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NYC Mayor Demands $600M Refund On Software Project

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the so-he's-against-economic-stimulus dept.

Software 215

alphadogg writes "New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is demanding that systems integrator Science Applications International Corporation reimburse more than $600 million it was paid in connection with the troubled CityTime software project, a long-running effort to overhaul the city's payroll system. 'The City relied on the integrity of SAIC as one of the nation's leading technology application companies to execute the CityTime project within a reasonable amount of time and within budget given the system's size and complexity,' Bloomberg wrote in a letter Wednesday to SAIC CEO Walter Havenstein. CityTime was launched in 2003 at a budget of $63 million, but costs swelled dramatically as the project stumbled along for nearly a decade."

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Yeah (1)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627488)

Because large government programs always run on time and on budget.

Re:Yeah (1)

swamprat0129 (1794072) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627524)

Isn't it customary to get customer approval on a project when the budget goes up 10x? I usually don't leave a blank check at the mechanic's shop...

Re:Yeah (4, Insightful)

PickyH3D (680158) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627628)

You do not sound like an incompetent bureaucrat that wants to turn around and blame the contractor if anything goes wrong, all-the-while both changing and adding requirements throughout the project.

With that said, I would hope that SAIC could have bought a company that already makes time management software on the desired scale for a fraction of the current cost. Maybe even for a portion of the original $63 million estimate.

I am not sure what is so special about a city that they need their own unique time management system. It's not like there aren't a bajillion in existence already ranging from overly simple to extremely complex. While I'm sure they need the extremely complex region, it really should have been handed to a company with experience in the arena already to either purchase an existing product, or add required features to one.

There I go thinking about someone outside of the government. I'll move along now.

Re:Yeah (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36628130)

True, and I'm sure there's going to be a, "read your f'ing contract, asshole" response here.

Though honestly, going from $63M to $600M isn't something "going wrong". That's a level of corruption and incompetence for the record books, and probably spans responsibilities of both SAIC management and the city.

This is one of those situations where heads should roll, both in government and project management at the contractor.

Re:Yeah (3, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627840)

Probably a combination of several things. First of all it's probably been a disconnect between the tactical operation of the project (let's approve of budget increase to get enhancements x and y, consulting help to solve problem z and so on) and the strategical operation (should this project be red-flagged and halted/abandoned). You'd be surprised how many organizations really lack that emergency brake and when the train wreck finally happens everybody wonders why it wasn't stopped before.

The second part is that for the most part projects aren't a scandal until they're officially scrapped. That means that in very political organizations you're looking to finish it somehow to back out gracefully. This leads to a high willingness to throw good money after bad, particularly if some of the key decision makers now hold high places in the organization. The only exception to this is when the new boss wants to deliberately throw the old boss' projects under the bus.

And finally since this is turning into criminal investigations and all, they probably sailed under false flag. You can string a client along pretty far if you have absolutely no ethics and make business cases that are utterly false yet plausible. They were probably given a lot of good lies about the system being right around the corner to working and a lot of good excuses for why it'd take just a little more money. At least if the City's project manager was a wimp - and he was either that or corrupt too.

Re:Yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627576)

Tea Party much? Yes, scientists have a track record at NASA and at other government agencies of having an endless supply of public funds with which to spend, and the government has a history of throwing good money after bad. However such funds have paid off in spades in allowing the USA to lead the world in scientific research.

Re:Yeah (1)

PickyH3D (680158) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627702)

Cherry pick much?

I love NASA. But to suggest that one good example, even when it itself is riddled with bad examples [popsci.com] somehow means that the rest of the government runs like clockwork is both naive and, frankly, stupid.

There are plenty of other good examples, like the various national labs, which I would actually put above NASA in many ways. Still, ignoring the rest of the government and our almost unimaginable scale of overspending with a history of missing deadlines and budgets is over the top. Even for Slashdot.

Re:Yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627742)

How could you possibly go this sideways on a pretty basic premise?

Nobody said NASA gets a budget that's too big. He said that government projects always run over on time and money to a point of absurdity. And he's right.

There's no RvD argument here, science hating, etc. It was a "duh" observation, that's all.

Re:Yeah (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627592)

I was part of a software project for a fairly large city's government that successfully completed early and under budget.

Maybe that's the equivalent of lightning striking but it does happen at least sometimes.

Re:Yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627728)

Lightning striking. You are lucky, can we swap jobs? Every city government project I've ever worked on (every project that I've worked on in the last 10 years) has gone late and over budget. The biggest problem that I have is that, before the ink on the contract is even dry, the city changes, or "refines" requirements. Constantly shifting goalposts makes it much harder to finish.

Re:Yeah (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628178)

Hardly unique to munipal governments or any governments. When I was in the coder-for-hire business, despite my best efforts to nail down requirements and expectations and getting them signed in the contract I would still get barraged with "yes, but when we said we wanted feature A, we also wanted A-1 and A-2." This wasn't from any government contract but from relatively small businesses.

I'm glad I don't do that kind of work any more, but I did learn in the long run how to say "No", even when money was waved in front of my face. I would insist that I keep to the schedule and feature set and then once that was done we could talk about additions or changes. I had two of my first contracts cost me probably a couple of grand in my time above the contract and only recouped a portion of it.

What I don't get about this one, having done some non-coding contract work for local government is why even an entity as big as New York would need to start from the ground up. There are a number of scalable payroll and accounting systems out there that would probably cost less than the 60-odd million initially budgeted.

Re:Yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627780)

I was part of a software project for a fairly large city's government that successfully completed early and under budget.

