number of stories that regularly appear about compromised credit card info, just to name one). But what makes anyone think that the government is any better? They lose laptops with top-secret info, THEY get hacked (and half the time, you don't hear about it solely because THEY'RE TOO STUPID TO EVEN REALIZE IT!), and you name it.

Go into any government office and you'll see people playing solitaire, chatting on their cellphones, and generally, doing as little work as possible. Political correctness runs rampant, to the extent that even if someone comes into the building with a laptop and a set of DVDs labeled "W-B-Hackers-LOLZ.com," they'll be scolded if the "assume" anything about that person.

The real answer, though it will NEVER happen and is totally impractical, is to never trust ANY large organization, be it public or private. Just my opinion.

All's I'm saying is, if you think that moving that data from private contractors back into government control will somehow make it safer, you're wrong.

Re:But The Government Is Incompetent (1)

tthomas48 (180798) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870928)

Yeah, as both corporations and government are run by people the chance of incompetency is high. Also you could pretty easily do s/government/large corporation/g on your post and have it hold true. I just prefer the fact that the government has some safe guards in place to let us figure out when things go wrong.

Re:And this is news... how? (1)

KitsuneSoftware (999119) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869592)

What makes a contractor any better or worse at managing information than the government itself?

In principle? The bottom line of government is the best interest of the nation, the bottom line of bussinesss is profit. In practice, of course, a democratic (small 'd') government cares about being popular, so it has to keep taxes low and employment high (i.e. buy from the lowest bidder based in their own country).

Re:And this is news... how? (2, Insightful)

1s44c (552956) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870126)

Guess what, this is exactly how the military has been run for decades. What makes a contractor any better or worse at managing information than the government itself?

It's not contractors you want to worry about. It's large amounts of your data ended up in India being worked on by people paid pennies. It's easy to bribe people if their monthly pay is about what you spent on lunch today.

Trend will continue... (5, Insightful)

adosch (1397357) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869396)

Unfortunately this is the way our American gov't operates: Bottom-line management style approach to everything with only the lowest budget in mind. It's really no different than people in society who try to live and act like rockstar's on a McDonald's budget. FTFA, IT, in particular, is in shambles because the mass employee attrition related to budget woes. So maybe you get the "diamond-in-the-rough" person who picked up the in's and out's of the infrastructure and singlely-handed administers the whole network themselves, you'd be ignorant to think he's going to stick any long when anything remotely better in the private sector surfaces again. Just like any place, Gov't IT creates their own single point of failure because they 1) Won't purchase what you need to succeed because they are under the esteemed impression that they pay you to come up with enterprise solutions out of thin-air, and 2) charge the gov't 1.5x the salary than they are paying the contractors to do it. You don't build tenure and stability that way, folks.

Re:Trend will continue... (3, Insightful)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869644)

The government has always gone for the lowest bidder and then people say their stuff is shit. But if they started paying more then they'd be accused of wasting tax payer money.

Sure there is still government waste but until people realise that the government should spend a premium for some stuff while people vote out those who just waste money.

Re:Trends continue...? (1)

OldHawk777 (19923) | more than 4 years ago | (#30872602)

The government seldom picks the lowest bidder or the best technology proposal (Can't do a google search, spell-check) . In the case of telecommunications/IT (FBI, CIA, DoD... how many ISE failures and redo-solutions) the CIO/G6 is typically a business management position, not a technology (science, engineering...) management position. CIO/G6 certification in .gov or .mil domain does not require experience or an understanding of binary, protocols, benchmarks, classmarks....

CIO/G6 .gov, .mil... SES (most, not all) can use blog and wiki, or WWW and Internet, or bits and bytes, or ... as synonyms in program and project meetings, and never are told/corrected by anyone in government or industry.... So, YES!, nepotism and fuck-up...move-up trends continue in .gov/.mil technology.

There are many good CIO/G6 folks in government, but they cannot be promoted, when they are needed to do the hold-IT-together job. Any social-skills SME idiot can manage FUBAR and SNAFU projects, blame-storm who failed, and receive rewards, recognition, and promotions for FUCKUPS, as long as the professionals hold-IT-together.

I have been told many times how technical and complex is a manager's job, my reply, I have a technology troubleshooting job (thinking, I get paid less, fix problems, and ...).

Re:Trend will continue... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869940)

I believe that governments also are dominated by the bean-counters approach: outsource so you don't have employees to directly pay and provide benefits for. "That must be cheaper. Cheaper is better, correct?"

It seems to be a dangerous illusion to labor under. I think it's better to call it the "cheaper is stupider" approach.

Re:Trend will continue... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869976)

Unfortunately this is the way our American gov't operates: Bottom-line management style approach to everything with only the lowest budget in mind.

Anything else would be a waste of tax payer's money. Right? It's all about keeping government small in the Land of the Free(tm). Right?

Isn't that the stereotypical American view?

Re:Trend will continue... (3, Informative)

some-old-geek (1329305) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870044)

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has done any number of stories over the past couple of years that indicate IT contractors are significantly more expensive than Wisconsin state employees. The problem (in WI) is that you can find money to hire contract staff build your application; you can't get additional positions to build it. Getting additional positions is almost impossible.

So you pony up money, hire contract staff, and build the application for some factor N greater cost, but you do get your application. Project is completed, contractors go off to their next project in another organization. Then there's no one to maintain the thing. Also remember it was built by people who knew they wouldn't have to maintain it, so it might be crap. It might also be wonderful because taking pride in your work isn't a trait that's confined to permanent staff. I've seen both, but more often the former.

Having state staff build the system means they know they have to maintain it. Usually that results in better quality, but not always. Again, I've seen both, more often than not the staff create something maintainable (if not elegant) because they have to live with the consequences.

[Cue a whole bunch of twits with variations on "but that doesn't make sense" because they think bureaucracies are supposed to make sense.]

Even dumber (4, Interesting)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870084)

Is that ultimately, disabling an in-house government operation actually winds up raising overall costs in the long run. Initially, yeah, the venture capitalists that fund the privatization give the feds a pretty good deal, but contrary to all the babble about short sightedness, these folks are in it for the long haul. They bide their time, and let the inevitable churn of politics and government action mean a greater demand for services, which they provide.

