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Arlington National Cemetery's Many IT Flaws

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the may-bobby-tables-rest-in-peace dept.

Government 191

imac.usr writes "A story in today's Washington Post calls to light the utter failure of the nation's most sacred final resting place to modernize its pen-and-paper record system. According to the story, the cemetery's administrators have spent $5 million without managing to accomplish the seemingly simple task of creating a database record of the site's graves. As Virginia senator Mark Warner points out, 'We are one fire, or one flood, or one spilled Starbucks coffee away from some of those records being lost or spoiled.'"

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That's All? (5, Funny)

Haffner (1349071) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695412)

Only $5 million? At first I thought this story was about the failure to store data electronically, but now I realize that it's about government efficiency.

Re:That's All? (4, Insightful)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695602)

And there are already systems available [google.com] that can manage cemeteries so why not purchase one?

Re:That's All? (1, Insightful)

jmickle (941634) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695720)

Because its government owned and operated and the US government is an utter joke when it comes to financial decisions. We bail banks out so they can throw crazy huge parties with the celebrities while our citizens lose their homes because they cant afford to pay last year's taxes.

Re:That's All? (0, Offtopic)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695854)

To be fair they are losing the home they couldn't afford to pay for when they bought them hopping the market would go up and they could re-finance.

Re:That's All? (0, Offtopic)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695898)

That was the case for the first few months. But the recession caused lots of layoffs. They shut down a GM plant near me, that had 1200 full time employees. I think you will find that most people used to be able to afford their homes, but now cannot.

But hey, welcome to 2010!

Re:That's All? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695968)

Bullshit! To be real, losing the home they could afford before a bunch of rich fucktards screwed the economy and got millions of people laid off is not the fault of the folks who got laid off.

Re:That's All? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696094)

To be really real, the economy tanked because the fucktards loaned money to people to buy houses they couldn't afford, and when those people defaulted, the crazy ass schemes the fucktards had created to justify lending large amounts of money to people who can't possibly pay it back all came crashing down, which led to a bunch of layoffs, which led to more people who couldn't afford to pay their mortgage.

Re:That's All? (1)

PagosaSam (884523) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695906)

I'll translate that app to English for you for only $5.6M USD, delivery in 5 to 7 years. Cash in advance.

Thank you for your business.

Re:That's All? (1)

Peach Rings (1782482) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696146)

I'll better that offer- $6M USD, delivery in 9 to 10 years!

Re:That's All? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695736)

The $5M was used to pay the CEO for thinking about how he might build a team to do that. If you want him to actually hire some programmers, you're going to have to give him more money.

Re:That's All? (1)

Pete Venkman (1659965) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695738)

Five million dollars is good, but I bet there are other agencies that could have blown through way more! Anyone remember the story about the NYC project (i think it was a time clock application)?

Re:That's All? (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696014)

When I was still at Bearingpoint (before they went under), I worked on a project that was at least 400 million in the hole. And the client still wanted to keep changing requirements!

Re:That's All? (1)

longacre (1090157) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696456)

Yes, that one is up to $700 million and counting. Pretty impressive waste for a non-Federal project.

Re:That's All? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695752)

You see a hobo on the street corner begging for money every day, claiming that he's down on his luck and can't seem to do anything to change it.
You buy him a brand new house, and GIVE it to him, free and clear, to end his days as a transient.
He then sells the house, and blows all the money on drugs, booze, smokes, and hookers.
You then see him back on the same street corner, begging for money, claiming that he's down on his luck and can't seem to do anything to change it.

The "surprise" ending is that the hobo is the U.S. government, and the money is our taxes. They need to raise them? Like hell they do.

And yes, it was spent on drugs, booze, smokes, and hookers.

Accountability (4, Interesting)

Pete Venkman (1659965) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695420)

Where's accountability when 5 million gets spent and nobody can even make something as simple as a SPREADSHEET?

Re:Accountability (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695604)

It's amazing, $5 million spent and no progress made on something that you could probably do with a few grand in software, and few grand in hardware and setup, and volunteer labor for the data entry. You could make it part of the tour for crying out loud, 'sit down and enter a few names as you go through', double or triple completed to ensure accuracy of course.