Maybe that's the equivalent of lightning striking but it does happen at least sometimes.

Or the city person who negotiated the contract was acting ethically and in the interests of the city?

I'm not making any accusations against the parties mentioned above, but we've all heard about "side deals" and whatnot being struck, not only in Government but in industry too.

Re:Yeah (5, Insightful)

drunkle j (824263) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627602)

It's about time someone is calling out a company on their massive budget overrun. The SOP of underbidding contracts just to get them, knowing full well that you can just ignore the budget is nothing more than systemic fraud.

Why they decided to pay $600M and then ask for a refund is a bit perplexing.

Re:Yeah (1)

grimmjeeper (2301232) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627770)

I'm not going to defend SAIC at all. However, if you're going to call out the company on the overruns, you also need to call out everyone else responsible as well.

The reason it's SOP to underbid the contract is that it's the only way to actually win the contract. Government entities award the contract based on the bid. They don't care that there's no way in hell their sprawling (and ever changing) requirements will drive the cost well past the original bid by several orders of magnitude. They don't care, and I doubt they even know, what it really takes to build a large and complex computer system like that.

Sure, there's probably a lot of waste in that cost overrun. And I'm sure it has its share of incompetence among the development staff. But the real incompetence starts with the customer who doesn't have a clue what they're asking for or how much it's really going to cost to make it. And then half way through the project, some other bureaucrat shows up and has to change everything that the previous stuffed shirt asked for so they can have it their way, completely wonking up the schedule.

Re:Yeah (1, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627966)

The reason it's SOP to underbid the contract is that it's the only way to actually win the contract

Make lawsuits for budget overruns SOP, and that practice completely disappears.

Seriously. Put it in the state constitution that all government contracts will be completed on time and under budget or we get our money back.

Re:Yeah (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627632)

What's your point? Holding these contractors accountable for promising more than they can deliver is the first step towards changing that. All government contractors should be sued if they overrun their budgets, otherwise they have no incentive not to.

Re:Yeah (1, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627938)

Because large government programs always run on time and on budget.

Except in this case, it's the private contractor that didn't get the job done.

In a $600 million contract, there are performance guarantees. This outfit didn't meet them and now they've got to pay up.

And they say it's the teachers' union that's so overpaid. $600 million for a payroll system?

This is what happens when you privatize an important function of government. I wonder how much of the federal budget deficit has ended up in the pockets of private contractors who overran costs and then didn't perform up to expectations.

Re:Yeah (3, Insightful)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628164)

This is what happens when you privatize an important function of government.

Nothing was privatized. The government hired a private contractor to do the job. This is how the vast majority of government projects are completed.

I wonder how much of the federal budget deficit has ended up in the pockets of private contractors who overran costs and then didn't perform up to expectations.

It depends on how you define overruns. Many government contracts are for projects that are large and complex to the point they cannot be completely defined before the work starts. If the government issues a contract with clauses to cover cost escalations, agrees to the cost escalations, and pays for the escalations, is it not the vendor's fault.

Bloomberg should be suing his contracting managers. I'm quite sure SAIC did not bill a dime until they had a contract to bill against.

Re:Yeah (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628258)

Nothing was privatized. The government hired a private contractor to do the job. This is how the vast majority of government projects are completed.

No wonder we have a huge deficit.

If the government issues a contract with clauses to cover cost escalations, agrees to the cost escalations, and pays for the escalations, is it not the vendor's fault.

It's only the vendor's fault if he does not perform. It doesn't sound like SAIC performed.

Re:Yeah (1)

mcavic (2007672) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628100)

I know governments always blow projects out of proportion. But I'm pretty sure I could design and implement a payroll system of any size for less than $5 million. This is either a case of a software company that doesn't know how to manage people, or a government that doesn't know what they want. The latter shouldn't be a problem if the software company knows what they're doing.

Re:Yeah (1)

mcavic (2007672) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628192)

Denault and Bell were charged with were charged with taking kickbacks, wire fraud and money laundering.

Okay, that should have been in the summary. It was a case of money siphoning, not just mismanagement. But still:

Some 71 consultants on the project will be let go, according to the agreement. Another 83 will be kept

83 consultants? Come on.

Re:Yeah (1)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628244)

The latter shouldn't be a problem if the software company knows what they're doing.

Really? If you get paid to deliver to specifications, but the specifications are poorly defined, not defined, or keep changing, how do you intend to meet your deliverable?

We all like to point fingers at the contractor, but this is more than likely a case of:
City: We know we asked for A, and you are almost done and the contract is out of funds, but now we want B.
Vendor: OK, but it will cost $X more and take two years.
City: OK, we will add $X and a couple of years to the contract.
A couple of years later...
City: We know we asked for B, and you are almost done and the contract is out of funds, but now we want C.
Vendor: OK, but it will cost $y more and take two years.
City: OK, we will add $y and a couple of years to the contract.
rinse, lather, repeat

Project is late and over budget. Damn contractors.

In Other News: (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627492)

The Honorable Mayor Bloomberg is shocked, shocked, to discover fraud and waste going on here...

Re:In Other News: (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627816)

Bloomberg does know something about big-ticket enterprise software though.

Re:In Other News: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36628392)

Your winnings, sir.

SAIC ever have any successful projects? (4, Informative)

MagikSlinger (259969) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627532)

Last time I heard of them, it was with the failed FBI casebook system [wikipedia.org]. Does SAIC have a generally good delivery rate on projects otherwise?

Re:SAIC ever have any successful projects? (3, Funny)

memyselfandeye (1849868) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627566)

Nope. But they did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night...

to make sure that thousand dollar escort treated the Senator just right.