Seriously, right now we are spending record peacetime levels on defense, and what do we have, but only 1700 fighter aircraft for the USAF, not even 300 ships for the USN, and the whole time the contractors wave around "complexity" as if it is a magic bullet to allow brute force engineering that costs a fortune, cost overruns and bad designs papered over in "blocks".

I point at the F-22, as exhibit A, the littoral combat ship, the next generation aircraft carrier. All of this stuff is, well, pretty feature rich, but, the F-22 needs a thousand people a pop to get it off the ground, which is insane, the LCS is now too expensive to be the disposable combat vessel it was supposed to be, and the next generation aircraft carrier is insane.

When you are down to just -one- possible vendor for the government, at that point, you almost have to just nationalize the business.

Re:Even dumber - Peacetime??? (3, Insightful)

haus (129916) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870476)

Seriously, right now we are spending record peacetime levels on defense...

Peacetime??? We have admitted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This does not count the military efforts in Pakistan and Yeman. This is far from any definition of Peacetime.

Unfortunately it seems that a vast amount of our military spending is for equipment not well suited for the types of demands that we have placed upon or military.

Re:Even dumber - Peacetime??? (2, Informative)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 4 years ago | (#30872684)

No, the OP is right. We are spending Record Peacetime Levels. All funding for the wars that we are currently in, come from supplemental and emergency budgets. Basically, we pay for our normal military costs, and borrow to pay for the wars. It was determined that it would be politically bad to ask for the money upfront, in a normal budget, because then the "other" party could talk about how much was getting spent. (remember when I guy got asked to resign, for saying the Iraq war could cost upwards of 150Billion!!)

Re:Even dumber (2, Informative)

raddan (519638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870670)

Seriously, right now we are spending record peacetime levels on defense

I assume you're in the U.S., so I have to say... wha? We're in two wars right now! Maybe you mean that, in our current state of war, we're spending many multiples of peacetime levels?

Of course, your point is still valid-- military spending is extremely high even in peacetime. Sadly, that is the cost of being the first to do something. There's a very good account of this phenomena in the book Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age [amazon.com]. Eisenhower was keenly aware of and attempted to avoid the problems of a large and influential military-industrial complex, and yet, he is largely responsible for getting it off the ground. In the end, pressure from both the American people and his own military forced his hand.

Re:Even dumber (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#30872058)

So what do you want to field, the 21st century equivalent of the 'good enough' BF-109? Mass produced mediocrity? The F-22 is, unequivocally, the most superior aircraft extant in its role. What pricetag do you put on 'the best'? What logistical costs are acceptable?

I would say that designing the LCS to be disposable was a bad idea in the first place. There should be only three design goals for any military hardware 1) crew safety 2) combat effectiveness 3) resource efficiency in operation. If it costs more money to accomplish those goals, spend it, or you'll regret it. You'll get things like the P-39, where the brass decided they could save money on the engine, at the cost of making it a combat ineffective death trap.

Re:Even dumber (1)

LeperPuppet (1591409) | more than 4 years ago | (#30873002)

Military project costs tend to blowout, yet governments keep signing up for projects with unproven technologies and surprisingly low initial costs. As long as everyone gets their share of Congressional pork, don't expect this to change.

While the F-22 is damned expensive, it's also the best fighter aircraft in the world, so there's at least some value in owning them. It's high-end features are best utilised with a large fleet of lesser aircraft that are cheaper to purchase and maintain. Which the USAF currently owns (F-15 and F-16 fleet) and stupidly wants to replace with a lesser number of unproven and increasingly expensive F-35s. The worst problem with the F-35 is that it's overkill for most of its intended uses (stealth is useless for bombing third-world dictators and terrorists), while it's also unlikely to survive against current or future SAM systems (60's era Soviet VHF radars can easily detect stealth fighters and the F-35 lacks the speed or maneuverability to survive once detected).

On what planet do you reside? !!! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30870248)

Regarding... Bottom-line management style approach to everything with only the lowest budget in mind.

You're just kidding, right? I actually wish there was some truth to that but it's just patently false.

Govt "management style" includes petty power plays to protect their little fiefdoms at all costs including inpenetrable and unaccountable bureaucracy with endless and meaningless rules. The more rules you make, the more powerful you are.

They measure their personal success in terms of the size of their budget- it has nothing to do with what you actually accomplish. The more you spend the more important you are. And you never, never want to end the year with any budget unspent because that will present a problem in getting more budget the next year. To extend your power the goal is to ask for way more budget than you could possible need then add some to that. Appearances of holding down costs are made as some of the budget requests are cut but the game has been played and the end result is anything but cost conscious.

In choosing the winning bid the contractor with the highest bid often wins. This is because they are with the in crowd having developed a reputation with govt bureaucrats. The bureaucrats are not interested in cost but in the safest, least risky route where they protect their power by doing business with a known quantity like contractors they've worked with before. If things go bad the bureaucrats protect themselves with finger pointing and the contractors are impersonal and handy. But if the sly contractor accepts the finger pointing and actually helps his client politically, he'll be on track to win future bids. The contractors learn to game the system and become experts by learning how to craft winning bids. Crafting winning bids becomes more important than performing on contracts won. One strategy is to make a lot of high bids knowing you will lose many but one will pass. Sometimes the contractors actually get busy with contracts won but they are still asked to put in a bid on a bureaucrat's meaningless pet project anyway. Since they are already busy they just submit an outrageously high bid in an effort to lose the bid so they don't get overextended... Then they actually win it. That's when the contractor hires a bunch of inexperienced people and starts throwing warm bodies at and ever increasing and unmanageable bunch of projects.

I know this from personal experience having learned how to game the system. I made a lot of money with winning IT bids and networkings with other contractors, comparing notes and laughing at and ridiculing our govt clients. This experience goes way back to when I was a teenager working for my Dad who was a construction contractor. I particularly remember one govt contract to put a roof on a 2 car garage. We were given a printed manual explaining how to do the job that was over 100 pages. The man hours spent to prepare this manual were obviously greater than the man hours to actually do the job. We were told to use this tapered, specially machined insulation which served no practicle purpose but was incredibly expensive. For the gravel on top of the roof we were forced to use expensive indoor flowerpot gravel instead of the typical industrial roofing gravel. It was great for me as a teenager because the govt required that my Dad pay me and all unskilled labor an outrageously high hourly rate way more than would even be paid to a journeyman carpenter in the real world. Curiously the journeyman rates were only a dollar an hour more. Probably had something to do with supporting a political agenda to redistribute the wealth to unionized labor like the "workers of the world unite" slogan from SIEU and the failed Soviet system.

