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The Pentagon's Seven Million Lines of Cobol

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the lords-of-cobol-hear-my-prayers dept.

Government 345

MrMetlHed writes "A portion of this Reuters article about the Pentagon's inability to manage paying soldiers properly mentions that their payroll program has 'seven million lines of Cobol code that hasn't been updated.' It goes on to mention that the documentation has been lost, and no one really knows how to update it well. In trying to replace the program, the Pentagon spent a billion dollars and wasn't successful."

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Cobol is self-documenting (5, Funny)

mveloso (325617) | about a year ago | (#44243955)

But - but - cobol is supposed to be self-documenting!

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244027)

But - but - cobol is supposed to be self-documenting!

TL;DR

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (5, Insightful)

Avidiax (827422) | about a year ago | (#44244175)

The claim that the documentation "vanished" seems bogus. Far more likely in my opinion that it never existed in the first place, or that at some point they fired everyone, and thus broke the chain of custody.

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (4, Insightful)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#44244311)

Normal staff turnover and one building move would probably stand a good chance of taking care of it.

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (4, Interesting)

TheCaptain (17554) | about a year ago | (#44244367)

Eh...there probably was some half baked documentation at some point, but I doubt it was maintained very well by the people who edited that codebase over the decades.

I also doubt they fired any of them unless they were contractors...you have no idea how ugly the federal workers union is about things like this. They almost can't lose their jobs through incompetence or anything else. Which brings me to the problem...the people who wrote it probably wrote half-assed spaghetti code, didn't document it well, and then died off or retired. No one is learning cobol anymore, so you get what we've got right here.

Plus...trying to replace any system in the government or military is an extremely painful exercise that probably fails more often than it succeeds. Between the people you need to deal with, and the policies you need to dance around...it's almost impossible to stand a new system up. (Unless you have someone in a high place that really gets it, and champions the hell out of it...and even then, it's iffy.)

I was a defense contractor for 4 or 5 years. It was quite a few years ago now. Left that behind, and I don't miss it.

Cobol really is self-documenting (3, Insightful)

techno-vampire (666512) | about a year ago | (#44244713)

Eh...there probably was some half baked documentation at some point,

Yes, there was and there is. It's called "source code." One of the reasons that COBOL is such a verbose language is that it was designed so that bean counters with no programming experience could audit the source code and understand it well enough to make sure that nobody was stealing anything. Not only that, it's rare that COBOL code actually needs any comments because the variable names are long enough that you shouldn't ever have to guess what any of them are used for or what's being done with/to them.

As far as spaghetti code goes, that can be a problem, especially in very old code, from before such things as structured programming were conceived. And, there's even a statement, "ALTER," which allows you to create self-modifying code, although even back in the '80s when I learned it in school, we were warned never to use it.

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (2)

BrokenHalo (565198) | about a year ago | (#44244725)

Eh...there probably was some half baked documentation at some point, but I doubt it was maintained very well

That may well be because any decent COBOL programmer knows (or knew) that the code itself is indeed self-documenting. COBOL code may be tedious to write (actually, it certainly is) but it has the advantage of being quite easily maintained.

So, no excuses. It's more likely the US Govt is too cheap to hire anyone with the appropriate skills. It's also quite possible that an age bias has been applied by their HR bozos, thus excluding that generation most likely to be good at this work.

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (3, Informative)

interval1066 (668936) | about a year ago | (#44244531)

Far more likely in my opinion that it never existed in the first place, or that at some point they fired everyone, and thus broke the chain of custody.

Being the spouse of some one who works for a Gov. entity (her) AND being in IT (me), its far more likely that the the engineers who created the system(s) have long since retired. Fed workers rarely get 'fired'. And interestingly its more likely that the system was documented to a much higher degree than you would think; there are entire fed. departments devoted to documenting things and creating requirements documents. The problem is once the process is documented and archived, those same sad COBOL systems are used to process the records that describe the location of the documentation

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (3, Funny)

plover (150551) | about a year ago | (#44244587)

The claim that the documentation "vanished" seems bogus. Far more likely in my opinion that it never existed in the first place, or that at some point they fired everyone, and thus broke the chain of custody.