Re:SAIC ever have any successful projects? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627618)

I've heard of SAIC in connection with the America's Cup yacht races - often one of the syndicates will pull in SAIC (more precisely, one corner of the sprawling SAIC empire) to do engineering and simulation work. The yachtsman Dennis Connor gave them props after winning the Cup in 1987 and 1988.

Re:SAIC ever have any successful projects? (3, Funny)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628194)

This year's America's Cup is sponsored by another company that makes shoddy, overpriced software -- Oracle.

I guess there's a connection between shady businesses and rich assholes who race yachts. Who ever would have guessed?

Re:SAIC ever have any successful projects? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627852)

Posting Anon, because people of interest may find this page.

I have worked with 4 SAIC employees/contractors. I found them to be mediocre. However, that's okay, because we needed a mediocre job done, and were going to pay them mediocre money to do it. They performed the job, and testing revealed about the normal amount of bugs (1 per week or so). My experience with them has been they they were astoundingly average, technically.

However, they were significantly above average in the other parts of the job. They made their software available for regular testing, were timely in delivery of monthly reports, showed initiative in going for above-and-beyond requirements (for extra money), were willing to work with us on emerging requirements, and put together a better-than-average cost estimate. The experience was pleasant overall, and the contract was 5% overbudget, and 10% behind schedule. Being a month late on a one-year project with emerging requirements is acceptable, and mostly our fault.

I would work with them again, but, in general, I wouldn't trust them to build any system from the ground up, as this requires real skill. Modification or maintenance is about where they belong.

Re:SAIC ever have any successful projects? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627886)

Don't forget the bungled Trailblazer Project. [wikipedia.org]

Like every other megacorp, they are both evil and incompetent.

-- Ethanol-fueled

Re:SAIC ever have any successful projects? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36628066)

I'll share my view from having worked on a couple of projects for SAIC...

It was ingrained in us that we (developers, project managers, analysts, etc.) were to serve our customers and never disagree with them. Even if we thought that they were wrong or crazy. So while I, as a taxpayer, am very frustrated at all the poor decision making and bureaucracy inherent in working with the government, SAIC accountants don't care. They make money from the number of hours billed, not the quantity/quality of delivered products. In government projects like this, they don't hand you requirements, you go into a dark room for a year, and return with a product. For the most part, government contractors are simply an augmentation of government staff itself. Therefore while it looks like SAIC wasted the government's money, it's more accurate that the government wasted the money all on its own and SAIC was just there to help.

A good analogy is New York is a restaurant customer and SAIC is the waiter. The customer sits down and orders the soup and the waiter says that will be 10 dollars. Then the customer orders some wine, a salad, a steak, and cake. The bill comes totalling $100 and the customer says WTF you said it would be 10 dollars! I want my money back!

(First /. post in years, too lazy to lookup my password)

Re:SAIC ever have any successful projects? (1)

MagikSlinger (259969) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628186)

That's the story I read from the post-mortem articles [ieee.org] for FBI Virtual Case File system. I work for a global IT consulting company, and yeah, they're all about doing whatever the customer wants. No push back, please. :-) So SAIC isn't bad, per se, it's just that hiring SAIC is not a sufficient condition for project success. The clients still need their heads in the clear, open air instead of rammed upside their... posteriors. :-)

Time and Attendance (3, Insightful)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627544)

Nothing seems so simple as Time and Attendance software until you to write/consult on/implement Time and Attendance software.

Re:Time and Attendance (1)

Sectoid_Dev (232963) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627614)

I interviewed at a place that sold Time and Attendance software and I about fell out of my chair when the interviewer casually mentioned that the memory footprint of their product was 2GB.

Re:Time and Attendance (4, Interesting)

AdmiralXyz (1378985) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627664)

Nothing seems so simple as Time and Attendance software until you to write/consult on/implement Time and Attendance software.

Would you mind going into more detail as to why? I have to admit, this is one of those things I've always been curious about. It always seemed to me that this should be one of those things that any decent team can crank out in a year, yet I've heard disaster story after disaster story about software like this and so clearly there's something I'm missing here. Is the actual software more difficult to design than I thought, or is it the fact that these are usually government projects, with all the additional requirements therein?

Re:Time and Attendance (4, Informative)

lpp (115405) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627782)

My little company does IT work for small local business, often playing liaison between them and their other vendors. Once I worked with a third party timekeeping software company to help onboard my client onto the system. I was like you, thinking "enter the hours on the day, done". I got to talking with one of the developers and, recognizing there must be some hidden complexity, politely broached the subject. He agreed that yes, it seems simple on the surface, and for a handful of cases it can be. But apparently where things can get bogged down is with adherence to local, state and federal regulations regarding various levels and types of compensation (overtime, sick time, holidays and the like) . He mentioned other issues too but that seemed to be the major bugbear.

Re:Time and Attendance (1, Interesting)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627942)

If you approach the problem with a proper design methodology that generates a thorough set of use-cases before writing the first requirement, the solution falls out of the regs and obvious behaviors.

And, if you build into that an ability to adapt the system to changing regulations, you've handled the most obvious case, in which regulations change, which they do, continually.

Re:Time and Attendance (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36628196)

That's amazing and just plain brilliant! This simple suggestion may well revolutionize the attendance software development industry. I wonder if it could be adapted to other types of software?

Re:Time and Attendance (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36628386)

If you approach the problem with a proper design methodology that generates a thorough set of use-cases before writing the first requirement, the solution falls out of the regs and obvious behaviors.