After a few years of this my moral conscious finally kicked in to rescue my soul so I got out of the govt contract system. Now I make less but I live better.

Round and round the Mulberry bush (4, Insightful)

wheelema (46997) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869412)

Budget strapped State/County/Municipal I.T. organizations do not employ the best and brightest and their budgeting process is simplified by off loading functionality at a constant fixed cost. It is with this in mind that outsourcing firms market services to them. Once that contract is signed... usually with language that gives the contractor significant leeway and discretion to torque their service model so as to maximize profitability... the problem is off of everyone's mind. I.T. management is free to focus elsewhere, the contractor is free to find new worlds to conquer, and no one gives a damn if the process delivers what was promised until it's too late.

Then it's off to Court you go where only the public loses. :(

Hard vs. Easy (4, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869446)

Hard: building a top notch IT organization.

Easy: paying somebody to hide the problems, firing them when the problems can't be ignored, then hiring another contractor who does exactly the same thing.

Re:Hard vs. Easy (5, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869464)

I'm not sure how it works in the USA, but there's a bit of a catch-22 in procurement for IT systems in the UK. One of the factors that is considered important in evaluating bids is that they have a proven track record. This means that they've been awarded government contracts before, but doesn't mean that they have delivered on time, on budget, or at all. Companies like EDS, who have consistently failed, are given priority over other companies that have never been allowed to try. There are countless examples where a small business could have delivered a working system for around £1m, but EDS has been awarded £20m and still failed to actually produce anything that works.

Re:Hard vs. Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30870350)

Even better are when the big government contractors are performing services for government that are directly competing from other lines of business. For example, the State of New York's Medicaid system, which was actually designed back in the 80's to not allow for any sort of online fraud detection or audit, is developed and maintained by Computer Sciences Corporation. Another division of CSC provides consulting services for "optimizing" health provider IT systems to "maximize revenue". (ie. rip off the government) Conflict of interest, anyone?

Re:Hard vs. Easy (1)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870890)

See, you're confused just like a lot of people are. Bidding is not a simple process. I too was confused at why EDS keeps winning contracts, especially when I worked there.

EDS is very experienced at bidding, since it started as and continues to operate almost entirely as an outsourcing company. It knows what companies want to hear, and has a large number of success stories it can trot out. Every publicly reported disaster can be explained as changing customer requirements, or customer didn't give us all of the information, or some other excuse. The number of disaster contracts is very small compared to the number of "satisfied customer" contracts, so numbers are important too.

This article is partly (and the summary almost entirely) about how the low bidder always gets the job. The actual article really just demonstrates that Missouri is terrible at managing its outsourcing contracts. Having a single company implement something, then allowing other companies to bid to take it over, is just plain ignorance - the new company has to learn the system from scratch, and the old company has to cooperate in knowledge transfer with the new company. Often times, this is not in the original contract nor the new contract, so you end up paying extra for services not specified (and therefore not paid for). In other words, simple incompetence which can be rectified by including future-proofing in the contract. At the least, the contract should state that all documentation will be kept up to date, in a state which allows easy turnover when your contract is terminated. At that point, anything that the new company needs becomes a demand to the old company, to either produce the docs, transfer knowledge some other way, or face breach of contract punitive clauses.

That's a lie, unless there is a requirement that the low bidder has to get the contract. There is usually a qualification in there that says the lowest *qualified* bidder gets the job. I can't submit a proposal to do it for $100 and automatically get the contract, I have to convince them it can actually be done for that price.

Back to EDS, the trick is to make a semi-convincing argument that you know the business, and have supported other clients doing the exact same thing, so you know no one can do it cheaper without cutting corners. We don't just have a proposal, we have experience doing this.

Another way: I ask for bids on building a birdhouse. You are a residential housing company. You say you have piles of people who build things every day and will get a good, quality birdhouse instead of a slapdash one someone's grandmother would put together. Contract sold, you make an overpriced, non-functional pile of wood which technically fits the requirements but is of no value. Next time I want a house, I'm probably going to go with your proposal because we have a prior relationship and you're suited to the job. Next time I want a birdhouse, I'm going somewhere else.

A few years ago, GM was renegotiating with EDS and wanted to have multiple suppliers so they weren't depending on a single company. It was difficult for them to walk away from EDS because EDS knows the business, so they only diversified about half of what they wanted. It's not because EDS was better or cheaper, it just took less retraining and establishing contacts and relationships. (BTW this was all reported in market news at the time, none of this is inside info.) 10 years before, no one thought about putting exit clauses in, so EDS offered to do a lot of transition work for free on the bits it didn't win, in order to stay favorable on the stuff it was hoping to retain.

In short, companies like Haliburton or EDS show up, name their price, and say "Yeah it's expensive, but it's what we do every day... the other guys will have to get up to speed and you'll have schedule overruns, making it ultimately more expensive than the proposal says."

Then there's the no-bid contract written into law by a legislator to help one of his constituents' businesses, so you don't have a bidding process. It helps my district and the company has a good reputation so no problem, right? And there's the request-for-proposals phrased so that only one company qualifies no matter the cost, keywords like "must be located in-country, must have certain certification, must have prior experience, and CEO's wife must be named Sheila". Yeah that happens (this is not an example from EDS, your local news probably has examples of this within the past 6 months of archives).

We just need better procurement procedures, which has been obvious for a long time.

Re:Hard vs. Easy (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869576)

No, it's quite easy to build a top-notch IT organization. Given sufficient funding, there are just a few simple rules to follow:

1) Only hire people trained in first-world Western nations. That basically means just employing Americans, Brits, Japanese, French, Germans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and Scandinavians. Don't bother with anyone else, especially Indians. Their education system does nothing but churn out people who can memorize huge amounts of information, but who cannot apply any of it in a real-world setting.

2) Use hardware from IBM or Sun.