Re:Accountability (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696004)

From the article, it's not correct to say no progress was made. For example, they digitized the microfiche. However, they didn't index them correctly.

IMHO, this whole issue is philosophically interesting. I think it is a mistake to try and indefinitely preserve the bodies of everyone who ever lived. Rather than be a rotting corpse, I would rather come back sooner as pine needles in an alpine forest and affect the future through writings, or photography, or my descendents.

Of course, none of that really pertains to the issue at hand - if somebody's job is to manage a cemetery in a certain way, they should.

Re:Accountability (3, Funny)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696202)

Rather than be a rotting corpse, I would rather come back sooner as pine needles in an alpine forest and affect the future through writings, or photography, or my descendents.

So at the root of things, you'd be pining for your descendants in the woods instead of your descendants pining for you in a cemetary?

Fair enough. But wouldn't you appreciate the thought of your descendants sprucing up your gravesite in memoriam?

Re:Accountability (1)

whit3 (318913) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696226)

Actually, the specifics that were mentioned in the article indicated
that lots of the money was spent to make computer-readable data
of the old records (Arlington has over two centuries of records). That
might actually be worth what they paid.

We all think of 'making a database' as the center of this kind
of problem, but IT ISN'T. Pretty certainly, the monies
spent weren't spent on building softwares... and the
employees didn't, in their everyday work, feel the need to
get every shovel-pusher a computer terminal, they didn't
think they WANTED software. They just wanted to 'stay
organized'. In the absence of a computerized system,
and in comparison with other cemeteries that DID get
their records onto database computers, that isn't
working. Something has to change.

Army oversight of the cemetery operations was limited, they
didn't worry as long as the visitor experience was good. So,
naturally, the administrators ignored everything other than
the visible tokens of the cemetery operation.

Re:Accountability (1)

sh00z (206503) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696246)

volunteer labor for the data entry.

Heck, for those of us who can't travel, we'll still contribute for free. Put up scanned pages on the Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Re:Accountability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696410)

Amazing? Really? I'd call it business as usual for the government.

Fool me once...

Re:Accountability (1)

gknoy (899301) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695878)

They should use Google Earth or something and tag each plot with GPS coordinates as well as who's in it.

Re:Accountability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695894)

Maybe they're having trouble getting permission from the residents...

Re:Accountability (1)

vjg (1393311) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695990)

Just the Republicans and Independents. The Democrats can still vote.

Re:Accountability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695934)

This sounds like a job for interns.

"Fetch me coffee. While you're at it, go out and record every name and plot out there in the 90-degree heat and 87-percent humidity, then put it in a basic access database. Oh, and I need it by 3 on Wednesday so we can bring it live for the site. Thanks."

Re:Accountability 5 million is nothing (5, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696028)

Where's accountability when 5 million gets spent and nobody can even make something as simple as a SPREADSHEET?

Clearly you don't work in or understand IT. First there have to be meetings. Lots and lots of meetings. First at management level to initiate the project. Then detailed meetings to set up staffing and outline goals. Then middle management needs to be appointed (more meetings) so that they can flesh out those goals in more detail (more meetings). Of course this is after HR recruits the middle management. The middle management goes through the same process to recruit actual staff. Then management meets with staff that provide feedback on those tasks "No I'm sorry you can't magically walk around with a laptop and scanner and have it absorb names off the gravestones. No there's no technology to do that on the horizon". Then middle management needs to report back to senior management (did I mention meetings?) and senior management needs to meet separately to decide what it means to the project. At this point all those discussions will get confusing so will need to be summarised and corrected. Only now can we start to see a plan coming into being (drafted by middle management, approved by senior management. You guessed it more meetings). At this point work may commence but if it is it will typically be halted by a new priority/requirement being pulled out of senior management's rectum^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H ahem I mean coming to light. This will totally screw up every agreement made about the direction and even nature of the work, which will require more meetings at all levels to sort out.