And, if you build into that an ability to adapt the system to changing regulations, you've handled the most obvious case, in which regulations change, which they do, continually.

The deadliest words in Information Technology. "It's Simple. All You Have To Do Is..."

Re:Time and Attendance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36628374)

In addition to government regulations, also add union contracts. My company only has 600 employees, but union requirements seem to be the most frequent reason for changes for our time and attendance system. I imagine NYC deals with hundreds of unions.

as a user of time hour software (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628388)

i had a shift that started on sunday night and ended monday morning.

our timesheets were constantly screwed up.

dont get me started on holidays, 'premium hours', overtime thats not really overtime, etc etc etc.

if any vendor had ever worked one of those types of jobs, they might get it.

Re:Time and Attendance (1)

drooling-dog (189103) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627872)

I imagine that the willingness of the client to keep writing checks as long as it isn't done may have something to do with it...

Re:Time and Attendance (3, Insightful)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627876)

I don't have experience with this type of software but I am familiar with how governments work.
I've designed equipment to automate tasks that were done by government workers. If the software or equipment in any way threatens those jobs they stop you since their contracts give them that right. I've had to dumb down many systems because they were too efficient and required less people. One was designed to position a payload in a rocket. It used to take 20 something people with rulers hanging at the end of a platform calling out the distances. We replaced it with a system that used sensors to relay all of the information back to the control booth and had camera feeds from each location. It provided 10 times the accuracy as before. We couldn't get it approved since it eliminate so many man hours. Wht did we do to get it approved? We installed 20 emergency stop pendants so those people could still be required. By that time the project ran out of money and was canceled. And they kept doing it the old way.

Re:Time and Attendance (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627916)

1. The devil is in the details. Every different department has their own rules. Every different union (police, teachers, janitors, etc) has their own rules for vacation, holidays, overtime, etc. Every manager has their own little pet feature they want included, and no one puts a foot and down and says, "no!"

2. Such projects are always contracted to outside firms, who have absolutely no interest in getting these things done. Not done well, not done on time and in budget, just 'done'.

They took a $60 M project and collected $600 M. How much do you think SAIC would have collected if the project wrapped up in 2005?

I am not an accountant, but I'm guessing that figure is less than if they draw the project out for 6 more years.

Re:Time and Attendance (2)

rabbit994 (686936) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627920)

Because every large company/government has special rules and accounting/HR/Whoever wants very detailed data. This group of employees can only get overtime if they worked past 50 hours. That group gets overtime at 40. Third group only gets overtime if they work over 80 hours in two weeks. Fourth group is union with wierd work rules that speculate if they are forloughed, they still get paid 1/2 salary so they need ability to mark that. Some people clock in and you need to include rounding logic in that and different groups of people will have different rounding rules. Others just fill out timesheet. There is alot of logic just dealing with that.

Then you throw in approving logic, who can edit what, auditing, report generation and so on and so forth.

Finally, most time/attendance systems at that level also interface with payroll take all overtime/forlough/benefit logic and it has to be exact with zero mistakes.

Re:Time and Attendance (1)

zentec (204030) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628004)

Because the larger an enterprise, the greater likelihood that each department has its own attendance and time policies. Start adding in union contracts, and now you're really having fun. I'm sure the garbage collectors in NYC are paid much much differently than the teachers. Each of those examples probably are nightmares on their own with exceptions to rules, bonuses, overtime and penalties for missed lunches.

However, this is also a case of poor project management. I would not have assigned that job to anyone but the best PPMs.

Re:Time and Attendance (1)

tompaulco (629533) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628026)

Well, just clocking in and out seem easy enough, doesn't it? Well, then it turns out, that internal economy requires that you be able to show when you worked on what projects, and the projects all have to be automatically imported from and time detail exported to all of the originating departments and whatever disparate project management software they are running.
And it just goes downhill from there.

Re:Time and Attendance (4, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628272)

Usually, if you want just attendance like time in, time out that's not problem. If you start with tracking what they're working on, resource planning or internal/external billing, you're looking for a world of hurt.

To take one example I got, one company I worked with insisted that sick leave was strictly a matter between the resource manager and that employee, and not for general display. Yet at the same time, they wanted lots of hours worked figures that'd essentially drill down to find the "missing" hours. Project managers were supposed to see what other projects the team was also working on, except if that was sick leave. To "fuzz" the data this had to be mixed with other administrative time so that others couldn't get good statistics on whether they were sick, study day, administrative meetings or whatever. But their immediate manager should of course get to drill down on those. After a lot of back and forth they decided data on an individual basis wasn't needed except in the real T&A system for salary, because we focused on overall project progress and resource planning. Then of course that became silly as project managers realized they had x hours tracked from a department, but not for each person from that department so they didn't know who over/underspent.

Another good example I have is from financials - wouldn't it be nice if you could staff up a project and have that immediately converted to a budget, then just whatever hardware/software/other costs? Also great for checking billing, one hour worked means we'll expect a bill from the consultant on that amount. Except uh-oh, now everyone who can book a consultant one hour and create a budget can see their rates. Things hard negotiated and best kept secret. The solutions to this were many and varied, but they were all hacks to make fudge numbers one place then real numbers other places and don't mix them up to create a complete mess. Oh yes and secret projects were always interesting, they were supposed to show up in total budgets but not be visible other places, I mean just titles like "Buyout of [foo]" was stock sensitive and complete no-no to see. But people still worked on it and needed to track time somewhere and some people sometimes needed to know what project it really was. The whole logic made you want to strangle someone.