3) Use Oracle or PostgreSQL for database needs. Never use MySQL.

4) Implement software using Java and Python. Never hire Ruby developers, because many have a horrible attitude problem (they consider themselves to be "code ninjas"). Never hire Perl developers, because the code they write is unmaintainable. Never hire PHP developers, because they're fucking morons for using PHP.

5) Run 2) through 4) on Solaris, FreeBSD and Linux.

6) All desktop systems that are deployed run Linux or Mac OS X. This will make administration easy, prevent workers from accidentally installing malware, and keep your job simple.

7) If Windows must be used, it is never on real hardware. Windows is only suitable for use within a virtualized environment that can be discarded at the first sign of a malware infestation. Routinely discard Windows VMs on a weekly basis, replacing them with a known "good" installation.

8) Never hire software architects. These guys can draw pretty pictures, and fuck up your software systems to no end. They'll recommend all sorts of stupid shit that sounds great in theory, but breaks constantly in practice.

MOD PARENT UP (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870012)

Let's give the new users a good example of how to write a realtroll, rather than the rubbish that passes for trolling most of the time.

Re:Hard vs. Easy (1)

adosch (1397357) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870098)

Brilliant post. That couldn't be any more right. And I might add:

...hiring another contractor who does the exact same thing because of utter lack of qualification and skill.

Re:Hard vs. Easy (1)

Punctuated_Equilibri (738253) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870744)

People seem to think good organizations come from Hollywood central casting. The president says 'make it so' and in the next scene you have an office full of analysts looking at big screens and people walking around with clipboards.

You can't have any kind of good organization without good managers, and government bureaucracies are so suffocating any talented manager will get out as quickly as possible. Contracting out is a way of trying to apply the flexibility of private organizations to public purposes. These may suck but in my experience they suck less than having government employees do the same work.

People have elaborate fantasies about governments taking on complex jobs, I think it is based on what they see in movies. Real life government organizations, in my experience, are at a primitive stage of evolution, more like "segmented worm" than "primate".

Public regulation, private provision? (3, Interesting)

giladpn (1657217) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869450)

There is an interesting debate going on world wide about how best to manage privatization.

Many successful examples follow the example of government regulating the private sector, but the actual provision of the services being private.

Just as an example, it seems education in Scandinavian countries is provided like that.

So why is that bad for IT? It could be a good thing.

Re:Public regulation, private provision? (1)

BuR4N (512430) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870140)

Just as an example, it seems education in Scandinavian countries is provided like that.

Yea, its fantastic, instead of a solid public school system that teaches essential knowledge such as math, languages etc, we got private schools that sees everything as a popularity contest, coming up with more and more useless "educations", sucking the money away from the public school system.

All in all its a grand failure.

Re:Public regulation, private provision? (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870720)

schools that sees everything as a popularity contest, coming up with more and more useless "educations", sucking the money

Sounds just like the US public schools to me.

Re:Public regulation, private provision? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30871336)

Private schools aren't sucking the money away. They are sucking the students away. The money still goes to the public schools as if the student attended there. It is the public schools that are avoiding the teaching of math, or rather, the evaluation of just how much math is being taught.

Re:Public regulation, private provision? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30870464)

Many successful examples follow the example of government regulating the private sector

"Regulating"? Like establishing the rules and ensuring that they are followed? Yeah... We are not doing that - Free market is supposed to regulate itself :-P

You don't manage privatization - it manages you (1)

sgt_doom (655561) | more than 4 years ago | (#30873222)

I really don't know how to respond to a post like yours -- perhaps you unaware of the article and history of modern life -- perhaps you're simply unaware.

to put it as unsophisticated as possible -- the American intelligence community is majority privatized -- that means no FOIA, no transparency, no control, and 1,000 times the cost. PERIOD!

If a business chooses the cheapest contractor (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869454)

...without due diligence and a complete lack of knowledge of what is necessary, does that mean it's absolved of all blame when something goes wrong? If the government makes a series of stupid decisions with regard to contractors, it doesn't mean they will suddenly be able to do the work better themselves, any more than f I chose a restaurant poorly, it means I'll suddenly be able to make delicious meals at home.

And before anyone can say "businesses are only in it for the money" -- sure, that is almost always true, but the government doesn't even have *that* incentive. Seriously, why would a government worker try to stay within a budget when they can cry for more tax revenue, and why would they bother trying something new that might work better or be cheaper when there is no reward and they have a captive audience? Government workers are not paragons of virtue compared to those in the private sector, they are the same type of people with a bigger budget and less accountability. Until you can actually sit down and list the requirements for a particular project and then align the incentives with the results you want, you are going to have crap outcomes, whether you outsource a service or bring it in-house.

Republicans... (-1, Troll)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869500)

Yet another reason why the Republican way of thinking is flawed.

This is all they preach "less government, but what government we have we should outsource".

Good thing we outsourced the Atom bomb...

Whoopsiedoodle.

Contracting is a way around public employee unions (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869510)

And good riddance.

The contractors do a great job, pay well and don't leave the taxpayers on the hook for an underfunded pension plan.

And no amount of union screaming will stop it. At the federal, state and local levels, government is INSOLVENT.

So I expect to see more of this. And I for one welcome it.

That's Life (4, Informative)

amcdiarmid (856796) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869522)

The Government does not pay all that well (and previously less well). You are talking about large networks, that are very complicated. As a result, you do not have a whole lot of government staff with experience to run a network that is that complicated.

I work in a very small (5K users) government (federal) office. I have to deal with 12 windows domains, 11 Political groups, and offer support to all Regional Admins, and departmental admins - as well as dealing with a help desk which has been told "we don't investigate error logs."

Unfortunately, some of the government staff can't find their ***es with both hands. This is because 12 years ago, the government paid much less than the contractors. Good technical people could earn twice a much contracting a working for the government. Those people are still contracting (mostly), and are the ones that you would want in the government running the show. The people who have "more senior" positions in gvt now? They are largely the ones who couldn't get the better paid contracting jobs, and state: Helpdesk personnel should not be investigating application event logs.

Furthermore, this is also the case for many large businesses: They outsourced the tech support years ago (cheaper); most users get someone in india to change passwords, while sr. staff get concierge service. Those large businesses have similar issues as well: but they have an explicit 2-tier service system.