I think the truth is probably much simpler than that. Someone dropped the card deck containing the documentation, and they never managed to sort it back into the right order.

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244659)

there's machines for that

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (2)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#44244649)

"The claim that the documentation "vanished" seems bogus. Far more likely in my opinion that it never existed in the first place, or that at some point they fired everyone, and thus broke the chain of custody."

I agree with the latter, but that still means the documentation did "vanish". It just doesn't address why.

I think the money would have been better spent simply replacing the Pentagon and all its staff. The new one can be 5-sided, too. But they should build it in Montana and staff it with locals. It's cheaper. They'd probably win more wars for us too.

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#44244887)

"The claim that the documentation "vanished" seems bogus. Far more likely in my opinion that it never existed in the first place, or that at some point they fired everyone, and thus broke the chain of custody."

I agree with the latter, but that still means the documentation did "vanish". It just doesn't address why.

I think the money would have been better spent simply replacing the Pentagon and all its staff. The new one can be 5-sided, too. But they should build it in Montana and staff it with locals. It's cheaper. They'd probably win more wars for us too.

They'd have to deal with the Zombie Apocalypse then though....

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (2)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#44244177)

Maybe at the level of modules or minor subsystems, but with software systems that large you would still want architecture documents and data definitions as a minimum.

Re:Cobol is self-documenting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244627)

Cobol is self-documenting, for anyone who can read the language. All it takes is a certain amount of computer-math skills and familiarity with an ASCI teletype letter/symbol set. That said, though, there may be circumstances where, to go back in on really old systems, to reconstruct after an old computer has scripted, you might have to dust off some punch-card and punch-tape reading skills. For a lot of what Cobol was used for there was no need for GUIs, or even CRTs, and modern scripting, that makes any kiddie who can link libraries a 'computer prorammer' was unheard of back then.
I suppose that giving a modern programmer a program in Cobol can be compared to giving a modern driver a car with a crank-starter and a throttle and spark-advance on the steering wheel. Watch out, kids, the learning curve could break your elbow...

COBOL is self-documenting (2)

davidwr (791652) | about a year ago | (#44243969)

At least that's what my old B-school roommate told me.

Re:COBOL is self-documenting (5, Funny)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44244731)

Yes, but every line is documented the same way, "don't touch this because I don't know what it does but sometimes it works".

Typical government efficiency... (3, Interesting)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#44243975)

a billion dollars to replace an antiquated program and the project fails. This is why our military is the most expensive in the world, and why I've argued for years that comparing military spending between nations is only apples to apples if each nation is competently spending what they are given.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244083)

I've seen this happen with lots of "let's replace this antiquated software" projects. There's alot of trust put into hiring someone to do this properly. Usually the people writing the check don't know enough about software architecture or requirements gathering to foresee that the contractor is going about it the wrong way and dooming the project to failure. Or administration that isn't open to the concepts that must be embraced to move from paperless to electronic, etc. So many ways for something like this to fail terribly. Only time I've seen it succeed is a combination of competent leadership of the software development combined with the administration trusting the judgement of the software developer when it advises on process changes that will need to be implemented. Rarely do you get both of these things together, and when you are missing one then it's a disaster.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (1)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#44244171)

Quite so. It's necessary to understand that to accomplish what you want, you have to involve the right people and give them what they need, and take their word for it when they tell you what they need.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (5, Insightful)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#44244963)

Added to this, people often have the misconception that just because something is "old" it is less complex than the current requirements. In reality, all that COBOL was written to perform the same function on severely limited hardware that they now want to accomplish on a simple server system -- and I bet the data and processing requirements both then and now are astronomical. The end result is that whoever is doing the new system is likely pitting themselves against whatever the brightest minds of yesteryear were able to produce, and it won't be simple. That old system had time to be fine tuned, and the protocol built up over the years is designed around the precise quirks created by the system. Thus, the entire architecture and ALL related protocol has to be re-examined prior to architecting a replacement system -- and I doubt the winning bidder was even asked to bid on that, especially in a military organization.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (1)

sneakyimp (1161443) | about a year ago | (#44245031)