Re:Time and Attendance (3, Informative)

gstrickler (920733) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628376)

There are a number of factors that bloat and/or doom these projects:

  1. No one person or group of people actually know all the specifications.
  2. Tracking time for vacations, PTO, sick time, personal time, leave of absence, overtime, etc. varies by jurisdiction, and changes over time.
  3. Other specifications may change during development due to legal or corporate policy changes. IRS rulings, FAS rulings, state and federal legislative changes, etc. can all effect the project.
  4. Contracts (especially gov't) aren't usually written to allow for significant changes or variation. Changes require a change request, a change cost estimate, and a change order. Work on the change can't begin until all of that is complete, meanwhile the project either continues without the change, or goes on hold.
  5. They don't hire a really good software architect to design a flexible system, they just design it to the incomplete (and often inaccurate) specs in the RFP/Contract.
  6. The amount of auditing, reporting, and security controls are almost always underestimated.

So, it's far more complex that it first appears.

Having said that, $600M is an insane amount. And the 2GB footprint another poster cited is also absurd. A good software architect could have prevented or minimized both of those.

Re:Time and Attendance (1)

Sipper (462582) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628390)

Nothing seems so simple as Time and Attendance software until you to write/consult on/implement Time and Attendance software.

Would you mind going into more detail as to why?

1) Dates and Times aren't simple.

An easy example is Daylight Savings Time; in the fall, clocks are rolled back two hours such that two hours are repeated. During these two repeated hours you can work graveyard shift, and the "Time and Attendance software" has to know that 11pm - 5am is actually an 8-hour work day. And it needs to know that this is /going/ to happen ahead of time. And daylight savings time needs to be changeable, too, so that Presidents can alter them for political reasons.

Now consider what happens when as an employee, you're sent to an area with a different timezone. To be able to accurately account for night-time differential, the system requires entering in the dates and times in the time zone local to the employee, who now is no longer in Eastern Standard Time.

2) "Attendance" means all kinds of different things.

Mainly "attendance" really means needing to know how to pay an employee. But employees can be full or part-time, be "on call", be on vacation, sick, on disability leave, on maternity leave, etc. So the system needs to account for all of that. Exactly how to interpret all of the nuances of all this can be quite a mess, as it's dependent on corporate or governmental policies, so "business logic" becomes part of the "attendance" meaning.

3) Employees may need to account for partial hours.

Partial hours are an interesting problem. Kronos at one time used 1/10th hour increments, for instance, but people don't think in 1/10th hours -- they generally at most think in 1/4 hours in terms of billing. And if you use floating-point arithmetic for .1 hours, you'll run into another ugly problem, which is that it is impossible to hold .1 as a floating-point number with perfect accuracy because the number is stored as fractional binary. Add .1 a thousand or a million times, and you'll get an offset that shouldn't be there. So you need to store the fractional hours separately as an integer from the whole hours, but yet use the two separate numbers as if they were one.

These are just a start of some of the issues I know of, and I'm sure there are more that I don't know of.

Re:Time and Attendance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36628394)

Easy answer - the customers usually don't have any idea of the requirements until the project is underway. I don't mean the insignificant requirements of "I want the button in blue"; I'm talking about the architecturally significant equipments. Some people call that "Agile" development because they get to iterate until the figure out what they want. We all know better though. Real Agile development requires a long term vision architectural vision with incremental improvements.
On the Contractor side, once you have people on a project and start billing, it's very hard to pull them off because the customer doesn't have their stuff together. Resources have been allocated; it's time to use them. So they make what progress they can. Oh yeah, also: most programmers suck. I blame age discrimination (I'm 29, so no - I'm not running into that problem - yet) and lack of appreciation for the value of seasoned veterans. I've seen many a seasoned veteran leave the field because there's poor salary growth potential for experienced programmers. You basically cap out in your mid 30's. That leads us to the point where I just did a phone interview with one kid graduating with a CS degree that didn't know the difference between a stack and a queue nor did he know what ARP was. Another, who fancied himself as advanced in Linux, didn't know how to rename a file. Who the heck is teaching these kids and giving them passing grades? Lastly, you really think you're going to get the best and brightest to work on a time-keeping system? With a few exceptions, probably not.

Off the Shelf Not Good Enough? (1)

big_oaf (560706) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627558)

Was there no off-the-shelf software good enough? Not for $60M? Really?

Re:Off the Shelf Not Good Enough? (1)

wsxyz (543068) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627586)

Not with the critically necessary modifications for New York City's incredible unique and specific needs.

Re:Off the Shelf Not Good Enough? (1)

gimple (152864) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627822)

I was presales for an enterprise software company that got called in propose a solution for a VERY large company which is heavy in equipment. (I am being intentionally vague here.) Some of their equipment moved from one piece of equipment to other pieces of equipment. Picture a big box with little boxes inside. You could move a little box from one big box to another big box. Each of these little boxes had to have a record of everyplace they went, which meant that they had to be identifiable.

This organization somehow had been loosing track of the little boxes, and would arbitrarily reassign ID numbers to boxes. They said something like the ID tags would fall off or some sort of nonsense. Since this caused regulatory problems for them, they came up with a project called the "Permanent ID Project" wherein they would use software to keep track of the little boxes.

The first question out of someone's mouth during the demonstration of how we would track the "permanent" ID number of a box was "You know that ID number you just showed us? How would we change that?"

This organization had "incredible unique and specific needs."

Re:Off the Shelf Not Good Enough? (1)

jcombel (1557059) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628028)

i think you've told a version of this story once before (either that, or it is a common enough experience?)

regardless, it's interesting. a collection of stories like this (with real details) would be a good read

Re:Off the Shelf Not Good Enough? (1)

Lifyre (960576) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628266)

Do these incredible unique and specific needs include helmets and thoroughly licked windows?