Oh and don't be fooled this happens in industry as well as government. Privitising just adds another layer to all this mess and provides another opportunity for waste each time someone changes their mind or adds an unreasonable or ill thought through requirement.

$5 million is nothing. The fact that an intelligent 6th grader could do better is by the by. it's not how the world works.

Re:Accountability (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696178)

A spreadsheet? Seriously? WTF, you're just one column sort away from losing data integrity. It's how every Excel file dies.

Re:Accountability (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696314)

The jackasses were moving existing remains, and putting new remains into old graves, and putting landscaping on top of existing graves.

When your problem is that the guy with the backhoe hasn't been trained to speak up if there's already an existing grave where he's been told to dig a new grave, the solution isn't "hire some geeks to program some computers".

The solution is to create an environment where everyone who works there respects the dead, and to make sure that procedures enable that respect. It's not an IT problem at all.

Re:Accountability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696464)

Welcome to the world of govt and IT consultants. I did not believe such incompetence was possible until I worked in it for a few years. Blowing $5-10M on the most trivial of applications (many abandoned) is commonplace.

Tell me about it! (5, Funny)

Late Adopter (1492849) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695426)

They can't even remember who's in the tomb of the unknown soldier!

Re:Tell me about it! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695462)

They can't even remember who's in the tomb of the unknown soldier!

Corporal Tables, we call him.

Re:Tell me about it! (2, Funny)

DIplomatic (1759914) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695640)

Corporal Tables, we call him.

With the computers there as old as I think they are, the joke is probably Corporal Deltree

Re:Tell me about it! (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695758)

If only he were. They spent $5 million dollars and they DON'T EVEN HAVE A DATABASE. At all. Of anything.

Re:Tell me about it! (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696242)

They had a database. One careless SQL injection later and they had "DROP'ped TABLES;" and that was that for the database.

link [xkcd.com] , if you didn't recognize the joke.

Re:Tell me about it! (1)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696038)

I hope they don't lose the records of my grandfather "a';DROP TABLE users;"
Good ol' Droppy we called him.

Re:Tell me about it! (4, Funny)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696042)

They can't even remember who's in the tomb of the unknown soldier!

Corporal Tables, we call him.

-- Okay time for your morning pushups:
Drop Corporate Tables; -- drop!

Re:Tell me about it! (1)

bit9 (1702770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695540)

They can't even remember who's in the tomb of the unknown soldier!

Oh wait. It's a trick question, right? Isn't it Grant?

Re:Tell me about it! (1)

Naked Jaybird (1190469) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695636)

They can't even remember who's in the tomb of the unknown soldier!

And that's the answer to their security question when they forget their password!

$5 million is a good deal. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695436)

The government gets huge economies of scale. That's why we should have them in charge of the health care system. Clearly we will be able to save substantially more money than the private sector once the profit motive has been removed.

Cut them some slack... (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695450)

Arlington National Cemetery is not an organization that can afford to take the risk of having their servers turned into zombies lightly...

Re:Cut them some slack... (1)

jzarling (600712) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695826)

This is pretty funny, if I had mod points you would get one.

Re:Cut them some slack... (5, Funny)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695996)

tell me about it. The only thing worse than a zombie is a zombie with stealth and combat training.

Re:Cut them some slack... (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696288)

True. I hate fighting packs of zombines [wikia.com] more than anything else, except for maybe Hunter packs.

durrrrr..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695478)

sacred?

Where do I sign up for that job? (2, Informative)

bit9 (1702770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695502)

I'll do it for half that amount!

Re:Where do I sign up for that job? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695552)

I'll do it for 1/2 what you'll pay this guy.

Re:Where do I sign up for that job? (2, Funny)

baKanale (830108) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695628)

Anonymous Coward? You'll never pass the background check!

Re:Where do I sign up for that job? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695686)

I'll design the system for free if they provide the hardware, minimal software licenses and the labor to manually enter the old records in. Or if in a standard format, scan them in.

Re:Where do I sign up for that job? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695824)

I think the government operates upon the flawed theory that "if it costs more it must be better."