Somebody got fleeced. $1B to translate 7M lines of code comes out to about $142.86 per line of code. As a taxpayer, I want my share of that money back.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#44244263)

I think that is correct. There is also the fact that until very recently many of the major powers, and major regional powers, were still mainly using conscription to fill their armies. It makes a bit of a difference when you are paying your soldiers market rates for their labors instead of what you would pay conscripts. You also have the factor of first world cost structures versus third world costs. Last time I look at some data within the last few years, an American corporal (1 step above the highest private) was paid about what a Chinese junior general was paid. Same thing goes for supplies, expenses, and systems.
 

Re: Typical government efficiency... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44245033)

Is it government inefficiency or robbery by private contractor?

Re:Typical government efficiency... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244305)

But it is apples to apples...it's the rare military that spends money effectively. The only ones that do are the ones that don't have any money. I remember reading an article on China's military spending. IIRC, it was the equivalent of $110b US with the estimate that over 90% of that was being lost to graft.

Our military is the most expensive in the world because we give it more money. We can spend less by simply spending less. The military is being run by what amounts to shopaholics who have a credit card with an absurdly large limit...it's no wonder that they blow large amounts on useless crap. Lower the credit card limit and they'll start putting more thought into each purchase.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#44244365)

I think your understanding is flawed. They already have competing priorities and don't get enough money to fund them all. In comparing the US and China, remember that the US pays everybody a lot more than China does. An American corporal is paid about as much as what a Chinese is paid. You may also want to keep in mind that defense spending as a portion of GDP has fallen from about 38% of GDP in 1945 to about 4-5% today. Spending for social welfare programs is about 2x what is spent on defense.

   

Re:Typical government efficiency... (0)

peragrin (659227) | about a year ago | (#44244675)

I don't give a rats ass comparing anything to GDP. the Gross Domestic Profit has absolutely nothing to do with the Government, and anyone who says other wise is a fucking idiot.

Definition of 'Gross Domestic Product - GDP'
The monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders in a specific time period,


Where does that definition say anything about Government income(taxes)? Why do people think that just because you and me run a million dollar business that we are worth a Million dollars? So why is the government worth the GDP, when it only worth the tax dollars paid into it?

Sorry I didn't mean to go off on you personally. I just get annoyed when people think the GDP is some how related government, and government spending. Taxes are the sole income of government.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (2)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#44245257)

The government doesn't create the GDP, but it does tax economic activity reflected in the GDP and various types of wealth. The government uses taxes to get the money it spends. The tax burden imposed by the government on the economy may be represented as a percentage of the GDP. Maybe you've seen some faulty discussions of the issue in the past, but it is a fairly common way of describing the burden of government and taxes on an economy, and on society. That isn't a claim that the government creates the GDP.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (4, Insightful)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44244703)

defense spending as a portion of GDP has fallen from about 38% of GDP in 1945 to about 4-5% today

Comparing current spending to WWII spending is either disingenuous or just plain silly.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | about a year ago | (#44244921)

Considering our GDP is about $15T, I'm calling complete bullshit on your 4-5%. That would mean spending is $600-700B. It's actually twice that.

Not that the government *has* $15T to spend. They have about $5T in taxes, roughly 25% of which is spent on military.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (4, Informative)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#44245139)

I'm not sure where you got your numbers from, but you may have a couple of items swapped.

In 2012, the US federal government spent $3.56 trillion dollars, with revenues of $2.44 trillion, and a deficit of $1.12 trillion.

Entitlement spending was 61.9%, and defense spending was 18.7% (~ $677 billion).

You can find that data here: Federal Spending by the Numbers - 2012 [heritage.org]

You can see the long term trend of defense versus entitlement spending here [heritage.org] .

Re:Typical government efficiency... (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | about a year ago | (#44244809)

Our military is the most expensive in the world because we give it more money. We can spend less by simply spending less.