Re:Off the Shelf Not Good Enough? (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628118)

This is a pretty good point.

When you're writing software for a business and one of their requirements increases the complexity/time of the project for no good reason, you talk about this with management and generally they come around to your way of thinking. (Or they agree to spend the extra time, but mostly no.)

When you're writing software for a government and run into an unreasonable requirement like that, oftentimes there can be no wiggling on it, because it's a [b]law[/b], usually made by people who aren't involved in the project directly in any way.

NYC's Role (0)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627560)

I would love to hear the stories of how NYC's requirements lead to the mess. Which as a former defense contractor, I'm almost certain they are there.

Did Bloomburg take a break from monitoring people's salt intake? When did he become a software project management expert?

Re:NYC's Role (1)

cosm (1072588) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627772)

Agreed, coming from Public Safety, the requirement changes are so politicized its insane. Not to say SAIC isn't responsible for some/all of the mess, but I can say I know what its like dealing with mega-conglomerate counties/cities and their inconsistent demands. For $600 million, I think all of us here could have delivered something more than SAIC did though. I would code 22hrs a day for 2 years for that $600 million and make it happen, and then just coast :)

Sorry, didn't you read the EULA? (3, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627606)

The EULA specifically says that you can't ever, never sue us--for any reason. It also says that this software is not in any way obligated to ever function.

Hey, you clicked through it.

Well done public sector (1)

RichardJenkins (1362463) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627686)

If something's owned by everybody it's owned by nobody, and that's exactly who'll gives a fuck about making it work well.

Re:Well done public sector (1, Insightful)

immakiku (777365) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627820)

That aphorism sounds nice, until you consider how well Wikipedia, Firefox, and LibreOffice are doing.

Re:Well done public sector (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627946)

Wikipedia is owned by WikiMedia.
Firefox is owned by Mozilla.
LibreOffice is owned by The Document Foundation.

These groups are committed to long term goals surrounding these projects.

The consultants and bureaucrats involved with CityTime are committed to taking as much taxpayer money as they can.

Re:Well done public sector (3, Insightful)

RichardJenkins (1362463) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628416)

Well I'm sure that public projects have boards of individually talented people running them and vested to a degree in their success, and let's not forget that the greatest things we've ever done (sanitation, electricity, the welfare state, insert your own list here, civil engineering mega projects) have been public works.

I dunno, maybe this project is being run by people better suited to another career, it's certainly too complex to sum up in a sentence or two! The point I failed to make was that public projects seem to sit in special sort of bubble immune to anyone really kicking up a stink about them going wrong. The public peeks in from time to time as if gawking at a train crash where no one they know got hurt, gasps and shakes their head, then promptly forgets about it whilst the whole endeavour churns merrily along sucking up resource and offering no value. I was lamenting how easy it is to write something off as somebody else's problem more than anything.

I, for one, am very happy to spend 10 minutes writing about this on Slashdot - instead of actually trying to participate.

Re:Well done public sector (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628018)

Firefox just changed to a catch-me-if-you-can model of stability. Wikipedia has errors in the article about the Wikipedia; and what little it has for organizational coherence is owed to limits on who can pwn whom within its ranks. LibreOffice doesn't really know if it exists or if Larry Ellison is just letting them fall to the end of their rope.

Projects that are led by individuals with clear vision of the problem and the solution get done the way they're supposed to.

Projects that are led by groups of individuals with varying understanding of the problem and noisy copies of the solution statement get done by someone saying "ENOUGH!", cutting off the funding, and shipping what remains.

DemocracyNow's coverage (2)

davidiii (1983894) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627718)

"[New York City] just laid off 500 public school aides who make $18,000 a year, while they’re paying all these [230 software consultants] that are making $400,000 and $500,000 a year for a failed system." http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/26/juan_gonzalez_ny_pays_230_consultants [democracynow.org]

Re:DemocracyNow's coverage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627982)

"[New York City] just laid off 500 public school aides who make $18,000 a year, while they’re paying all these [230 software consultants] that are making $400,000 and $500,000 a year for a failed system."
http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/26/juan_gonzalez_ny_pays_230_consultants [democracynow.org]

Yeah, I had read about it somewhere where the main people were *raking* in huge annual salaries and the lowest level people were still getting big fat checks (compared to comparable salaried positions occurring elsewhere in that region in that industry during the same period). So, no doubt about it, it was heavy big fat pig teat sucking for sure! What's really amusing to me is that the NYC government officials seemed (to me) to be clueless as to whether it was justified or not. Something was fouled up somewhere but that is normal for NYC. Hell, for $500,000+/year, I'd suck a pig's teat too! :)

Re:DemocracyNow's coverage (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628166)

yep.

They could have kept those teachers, hired their own in house programmers and got a better software package that they could maintain for decades. Instead they got a poorly installed, poorly documented, software that doesn't meet their specs and at a substantial overrun

Accountability for payments (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627736)

So NYC leadership figured out that they were in the middle of a giant pile of steaming........ at 10x the original budget? I would have thought you cut off the flow of money a bit sooner if you weren't satisfied with the results. Why didn't this come up at the $60 million mark?

It sounds like SAIC did some bad things, but it's troubling that it got this far without some better oversight.

Re:Accountability for payments (0)

gregfortune (313889) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627798)

And posters need to be held accountable for forgetting to login. Let the mocking and sneering begin. :) Silly me.