Re:Where do I sign up for that job? (1)

masmullin (1479239) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695848)

This can reasonably be done for $125,000 (two interns and a lead) and be finished in 3 months.

Re:Where do I sign up for that job? (4, Funny)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695850)

This is for a government project.

I'll do it for twice that amount!!

Bet I get it before you do.

Re:Where do I sign up for that job? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696440)

I know you are joking, but this situation seems like a RIPE opportunity for the free and open source community to get together and offer their services for something useful. Instead of just whining and complaining about how incompetent the government is all the time, why not step up to the plate and PROVE it.

How Sad... (5, Insightful)

Maximus633 (1316457) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695592)

For all of our soldiers who have earned the right to be buried there and we can't even get a decent IT system in place to help people or keep such important records.

To our Fallen Hero's.... I am sorry.

I do think it is time that companies and even people stop being so damn greedy and do their jobs. Granted we may not have the insight as to what is happening directly but I am left to wonder who is asleep at the controls on this one. We have private sector people doing jobs that are comparable size to this job and I am sure 5 million dollars would have paid for their time and a mojito and Starbucks coffee whenever they wanted it. I think it is time to disband our Government and reform with people that a hell of a lot more honest then some of the guys we have in there now. Sorry to make this political but the fact remains that someone is not doing their job. Any person's loved ones are important to them but a person who defended our rights and country (regardless if the war is right or wrong to which those that feel it is wrong it is time to bitch at the civilian leaders case and point would be the recent Gen. McCrystal deal.) and we can't honor them with keeping accurate records and spending money WISELY when it comes to their final resting place. Sad...

Re:How Sad... (2, Informative)

hax4bux (209237) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695654)

I have worked as a DoD contractor and I am a vet. I agree it is sad, but failure on these projects is the routine outcome.

Navigating the federal procurement process is a nightmare you have to experience to believe.

Those infamous $300 hammers are a bargain: at least they got delivered and performed the task.

Re:How Sad... (1)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695870)

Amen to that, brother. When I was in the Navy we would go through the 'prices' of things that we would req. We attempted to work out the actual cost of the items, including delivery to our ship. We could never get any number close to what the supply system claimed was the cost of the item. I'm talking $5000 for a PCB with 25 year old components on it.

Re:How Sad... (2, Informative)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696006)

I'm talking $5000 for a PCB with 25 year old components on it.

That might almost be reasonable--that sort of thing gets expensive when they're not making them anymore.

Re:How Sad... (1)

WillRobinson (159226) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696354)

Currently working on a display for older tanks, price is somewhere in the 100K range for the first 10 units, the price drops on additional ones. We had to redesign everything to meet the old spec.

We could have done it for half the cost if they would have changed the system feeding the information to the display.

The old display was not near a crisp as the new display, and was made with obsolete parts.

But this is better than buying a new tank, so in the end, repair may be cheaper than a whole new system.

Re:How Sad... (1)

spamking (967666) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696086)

It's not only the cost of the items due to the markup it is the fact that there is so much red tape just to make a simple purchase that would make the general public's head explode.

As a federal employee I can't book my own flight and save some time and money . . . I have to use "City Pairs" at a higher cost and less flexibility. It drives me up the wall.

The systems we use to create travel orders and request payment vouchers is so clunky and takes so much time to work through most folks could've driven to their destination by the time they are done. This along with the systems we use to track procurement and training cost so much money that we pretty much have to stick with them to make it even remotely resemble a decent expense.

Re:How Sad... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696342)

federal procurement process is a nightmare you have to experience to believe

The sad thing is it could be better. In fact it could be awesome. Instead if you automate anything you might accidentally put 20 people out of a job. You cant have that.

I can not tell you the number of fellow IT workers I have come across that built working systems that were scrapped exactly for that reason. Instead we have mediocre fiefdoms that can not say exactly what they want but know they want it. Even though the organization down the hall has exactly what they need and ready to go and doesnt really need it anymore. So org 1 will go and rebuild a similar non compatible system and org 2 will retire theirs and build another similar but non compatible system.