You can also spend less by not treating every other nation on the planet as an enemy.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (4, Insightful)

pwizard2 (920421) | about a year ago | (#44245095)

If we didn't interfere in other countries' business, so many people around the world wouldn't hate us and we would have no use for such a large military.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (2)

tnk1 (899206) | about a year ago | (#44244733)

Apples to apples is always a good comparison, but exactly what military are you saying is more efficiently run? The US military may waste more money per year than the GDP of some small countries, but it is probably not the most proportionally wasteful military out there.

It's also important to note that as the mission of the military becomes more expansive, there is a lot more room for waste. If you're running the military of say, Luxembourg, you might be able to keep a tighter leash on it, not just because it is smaller, but also because I doubt it leaves Luxembourg much, and when it does, it probably doesn't go farther than next-door for training exercises.

If you're talking about the military that has the most missions of any military on Earth, it's really, really difficult to find someone who has a comparable profile. Only the USSR's armed forces really ever came close, and China isn't there yet. The other NATO countries just don't have the same mission and only the UK and France have any pretensions towards serious power projection.

Re:Typical government efficiency... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244737)

as far as I can tell the reason you military is so expensive is that there is a whole lot of the stuff on the military budget that other countries put on other budgets,
i.e. D wants to spend on some government project, R wants too but to make it edible for their voters they paint it camo and call it military

Re:Typical government efficiency... (4, Insightful)

dan_barrett (259964) | about a year ago | (#44245145)

I've maintained legacy payroll software (Oracle RPT, predates PL/SQL) and have been marginally involved in migrating clients to the new shiny payroll system. Generally it fails where the client wants the new system to behave exactly like the old system.

The new system usually can handle the required business rules (or it's not too much work to make this happen) but all the processes around those rules are different. eg the new system needs to generate report RW200 to lineprinter 6, daily at 6PM and must be formatted just so (no one reads the first 1000 pages, but the summary page is critical to some obscure business process.)

So, the new system has to print unformatted ASCII to a serial line printer, in an obscure way, on nonstandard paper, that's hard to replicate in a modern report writer. Never mind the already written, laser printed, on-demand reports (or emailed, or exported to excel or whatever) have the same information - it's NOT THE SAME - our users will be confused so it MUST BE CHANGED!.

Rinse and repeat for basically everything else in your system and you've heavily modified your new system to behave just like your old payroll system (and killed any performance improvements, worked out all the bugs etc again). because it's so heavily modified you're basically on a unique version of the new system that only certain programmers really understand. Ant they're going to retire / leave because the project was so shit to work on.

Add the usual government oversight/waste and you've blown a billion dollars. (that's impressive though, I have to say.)

Everyone's pay get screwed up (4, Informative)

alen (225700) | about a year ago | (#44243997)

Army in the 90's
Everyone's pay gets screwed up at least once, then. Uncle Sam takes it back

Mostly minor things like an allowance like jump pay being paid while not on jump status

Corruption (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244007)

the Pentagon spent a billion dollars and wasn't successful

Sounds like corruption. If you can't wrangle up a team of coders and project managers with a billion dollar carrot, then there is something terribly internally wrong with your process.

it's the old data and all the linked systems (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#44244099)

it's the old data and all the linked systems and with 40 year old systems just importing data is not easy.

And even if are able to import that can be loads of work around / place holder names / fake names (uses for workarounds or even temp holding of data) and so on.

Some stores do use names like MR cash for cash sales so there may all kinds of fake names in the system as well.

Re:it's the old data and all the linked systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244227)

I am not debating the complexity of the project but it is nowhere near impossible.

They would only need a tightly-knit all-star team of 12 to pull it off. The problem is government and corporate overhead; management wants the largest cut of the pie. All the while, liability is tossed around like it's a hot potato.

Re:it's the old data and all the linked systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244947)

You don't sound like an experienced programmer.

Re:it's the old data and all the linked systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44245137)

More experience than the majority of /.ers. I have sixteen years of experience in the industry, six years managing and delivering enterprise-level projects. That's ten years of coding in the trenches, friend.