No one happens to know of a way to take ownership of posts you mistakenly posted anonymously?

Re:Accountability for payments (2)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627998)

No one happens to know of a way to take ownership of posts you mistakenly posted anonymously?

Naw, and probably won't happen. Too many people who are afraid of posting something that might not fit in with what ever group think they "think" is happening on /.

You know those "I'm posting AC because I can't speak my mind otherwise because I would get modded down one point." morons. They would just post AC, see how it panned out, then if it didn't work out they would leave it be, but if it got modded positively they would try to reclaim ownership.

Re:Accountability for payments (1)

TheCouchPotatoFamine (628797) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628212)

if there was not a permanent record of everything I said logged in, i might always post logged in. But there is, i don't want flim flam on my record, so bite us -anonymous

Re:Accountability for payments (1)

TheCouchPotatoFamine (628797) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628242)

(i checked the anonymous box but people with guns and warrants stormed the building before I could hit post and told me we're living in the future, now, son!)

wrong from the start (3, Insightful)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627908)

CityTime was launched in 2003 at a budget of $63 million, but costs swelled dramatically as the project stumbled along for nearly a decade.

- this is the problem with government programs: from the very beginning they are already deep in trouble. It makes no sense that a computer payroll system should start at 63 million, why did it start at that number from the beginning?

It makes no sense that government should be so large, as to require a computer payroll system that starts as a 63 million project, never mind that anybody getting that contract will make their best to prolong it as much as possible, simply because it IS government and it does not care about costs.

When somebody says that government can do things efficiently, and they use the postal office as an example, they should really go back to that premise and realize, that the US post office is out of cash - it's selling 'forever stamps' today, and assuming it doesn't just dissolve over the next few years, it won't be able to make any money at that time and it will be in a worse fiscal shape than it is today, because the stamps sold today are basically protection against the 10% (current level) of monetary inflation that US Fed and Treasury are incurring on US population. Today the postal office cannot function already and they sell the forever stamps, tomorrow, they'll have to raise the prices but people will use those forever stamps and the postal office will either have to default on that stamp or dissolve, or there will be another bail out, and people use that as one of 'better' examples of government 'efficiency'.

Another example they give is Medicare, while not realizing that Medicare costs are spread out among various parts of government that are not calculated into the costs directly, and just like SS, that program is bankrupt today, being the biggest pyramid scams of all times, making Madoff look like a preschooler.

Anyway, back to this topic - who was the NYC mayor at the time when this ridiculous project started I wonder? Oh wait, Bloomberg has been the mayor of NYC since 2002 and this project started in 2003. So where was he all the time when the costs overran by x2, by x3, by x5, is the magic number for a politician to look at some cost overruns only when they exceed the x10 estimate?

People blame corporations and businesses for waste and fraud, but at least corporations and businesses have to extract their money from customers (well, unless they are government protected monopolies of-course) by selling products that customers want.

When business overruns its costs and credits like that, it likely goes under. Shouldn't the same apply to governments? I think it should. And those, who are allowing the money of tax payers to be wasted like that do need to spend some time thinking about in jail. Same should be done on all levels - federal and state and municipal, maybe then the governments will stop bailing out failing businesses and causing massive economic collapses.

Re:wrong from the start (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628070)

When somebody says that government can do things efficiently, and they use the postal office as an example, they should really go back to that premise and realize, that the US post office is out of cash

So it's out of cash yet it started the 2011 fiscal year with $283 million [postalreporternews.net] in net profit? If you can't even get that detail right then one can only imagine that the rest of your rant is wrong as well.

Re:wrong from the start (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36628138)

The Post Office does not suffer the same problems as UPS or FedEx would because they are deemed to service areas that are small and rural. If you look at how UPS and FedEx run; they do not have to service these areas. In fact, they offload most of these items to the Post Office for delivery to these areas. They are also in the hole so much due to pension and other retirement benefits of their employees. These pension funds got murdered in the economic collapse...was that the government running that show? nope, don't think so.

Social Security isn't broke either...it is fully funded for another 25yrs. The only reason why SS has any problems atm the moment is mainly due to the borrowing that goes on against the trust fund. Look at all of the wonderful defense spending that we do. SS is actually budget neutral and does not cost the government anything outside of administrative costs. Medicare is only having issues because of rising costs that they cannot themselves control. If you look at the Medicare Part D, they are not allowed to negotiate with Pharmaceutical companies like a normal insurance program can. When you have lobbyists from the Pharm industry writing your bill; this is what happens.

the governments will stop bailing out failing businesses and causing massive economic collapses.

Last time I checked, this had to do more with a lack of government interference than it actually causing the collapse. All they did was deregulate the industry and the industry decided to gamble like they were drunkin sailors on leave.

Re:wrong from the start (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36628316)

I find replying to ACs being a waste. Sign in, repost, I'll reply.

Re:wrong from the start (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628148)

The government does a great many things efficiently, and substantially cheaper then private industry. Usually large infrastructure and big RnD projects.

You clearly have never been involved in a project like this, they take years to get done, are complex and you might not even KNOW you have a cost overrun until the company presents you with a bill with a lot of previous years add-ons suddenly appearing. usally right after the point where rolling back isn't practical anymore. THIS is a corporation abusing it's position and a city official holding them accountable. Only on /. would that be the governments fault.

These projects should be done in house.

I've been through many of these projects on both sides of the fence.

Re:wrong from the start (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628210)

The government does a great many things efficiently, and substantially cheaper then private industry. Usually large infrastructure and big RnD projects.