It's been going on for years, but I don't see any way to rectify it: especially as the job listings still seem to be opaque, and difficult to decode.

No leadership (1)

MikeB0Lton (962403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869532)

Personally I think the biggest problem in government organizations is the lack of effective leadership. They don't run things like the real world works and they aren't usually willing to pay enough money to recruit talent that can.

Re:No leadership (1)

el_tedward (1612093) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870756)

Leadership is the single most important thing when an organization is attempting to complete a task. It doesn't matter how much money, regulation, or attention you give something; if the people in charge don't know what they're doing and aren't building a good team, things are going to head down hill.

Re:No leadership (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#30872750)

They're all political appointees. So there are two things at work here: 1) The job was given to a non-IT crony of the current administration, or b) when this administration is voted out, there goes your job. Better to find a nice cozy home for yourself by delivering a fat contract to some IT support firm (which is probably where you were found by the administration in the first place).

An alternative (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869540)

Firstly, the notion of hiring private companies to do something (or simply letting them continue to do it, e.g. shopworkers and car repairers) rather than a government doing the same, is a basic politlcal and philosophical question where no "proofs" as to what is best can be found. Both of the alternatives could be argued to have both advantages and disadvantages, and lead to slightly different situations. So the only thing people can do is make rather empty claims and point to empirical studies which may or may not apply universally. Which pretty much means that whoever shouts loudest to put their ideas in people's minds wins.

Secondly, if you are inclined towards private companies filling government functions but have a problem with poor standards, the nearest solution would be to have higher standards when you judge contracts.

Of course, higher standards leads to problems in itself. For example, if you are barring companies that haven't been in business for at least 10 years, you would in many cases basically lay the groundwork for competing monopolies (no 'new entrants' would threaten the established companies). Which may or may not be worth it.

Where's the risk? (1)

EatHam (597465) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869546)

I have increasingly come to the conclusion that we are putting our state's operations at risk and compromising the trust of the people of our state by outsourcing core government functions.

Well, my interaction with my state's operations have made me increasingly come to the conclusion that I would trust a rowdy herd of poorly trained chimpanzees over the state's employees. So bring on the contractors, I say.

Re:Where's the risk? (1)

1s44c (552956) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870188)

I have increasingly come to the conclusion that we are putting our state's operations at risk and compromising the trust of the people of our state by outsourcing core government functions.

Well, my interaction with my state's operations have made me increasingly come to the conclusion that I would trust a rowdy herd of poorly trained chimpanzees over the state's employees. So bring on the contractors, I say.

Contractors are not the problem. Third world software maintenance is the problem. A messed up government in control is far better than your tax records being adjusted by someone on third world wages.

Re:Where's the risk? (2, Interesting)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870448)

I am a state government employee who worked for several years in the private sector. By my reckoning, the distribution of incompetent people is about the same than at your average large company -- they just look different. Most state governments expanded rapidly in the 70's and 80's, so you have this massive cadre of 45-60 year olds who are burnt out and useless. Big corporate places purge the old people, replace them with clueless foreigners (working for a bodyshops that happen to be run by some Exec VP's wife in most cases), laid off corporate types who are now consulting, and recent graduates without clue.

The real problem with government is the leadership. In the past, the professional managers blunted the effect of politically appointed executives who couldn't find their ass with both hands. Today, the corps of those professionals is in dire straits in most states, because most states did not hire and "grow" new employees in the 90's and 00's. So the smart people are retiring, only to be replaced by people who will be retiring in 3 years.

Would the state do better? (2, Insightful)

haus (129916) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869572)

I have spent over a dozen years working on various federal government systems. I have seen things that would make your head spin.

But I see no evidence that if contractors were phased of of the Missouri IT systems that things would necessarily get better. Sure the author mentions the grade of 'A' from Governing Magazine, but this is not a heavy hitting name in the IT world, I would not be surprised if a good part of this 'A' grade is because the state has been aggressive with outsourcing of IT.

Outsourcing it s not an excuse for management to not be involved in these process. It does not matter if work is being done by employees or contractors, it must be managed, a failure to do so will lead to bad situations. What we have here appears to be an inability to manage, changing the color of the badges for those doing the work is not likely to resolve this.

The Jobs (3, Interesting)

florescent_beige (608235) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869666)

I could be totally wrong and often am, but the voices in my head say the /. spin on this speaks to working conditions more then management philosophy.

Many of us have done early-career stints in larger organizations where we learned to our horror that technical experts are viewed as evil twits, not assets. That's why so many of us nerds of a certain age walk around with pinched pained expressions. Caused by thoughts like, why doesn't anything make any SENSE? You would think, working in technology and all, being a wizard would bring with it a certain amount of status and security. It just doesn't seem to be the case.

It's not so much the sub vs in-house question as the management vs expert question that always seems to get answered in a predictably bad way. What's even worse, former geeks who grow up and get into decision-making positions are often i.m.experience the worst offenders, becoming the most vicious defenders of the bottom-line view of things, lording it over the rest of us who see our jobs as being to tease Mother Nature into behaving long enough to do something useful. And she's a fickle old witch.

The big organizations who do seem to do some technology ok, the GEs, the HPs, the IBMs, well as far as I can tell they accomplish it by being practically Darwinian. They have their research chairs sure, but they succeed in business by absolutely grinding middle management into powder so that the survivors are just about sociopaths.

I don't know, I guess in this phase of human development if a person wants to do something with love and passion it has to be a hobby. A few lucky ones might get paid for it. Everybody else chases bucks.

Re:The Jobs (1, Offtopic)

nine-times (778537) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869924)

Did you just abbreviate "in my experience" as "i.m.experience"? How many keystrokes did you save on that one?

Re:The Jobs (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870768)

The survivors are not the sociopaths. First of all, there just aren't that many sociopaths.

The survivors are the ones who learn treat their jobs as routine amoral functions that have no impact on their personal lives or self worth.

Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failure (4, Insightful)

silverspringer (1728092) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869670)

The bottom line is that the operation of a country's IT infrastructure is a thankless job. There is (literally) no financial incentive to do a good job. There is almost no incentive whatsoever to do a good job; some might argue that reputation and respect are valid incentives but there's not much of that in the government IT world. Build a system where success isn't recognized and you're sure to have failure overall. Why would anyone work for no (significant) money, no respect, no long term benefits, no challenge even (it's not like government systems are cutting edge)?