Re:How Sad... (2, Funny)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696430)

Glad to hear the DOD is just as bad as the DOE. On the other hand, OMG so much waste =(

Re:How Sad... (3, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695702)

The management at Arlington appears to have been too old. Computer literacy should be required of all Federal job holders and they should be shitcanned if they cannot adapt.

Hold them to the standards expected of the military, which is to do your job or suffer appropriate punishment.

Re:How Sad... (4, Insightful)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696000)

You know.. Some of those records are over a hundred years old. I dare you to show me any kind of electronic record from more than 30 years ago. Go ahead, I'll wait while you try to find a reel to reel, and a system to use it.

To modernize they need to re-enter everything, then ensure that backups are carefully followed, then they have to replace all the technology every few years, and pay support. Then they have to convert the data when new format/versions come out. That is a ton of Money and Time.

A Vet teacher had a sign on a door that pretty much summed up the Marine Corps feelings on Technology.
A computer with a bullet hole in it is a paperweight. A map with a bullet hole is still a map.

Re:How Sad... (4, Insightful)

Pinball Wizard (161942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696122)

A computer with an offsite backup still preserves data when the building is bombed, burned down, flooded, or otherwise destroyed. A map in such a building will be gone forever. Sayonara, data. Your Vet teacher and apparently the entire Marine Corps have it wrong.

Re:How Sad... (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696472)

Different environments have different requirements. Why can't you have both a laptop and a map in the field?

Re:How Sad... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696476)

It is quite possible (and was once quite routine) to maintain offsite backups of paper records.

Re:How Sad... (2, Insightful)

HBI (604924) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696564)

The sign was referring to tactical systems. Try doing your offsite backup from Afghanistan. Using satellite comms, at best. Beside which, if your system is the only computer you have, you're out of action until you get another, regardless of what backup you have.

The Marine Corps has it right, you have it wrong.

Re:How Sad... (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696256)

There are no bullets flying at Arlington, and there are a hell of a lot of computers on warships and submarines.

Pffff (1)

BitHive (578094) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696274)

Haven't you read any of the other posts? This is an easy problem, all they need is a MySQL database!

Re:How Sad... (1)

MartijnL (785261) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696350)

You have got to be kidding me. Any decent storage system can do synchronous offsite data replication nowadays and for cemetary data I'm guessing the I/O requirement is pretty low....... Add a decent tape library at both ends with secure storage in some DoD extra secure vault somewhere (hell, put it at NORAD for all I care) and you're done. First order of business for them is to get an electronic backup of the physical records which can be done in frigging Excel 2010 if need be. Then start thinking about fancy features like GPS tagging etc. And those features are not even reaching the boundaries of current IT capabilities either.

Re:How Sad... (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696454)

As long as that computer still is working though, you have a much better chance of not being subjected to friendly fire. Paper map? not so much

Re:How Sad... (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696074)

Hold them to the standards expected of the military, which is to do your job or suffer appropriate punishment.

From the article: "the Army has reprimanded Superintendent John C. Metzler Jr., who is retiring July 2, and [No. 2 administrator] Higginbotham, who was placed on administrative leave pending a disciplinary review." So, yeah, they're shitcanned. I'm sure some will say that's not enough, though keep in mind they were also juggling many other responsibilities besides IT upgrades.

Re:How Sad... (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696408)

So, yeah, they're shitcanned.

One is being allowed to fall back on his full retirement bennies, and the other is being paid to not work. Yep, that's some kind of punishment, there. (Granted, the one on administrative leave might wind up catching it later. Then again, he might not.) Compare this to the worker who tried to blow the whistle on them a few years ago. They FIRED her ass.

Re:How Sad... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695746)

I suspect that you'll find that the business of finding and recruiting honest men is harder than it looks. Arguably, most of political philosophy throughout history has basically just been work on assorted toy problems that arise out of our failure to solve that one.

Even worse, when it comes to complex projects(and IT counts), even a supply of honest men isn't good enough to assure success. Malicious actors can definitely poison the best of projects; but good people sail projects on to the rocks all the time.

Re:How Sad... (1)

ISoldat53 (977164) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696284)

The US can't even take care of our vets when they are alive. How do you expect them to care when a vet dies?