- oh yeah, how well does this statement bode with this one exactly:

complex and you might not even KNOW you have a cost overrun until the company presents you with a bill with a lot of previous years add-ons suddenly appearing. usally right after the point where rolling back isn't practical anymore.

....

I've been through many of these projects on both sides of the fence.

Speaking from the both sides of your mouth, I see.

Re:wrong from the start (4, Interesting)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628280)

Anyway, back to this topic - who was the NYC mayor at the time when this ridiculous project started I wonder? Oh wait, Bloomberg has been the mayor of NYC since 2002 and this project started in 2003. So where was he all the time when the costs overran by x2, by x3, by x5, is the magic number for a politician to look at some cost overruns only when they exceed the x10 estimate?

People blame corporations and businesses for waste and fraud, but at least corporations and businesses have to extract their money from customers (well, unless they are government protected monopolies of-course) by selling products that customers want.

BTW, from TFA but not included in the summarys:

The recent indictment of SAIC's leader project manager on the CityTime job, Gerard Denault, as well as the guilty plea to criminal charges made by SAIC systems engineer Carl Bell, who designed the software, are "extremely troubling and raise questions about SAIC's corporate responsibility and internal controls to prevent and combat fraud," he added. Denault and Bell were charged with were charged with taking kickbacks, wire fraud and money laundering.

Also recently indicted were Reddy and Padma Allen, a couple who head up New Jersey systems integrator TechnoDyne, which was SAIC's primary subcontractor on the CityTime project. Federal authorities allege that the Allens and others conducted an elaborate overbilling and kickback scheme that siphoned millions of dollars from the project.

Federal authorities have also contended that SAIC had received a whistleblower complaint about the project as far back as 2005, Bloomberg said in the letter. "It is unclear what SAIC did at that time to investigate these serious allegations."

And Bloomberg is a billionaire. He's not some ivory tower academic or career politician. He's supposed to know better.

I worked for a small company that was bought by a slightly less small company which was then gobbled up by SAIC. Anyone who didn't have their life savings wrapped up in the venture from starting the original small company got the heck out of there.

The City relied on the integrity of SAIC... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627940)

'The City relied on the integrity of SAIC...

LOL. L. O. L. I'd like to meet the guy who relies on the "integrity" of any major military-industrial complex contracting company like SAIC, Halliburton, Raytheon, etc. I have shares in the Golden Gate Bridge, Inc. to sell to him, which I print out at the Kinko's around the corner.

Should have hired IBM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36627992)

no doubt.

Hundreds of millions for payroll software? (5, Informative)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 2 years ago | (#36627994)

Yes, I have actually worked in this field. And yes, payroll is more complicated than it seems on the surface. But it's not that complicated. It's not "I can build a dozen F-14s for less" complicated.

The money spent on these types of applications is just obscene. There's gotta be major corruption in the procurement process. And it's everywhere; this isn't just a NYC problem.

Re:Hundreds of millions for payroll software? (2)

Dorkmaster Flek (1013045) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628256)

You know, this seems to be par for the course with government contracts, and I've honestly never understood why. If my company contracts another company to do Job X for $Y million in Z months/years/whatever, that's a legally binding contract. If they go over budget, or don't deliver on time, or don't do the job they were supposed to do, we don't pay them. Why does the government? Is it because they can just ship it off to the taxpayers? Are they in bed with the companies bidding on the contract and getting lots of hookers and blow? Is it both?

The problem is (1)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628062)

that it is commonly believed that specifying software is easy. It is very hard even for smart people and to my mind should be avoided if at all possible. What NYC should have done was to find a payroll system they liked, perhaps had it tweaked a little by the vendor where there were irreconcilable differences and then changed their own payroll practices to fit the capabilities of the software. As others have said, it's not as if New York is the only state with a payroll to process.
SAIC make their living out of poorly written specs, they have no interest in getting a decent spec.
Furthermore, this is an area where open source excels, one can generally quickly make a decent prototype and once you have discovered what you like through trial and error you can either use the working prototype as a specification or simply scale-up the software you have and use it for whatever period you choose, you won't be forced to upgrade on a vendor's timetable (another source of "perpetual gravy").

Good (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628088)

Too many times contractors will get to a position where they become entrenched and start raising the cost, changing the contract, and never having the intention to actually meet the agreed time and price.

Then politician don't sue because they are afraid it might hurt their image.

We need more public official to call these companies on there shenanigans.

When the Govt pays, you take your time... (1)

nulled (1169845) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628142)

The problem with projects when the Govt is involved is this.

It is TAX PAYER money that is paying for it. So, people tend to take their time shall we say, when doing the project. In otherwords, when it is NOT your money at risk, rather tax payer money, there is no risk. If it were an investors money or YOUR money, you would monitor very closely the project and not let it drag on and on, no matter what the excuse is. Pretty simple concept to understand.

Pig in a poke. (1)

wcrowe (94389) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628232)

What SAIC did was morally wrong, BUT I am certain there were a lot of people involved in that project that allowed this to happen. One would assume that the New York City government is not being run by a bunch of ignorant hicks paying top dollar for a pig-in-a-poke. There is plenty of culpability to go around, and some city officials need to be investigated.

How it really works (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 2 years ago | (#36628346)

  • 1. Contract with a clueless city government to build an uber complex software project.
  • 2. Drag the project out so they have time to want to change things.
  • 3. ???
  • 4. PROFIT!

Spending someone else's money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36628418)

This is what happens when person A is buying a service from person B with person C's money. Person A is perfectly happy to keep expanding the project's scope indefinitely and person B is perfectly happy to comply as long as they get paid.

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