Pointing the fingers at contractors is simply extraneous information. Good teams do good work no matter who they work for.

Fixing the problems is a non-trivial task. Hell, identifying all the problems is a non-trivial task. The only trivial task is the too common announcement of "oh my god, the world is falling, our country won't survive this apocalyptic disaster that's brewing in our infrastructure".

The reason this crazy system works at all is that it's a distributed system. Failure in one section doesn't lead to failure in other sections. Just like most natural systems (think of the way a river flows, often in separate channels) our infrastructure adapts to problems as needed.

It's interesting that people predict massive problems despite there never being any massive problems. For example, name a single infrastructure event that impacted the daily lives of every American. Katrina, which wiped out a big section of the country for several weeks didn't impact the Northeast, Northwest, etc. in the least (aside from non-stop news coverage). FAA flight control screw ups are probably the most significant failures and note that it's a centralized system.

Government systems need to be operated as distributed systems, managed by many different people, because that is the primary security control protecting us from catastrophic failure. Government or contractor management has nothing to do with this, both options can do well, both can do poorly.

Re:Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failu (2, Interesting)

lukas84 (912874) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869848)

Good teams do good work no matter who they work for.

I'm not that sure about this. I work for an IT contractor, and if you try to do a good job you'll run into a conflict of interest, sooner or later. Typical scenario is that the sales guys from your company want to sell the customer something he doesn't really need - and then you get asked about your opinion on whether he should buy it or not.

a) Stab the customer in the back, telling him he really needs to buy this
b) Stab your employer in the back, telling the customer that he doesn't really need it
c) Try to give a nonsensical answer that doesn't help the customer
d) Refuse to comment
e) Tell the customer he doesn't x, and instead should buy y.

Which one is the right choice? Of course you can always construct another option like talking to your sales guys, but this might not work if his bonus is on the line. Techies don't get bonuses, so they don't care about selling stuff.

I usually take option e), because there's always something you should do. But it's not a perfect solution, since you're basically saying your sales guys are incompetent and they should buy something else.

Re:Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failu (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870056)

Option b is the correct answer. Option b means that the next time your customer really does need something expensive, they will me more likely to let you sell it to them. Option b is not stabbing your company in the back, it's stabbing your sales guy in the back. Option b increases your customer's trust in your company, which improves your company's long-term relationship with the customer and increases the total amount that your company will get from that customer over the course of that relationship.

Quite frankly, it is your sales guy who is working against your company's interest by chasing short-term profits at the expense of good customer relations and he or she absolutely deserves to be stabbed in the back. If possible, fire the sales guy and send a written apology, complete with the information that the sales guy has been fired, to your customer's CTO or CIO.

Re:Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failu (1)

lukas84 (912874) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870136)

That's how you see it, that's how i see it, but it's not how the sales dept or our CEO for that matter will see it. I suspect it's pretty much the same for other companies.

Re:Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failu (2, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870296)

That's exactly the point of the original poster in this thread:

When employees incentives are not aligned with the company's goals, the goals suffer

This holds whether the employee in question is the CEO, a system administrator, or a sales guy. The CEO's incentives are aligned with the current share price. That means that he will push for short-term profits at the expense of a longer-term future for the company. The sales guy's incentives are aligned with making a sale now, rather than building customer relations.

There are a couple of things you can do to address this. You can defer the majority of the CEO's renumeration and have it linked to the share price 5-10 years later. To get the most money, the CEO needs to leave the company in such a state that its value will continue to increase (or, at least, not decrease) over his successor's tenure.

You can give sales staff bonuses for indirect sales, so they get a bonus if one of your customers buys something from you in the future. You can make these cumulative, so sales to companies that the sales rep has worked with for a long time are worth more. This means that it's in his or her best interest to build long-term relationships with clients. If telling them not to buy anything today means that they'll buy more tomorrow, then the sales rep gets more money. Importantly, make sure this happens even if another sales rep takes over that client's account.

Re:Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failu (1)

darrenkw (1085901) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870342)

If that's not how the CEO sees it then he's the wrong person to be running the company. I'm currently employed by a smallish MSP and I know who would win out in our company. If the sales guy is trying to sell them something they don't need he's going to at least get told off. I would personally chose option b but as always, being a little careful how you say can make a world of difference.

Re:Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failu (2, Interesting)

Kaboom13 (235759) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870496)

I also work for an IT contractor, although fairly small so I can go smack the sales guys on the head a few doors over as needed. I go for option B/E all the time. In my view, IT is kind of like a a bottomless pit you throw money into. You can throw more and more, but there is ALWAYS something else you can do. There's always an extra backup system you can add, an extra redundancy, an user experience you can improve, etc. But businesses have finite IT budgets, and all the slick sales guys in the world won't change that. So seeing as how there's a practically infinite opportunities to spend IT money in an organization that will have tangible benefits, I don't see the point in letting the sales guys get away with wasting their money. If I feel its a waste, I tell them that, and point out 2 or 3 things to them and the sales guys that should be higher priority. In my experience, the sales guys in IT are some of the most easily influenced by other salesmen I've ever met. A vendor comes through, gives a demonstration of their network appliance or software package of the week, tells them how all their customers will be knocking down the door to give them their money to buy it, and uses every tired old pitch technique in the book. The same techniques the sales guys use on their customers every day. And they buy it hook, line, and sinker. They go out and tell all their customers they have to have X, even when they themselves don't really understand what it does, but the vendors salesman told them so. Someone needs to inject some reality into the situation, or you wind up with a customer that has spent their entire budget on the latest buzzwords and their basic IT infrastructure is a disaster. Whether we spent their IT money on buzzwords, or we spent their IT money on things they needed, we still got their money. But one way leads to the customer saying at the end of the year "We spent $x on IT with you guys, and we still have tons of problems! Our PC's crash, our network is slow, our backups don't work, wtf?" and the other way leads to building a long term relationship with the customer that will keep them as our customer.