Does it really matter? (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695740)

They're just bones. Does it matter which bones are where? Change the name from Arlington National Cemetery to Arlington National Memorial and you don't even need the bones at all.

Re:Does it really matter? (2, Interesting)

swb (14022) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696076)

As cynical as it seems, there is something to that.

I'd wager that a lot of the graves belong to people whose living relatives/descendants have no idea they have a grave there and thus the grave is really only symbolic as part of the visual sea of gravestones.

And then there's the idea that, well, barring the dead walking again, none of those guys are walking again.

The other thing I think of is -- as long as the paper records are maintained (eg, copies stored offsite, new copies made periodically, etc), if they have managed to run the facility for this long, how "necessary" is a computerized database beyond sounding necessary?

How hard is it really to setup a MySQL database? (4, Informative)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695742)

I mean, really. You can setup a redundant/distributed from bare-metal to running in about 6 hours (including full disk scans). Add a cron job to do a dump every night and even just write that to DVD. Creating a database shouldn't be that big a deal. Even designing a web based front-end to search the records and input new ones wouldn't take more than a couple weeks to hash out and implement. Will it be the flashiest thing, no, but it will work and be better than pen-paper. Now, importing all those paper records, that will be the hard part....

Re:How hard is it really to setup a MySQL database (1)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696366)

Exactly.
I'd start by firing anyone that knew this was a problem and did nothing to at least set up a temporary system and start inputting data. And in the mean time, get down to kinkos and photocopy the damn paper records.

Re:How hard is it really to setup a MySQL database (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696368)

You could crowd-source it to genealogists buffs, or ancestry.com with an expectation of reasonable accuracy.

Re:How hard is it really to setup a MySQL database (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696488)

Or, even better, have the Gov dept. procard (Government version of an expense account/credit card) Amazon EC2 and S3. Total cost? No more than a couple hundred dollars a month.

If all else fails, get out the camera (1)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695756)

take photo of all the graves with their details on and people can browse through them in context, tag them with details etc. I as a mere amature put together a composite image of the 'tablets of the missing' [lifeinmegapixels.com] in the American cemetery in Cambridge,UK which lists the names of a few thousand lost personel. One person has already contacted me to say they found their uncle listed.

So? (1)

Red4man (1347635) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695768)

It's not like the dead are going to complain about it anytime soon.

Re:So? (1)

XanC (644172) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695872)

I'd like to complain about my money being wasted.

Re:So? (1)

Red4man (1347635) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696206)

No, you can't. Because with the same mouth you bitch and moan about government wasting your money, you scream and holler for more of that same government.

The Cognitive Dissonance is breathtaking.

Plus, it totally gives me an erection. Can you send your mom over to take care of it?

Should be a fairly simple project. (1)

jzarling (600712) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695808)

All the funny comments aside I think this is kind of appalling. This should be a fairly simple project. If I was in a position to make some unilateral decisions, I would ask the National Archives for some assistance in creating the electronic records system.
It might not be within the strictest interpretation of their (NA's) charter, but I think its certainly within the spirit of their mission.

Re:Should be a fairly simple project. (4, Insightful)

KarrdeSW (996917) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695970)

It might not be within the strictest interpretation of their (NA's) charter, but I think its certainly within the spirit of their mission.

THIS does not happen enough in the Federal Government. 95% of the time when an agency is in need of a skillset that is outside its purview (or sometimes within its purview, but present in a different department), it contracts it out to some third party vendor with questionable skills and typically high prices. Every federal agency should be ready to consult for other agencies when its primary skills are in need, but it almost never happens that way.

Even the government can do better than this (4, Interesting)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695816)

The article notes that the Veterans' Administration *has* computerized graves registration elsewhere, successfully, covering ten times the number of graves at one-third the cost of this utterly failed effort.

I can get it done (0, Redundant)

masmullin (1479239) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695820)

I can do it for $125,000 and be finished in 3 months.

Just shows the level of corruption... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695928)

Step 1: Get money allocated for government project nobody is going to follow up on (Some nice conservative senator arranged this one, I'm guessing).
Step 2: Channel money to "friends" who are "contractors."
Step 3: Take money back from "friends" (minus their "fee" for "work performed.")
Step 4: Squirrel money away in some nice little Caribbean tax haven.
Step 5: Have passport at the ready.

Give me half a million (1)

richardkelleher (1184251) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695976)

and I'll get some friends together and have a usable system up in a week. (Hardware extra!)

stone age (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696024)

That's why they put a stone with your name on your grave. No need for it.

Similar Story (2, Interesting)

mpapet (761907) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696080)

Computers aren't necessarily the answer to every problem. I heard this story on NPR and part of the uproar is some people aren't buried where they should be. No computer will fix that. Quite disrespectful, but I'm hardly surprised.

In my younger days I wore many hats at a start-up and one of those hats was logistics. We had parts inventory at a local freight company for free because they did lots of business with our assembler.

I go in to do a cycle count one day and the guy pulls out a notebook and gives it to me before my count, telling me it's all in there. You know what? It was. He had dozens of notebooks. One for each assembler customer. This guys niche was basically to segregate the shipping paperwork from inventory accounting. It wasn't a one-man shop either. He made it work and work well. Most of the LDL shippers use grand-unified logistics applications with double and triple entry labor that would make his kind of service an expensive proposition.

Simple solution (1)

Goetterdaemmerung (140496) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696276)

"We are one fire, or one flood, or one spilled Starbucks coffee away from some of those records being lost or spoiled"

Doesn't this apply to databases also?

Both paper and data needs proper backups. Perhaps in this case a copy machine and some interns would fit the realistic need vs an elaborate electronic system.

Irrelevant quotation (4, Insightful)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696300)

'We are one fire, or one flood, or one spilled Starbucks coffee away from some of those records being lost or spoiled.'

This is not an IT problem. This is a basic information storage problem dealing with backup procedure. If you're a major organization and you don't have copies of your records, whether paper copies, microfiche copies (which seems to be the case here), or electronic ones, you're vulnerable.

Similarly, IT doesn't necessarily solve this problem. If you digitize all the records to a single server and don't make proper backups, you could still be one fire or flood (or even a coffee) away from losing the records.

(Btw, I do realize that original paper records may have some value as historical artifacts themselves. But those should be in an archive somewhere protected from floods, fires, and errant cups of coffee, while people accessing these records on a daily basis should be using copies, whether digital or microfiche or whatever.)

Re:Irrelevant quotation (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696390)

It certainly is an IT problem. Taking a big picture view of IT, it includes such things as data integrity, security, disaster recovery. And it touches on all aspects of the systems architecture, from applications down to the sheet metal.

One could even argue that IT is involved with systems based on clipboards and carbon copies.

First step, let Google scan the records (1)

djchristensen (472087) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696316)

Regardless of what the end database looks like and how long it takes, the first step should be to hire Google to use their book scanning technology to scan all of those documents for preservation. Hell, I bet Google would do it for free. There goes the possibility that "We are one fire, or one flood, or one spilled Starbucks coffee away from some of those records being lost or spoiled". If you don't like Google, I'm sure there are others who could do it just as well.

OK, I'll do it. (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696322)

for $5 million, I'll rent temporary office space, hire people, pay them above industry standard with benefits. Then use these people to build the database, build the web interface, arrange for hosting (perhaps in the cloud), set up the server, enter all the data, have it independently verified. Within 1 year I can hand the keys of the completed project over to the government. Just let me know when you want me to start...

Re:OK, I'll do it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696406)

They couldn't be bothered to put the right bodies in the right graves. What makes you think they'll put the right names into your database?

one starbucks coffee spill away... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696420)

hahaha, you guys are so wrong. with ELECTRONICS, you are one coffee spill away from losing it. With paper, you wont lose it. fire? come on guys, paper doesn't get lost, period. not even hundreds of years later. by the "fire, flood" argument, we should not have copious data from hundreds of years ago, all on paper. compare with edison's (or whoever's) phonographs. bitches.

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