    Uncontrolled greed is the enemy of IT contracting in my mind. We are all in business to make money, but wanting to make money and being blinded by greed are very different. If every time you went to the doctor, he tried to sell you some new wonder drug you can only get from him, the first you might be inclined to believe him, after all he is the doctor, he knows more about medicine then you do. So you would buy it, and the doctor would make extra money. But when the medicine didn't make you feel better, and everytime you went back he wanted to sell you a new, different wonder drug, that THIS time would solve all your problems, pretty quickly you would find a new doctor. Next thing you know, the practice that doctor has built up over a decade is gone. The same thing for IT. Most of our customers don't know what they have, they don't understand it, they don't know what they need. They rely on us to tell them. But if we tell them lies, we will make a lot of money in the short term, but eventually they will get tired of shoveling money at us and seeing no results.

Besides, is helping some sleazebag salesman make an extra $1000 in commission (that he would not share with you even if he saw you laying half dead in the gutter) worth your professional ethics?

Re:Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failu (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30872736)

I've been fired for doing that. Not a team player and all that.

Re:Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failu (1)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869882)

It's interesting that people predict massive problems despite there never being any massive problems. For example, name a single infrastructure event that impacted the daily lives of every American.

The Northeast Blackout of 2003 [wikipedia.org] probably comes close.

Re:Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failu (1)

CantGetAUserName (565692) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869894)

Some of the fault can be laid squarely at whoever wrote the original contract. One of the contracts in the UK that's currently just starting to make the press is notable because the consultants managing the process (why would you let a consultant manage the process?! Consultants *consult*, dummy! Not a dig at consultants, but the fool who handed over control of the entire process to a third party...) are being paid 10% of the procurement cost of the contract as a bonus.

Yes, you read that right, they're effectively being *told* to buy the most expensive thing possible, with somebody else's money. And, as an added bonus, the system they've chosen (at an estimated 5 times the cost of one of the losers - whom they didn't actually permit to bid) will require months of (paid, of course) work from the consultants concerned to get it to work. I'm in the wrong line of work, really I am...

Re:Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failu (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30872778)

In Belgium architects fees work like that. If you're surprised that your house went over budget by just a tad, check out the carbon fibre closet liners and the monocrystalline copper water pipes.

Re:Zero Incentive for Success Equals Certain Failu (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869980)

There is (literally) no financial incentive to do a good job... Pointing the fingers at contractors is simply extraneous information. Good teams do good work no matter who they work for.

Well there are issues of incentive that aren't immediately obvious, and who you work for does matter. If you work for the government directly, there's a sense in which your stated job is basically to make the government run better, whereas when you work for an outside contractor, your stated job is to make money for the contractor. That seeps into your head and affects the way you do things.

I'm not saying that contractors can't be helpful or even that it can't be a better route to go, but it's not quite a simple issue. Contractors where you're giving them steady work aren't too bad, but short-term consultants are the worst. Their incentive is often to get things working long enough to get out the door with a check; beyond that, it can actually be in their interest to have things break now and then so you call them back in. No thanks.

I've learned over the years that laziness can be a terrific motivator in IT. That's right. Laziness. It sounds weird if you don't understand true laziness, but what you have to remember is it takes more work to support a system that isn't working well than it is to support a system that's well designed and well maintained. I remember learning that as a helpdesk tech, realizing that I could spend 5 minutes every day fixing the same problem, or I could spend 5 hours in one day fixing the problem properly, and then never have to fix it again.

So one of the problems with outside contractors is, depending on the exact deal, laziness might not be a big motivator. Contractors and consultants might be just as happy to keep all those 5-minute-a-day problems, because fixing things properly might mean the end of their contract.

The danger is Goverment, not contractors. (3, Insightful)

wilby (141905) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869728)

The original poster wrote- "My opinion is this is a dangerous trend that needs to be reversed. We're being fleeced while being put at risk."

The problem is government. Government and mismanagement have gone together for at least the last 50+ years. To think that government employees would perform better than contractors is pure fantasy.

Re:The danger is Goverment, not contractors. (1)

Changa_MC (827317) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870814)

That's certainly true of USA government.

Possibly linked to our last 4+ presidents being right-of-center, on a global-political scale.

You won't have success, if you don't ever ask for it.

The best of both worlds. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869738)

We transfer liabilities and with some clever arrangements, can still make some money on the process.

We are being controlled by Corporate Evil because we pay them to control us. They are ordered to pwn us.

Isn't that great? Thank the pigs in the farm.

Vital Information (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869774)

is controlled by Lori Beth Denberg.

Who is controlling it? China (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869804)

We may argue about how info is sold, but when somebody, or a nation, can get to it, just by the backdoors in the hardware and software, then THEY OWN IT.

So why isn't the fact that contractors (1)

pgmrdlm (1642279) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869834)

also are in control of company data also included in this article?

Banks, credit card companys, medical instutions?

Everything we do that is recorded by IT is controled by contractors. The lowest bidder.

I think the article completley misses the point.

There's a bigger issue embedded within... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30869840)

... and Slashdot acknowledged it earlier. It's the end run, by law enforcement agencies and national intelligence, around the 4th amendment.

See: Fourth Party Data Brokers [slashdot.org]

There's an idealistic view that people who work in "public service" should be willing and able to operate ethically and measure their decisions in a constitutional context. This notwithstanding the perception that legislators with even greater power are beholden to their constituents in a similar manner to the mythical obligation that the primary metric of corporate management should be the short-term, bottom-line view of Wall Street.

Assuming the above is an accurate depiction of American values, why should anyone be surprised that the governments' information assets (about us and the operations of our government) are managed with any ethical integrity whatsoever? Most MBA's will tell you, that cost reduction, as much as anything else, is a primary concern, even though we all 'know' through the continual barrage of advertising, that quality solutions require greater expenditure.

The easiest way to see how this paradox of low-cost vs. quality plays out it is to listen to the Tea-Baggers who chant the mantra, "government that governs least governs best." Then compare this general lack of critical thinking to the contrary evidence, efew.g. the total failure of the many multi-billion dollar IS debacles in the Intelligence black budgets, FEMA's performance in the context of New Orleans (after the Bush-Conservative gutting of its expertise)or the bankruptcy of Orange County (as a harbinger of the current meltdown/swindle/bailout of the investment banking sector), as a few examples.

The fundamental questions arise: how to do define or measure quality, and how do you convince anyone that spending more money on managing information is logical. As ever, in the absence of a clear definition of the specific goals necessary to effect a long-range planing process, it's difficult to determine much, other than discontent.

The other side of the coin (1)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869900)

The other perspective is that we are handing off critical and complex systems to those more better able to handle them due to experience and training. Further, as any government employee will tell you, you can't rely on the politicians to understand why IT needs as much money as we do. They often fail to understand that if they want x, they need to pay y. By outsourcing the operation, the costs are better controlled ( something the bean counters love ), and interruption to the service is less likely.

Not that the OP doesn't have a good point, he does. But it really does make more sense to let specialized companies handle the complex operations.

Who ya gonna call? (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869942)

Most enterprises just hire the cheapest possible labor and call the expensive guys/girls only when something breaks and the cheap labor can't fix it. If it works for them this way, and if it's cheaper just to declare bankruptcy on a system failure vs. doing it right in the first place, why would they change their ways?

"...sold off to the low bidder." (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30869962)

That's pretty objectionable alright. When you sell something it is supposed to go to the high bidder.

Maintenance (2, Informative)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870024)

All four examples from TFA have the common theme of one outsourced group does the development, and a different group does the maintenance, resulting in loss of institutional and system knowledge. This is a flaw in outsourcing approach. The solitication should be for development and system lifetime maintenance, with contractual penalties for failure to respond to or fix problems.

Some thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30870182)

That's what The People get for buying in to that Reagan-esque Reinventing Government shell game. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of...what? Well, it used to be Money, but now there's no money so how about, oh...Entertainment? Yea, that's it. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Entertainment.

Who's Controlling Our Vital Information Systems? (2, Funny)

jeremyflores (1624023) | more than 4 years ago | (#30870730)

I AM.

Now, give me mod points or Something Terrible will happen. Muahahaha.

Core Competency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30870826)

The overriding principle of outsourcing is that you never outsource your core competency.

While we might engage in endless 'dialog' about the level of competency various governments display, ceding their information functions to private interests is first order corruption.

Any government official, elected or otherwise, who advocates this practice is clueless or on the take.

EDS & Identity Theft (1)

mim (535591) | more than 4 years ago | (#30871072)

Recently here in Wisconsin the contracted company that manages some of the Medicaid and other social programs printed out the Social Security numbers of all recipients of a large mailing on the OUTSIDE of the envelopes. OOPS!

Medicaid (2, Interesting)

caramuru (600877) | more than 4 years ago | (#30871250)

I can't speak to all of the poster's comments, but I can address the Medicaid point. I have worked for over 25 years for Medicaid contractors and have done so in 14 states, so I have a pretty good perspective on the pluses and minuses of outsourcing this service. Medicaid is usually the largest line item in a state's budget. Consequently, IT and other services required to run the program are not only expensive, but highly visible. Many state bureaucracies have concluded that they do not want to risk such exposure and are willing to pay for the privilege of pointing their fingers at a contractor whenever there are problems. Most of these contracts' operational expenses pay for non-IT services such as mail room, data entry, call center, and other staff. These personnel fall into the same category as the janitors, security personnel, and others that the poster identifies. Most of these contracts require the contractor to develop at a fixed price a system for the state to be used in the operations phase of the contract. State IT units are unwilling to take on such risk and, instead, only develop systems on a cost-plus basis. Most of these contracts require the contractor to supply a minimum number of IT staff devoted to change orders, so the contractor only makes additional money when the volume of change orders exceeds the capacity of the contracted minimum of staff. Additionally, maintenance required for bug fixes is usually not a reimbursable expense. Again, contractors are required to assume risk that states will not take on. Health care administration is a rapidly changing (You cannot imagine the impact of HIPAA on health care administrators, public and private), and contractors with multiple contracts are much better able to understand the changing environment, develop solutions for the changes, and leverage experience from all of their contracts for the benefit of each individual contract. Although there are only about five contractors in this market, the competition is brutal, resulting in lower prices for states. Although it would seem that states lose valuable expertise when an incumbent contractor loses a re-bid, the reality is that people working for the old contractor tend to go to work for the new contractor.

Are these contractors perfect? Absolutely not. I have seen failures that could only be resolved by kicking the contractor out. This is obviously painful to the contractor, but very disruptive to the state. States could save themselves this disruption by changing some of their procurement rules (e.g., the bidder with the lowest bid price exceeds a minimum technical score) that reward lower quality proposals. They could also increase the Medicaid program's performance by optimizing their end-to-end business processes prior to issuing an RFP. Many states' business processes are fundamentally broken. If you compare the head count used in a state-staffed operation vs. the head count used in a contractor-staffed operation, you often see a two- or three-to-one difference. Medicaid RFPs are notoriously ambiguous and routinely include phrases such as "including but limited to" in requirements statements. Fully modeled and documented processes generate fully developed use cases.

Contracting Studies (1)

tengu1sd (797240) | more than 4 years ago | (#30872524)

I was involved in a large out-sourcing contract where a county government laid off it's entire IT staff and hired a team of contractors to support and maintain systems. The majority of staff moved to winning bidder. The key issues with this contract where the short term focus on metrics like time to resolve a ticket. If rebooting a system led to ticket resolution, that was that. If a system went down every three days and rebooting was the fix, well, that only brings up your average. Any sort of long term upgrades were considered add work and needed to be funded. This led to silliness such as refreshing a server (Wintel server refresh built into the contract) with newly installed out of support software. Migration to the latest version of Oracle wasn't covered in the server refresh you got new hardware with an out date o/s and a version of Oracle that went of support last month. Would you like to fund that update? No?

The short term focus leads to a infrastructure that older and older and held together by quick fixes. With no one in IT encouraged to take a long term big picture view, the deferred costs continue to add up. Eventually I left since I was bored and didn't want to become a reboot monkey. There's a spectacular failure coming up.

Its not just the government (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#30873224)

Its the entire American IT structure. Many businesses also don't understand the ramifications and just bid out and take the lowest price attached to the best looking sales rep.

Once they do get burnt, they bring it back in house.

I don't know if its a misunderstanding of what role IT plays in their organization, or if its just the overall mentality of slashing all immediate costs ( I have seen both... )

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