Re:it's the old data and all the linked systems (1)

cheater512 (783349) | about a year ago | (#44244355)

I do data processing from rubbish sources (people who can't follow specs) every day.

Its a pain yes but not actually that difficult. Everything you just described takes time but it certainly isn't impossible to do.
Import data, find differences, fix mistake and repeat until it is working well.

Re:Corruption (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244113)

Come on up to Quebec, we can teach the world a thing or two about corruption and billion dollar software boondoggles.

Let me have a go at it.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244019)

Give me a billion dollars and I am sure I could hire (and be part of) a team that can do more than just port old code.

Re:Let me have a go at it.... (2)

CrzyP (830102) | about a year ago | (#44244077)

Give me a billion dollars and I can learn the process, learn TO code, code it, test it, and implement and support it myself.

Silver Lining (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244045)

Hopefully the soldiers will be on our side in the forthcoming revolution.

Re:Silver Lining (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44244805)

Hopefully the soldiers will be on our side in the forthcoming revolution.

Funny you should mention that. Pay in arrears is much of what fomented the Newburgh Conspiracy [wikipedia.org] , and this time we don't have a George Washington to defuse the situation.

How did the military pay during WW2? (5, Insightful)

Spy Handler (822350) | about a year ago | (#44244067)

They had way more soldiers back then today, and payroll did not seem to be a problem. Maybe the Pentagon should go back to using whatever system they had back then.

now there are multitude of pay levels. (3, Informative)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#44244139)

There is basic pay, plus “entitlements” for everything from serving in a combat zone to housing allowances to re-enlistment bonuses. An individual’s pay can change several times in a day.

likely the old software can't deal with all of that to well.

http://www.informationweek.com/government/state-local/outdated-it-blocks-california-payroll-or/225702383 [informationweek.com]

Re:now there are multitude of pay levels. (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | about a year ago | (#44244213)

Sounds like software can't cope with a bad process. Maybe we should throw out the process instead of trying to improve the software?

Re:now there are multitude of pay levels. (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about a year ago | (#44244459)

They should optimize their process and then rewrite their software to match it, using modern languages with proper decoupling of all the various calculations. Replacing the old system will only be difficult if they base it on the existing software, which is most likely the usual tangles mess of poorly written COBOL. The sad part is that defining the full requirements is actually pretty difficult in itself.

Re:now there are multitude of pay levels. (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44244393)

There is basic pay, plus “entitlements” for everything from serving in a combat zone to housing allowances to re-enlistment bonuses.

Was it that different in WWII? I don't know the details, but there were definitely things like combat pay. Yet they handled it all with paper (and maybe some punch card machines). As the old line goes "to err is human, but to really screw things up requires a computer".

Re:now there are multitude of pay levels. (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about a year ago | (#44244711)

Pay changes/enrollments should just be data, not lines of code. Can't imagine even the most green of developer would screw up that bad.

It really does not take 7M lines of code to do this. ( will be a huge database, but not code base )

but that old code had to fit into 80 columns and (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#44244815)

but that old code had to fit into 80 columns and other really limits

Re:How did the military pay during WW2? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244147)

Higher taxes. But that is evil toward muh gold, therefore evil toward muh freedoms.

Re:How did the military pay during WW2? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244223)

They had way more soldiers back then today, and payroll did not seem to be a problem. Maybe the Pentagon should go back to using whatever system they had back then.

Maybe they should hire someone who's not retarded, one billion fucking dollars of tax money and can't make payroll software. A fucking middle schooler could make it for free using excel.

Re:How did the military pay during WW2? (2)

Darinbob (1142669) | about a year ago | (#44244735)

Not true. Payroll software is amazingly complicated. And every year all the laws change so that you have to update it. It's constantly in flux. Federal, state, county, and sometimes even city laws to cover all the employees you have, plus of course foreign laws if you want to incorporate that into a single payroll department. That's why most places outsource this stuff. It's a huge expense to do it yourself and economies of scale make sense to have entire companies devoted to just that one job.

Re:How did the military pay during WW2? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244879)

None of those things matter to military payroll systems as very few rules and complications apply relative to any random civilian.

Re:How did the military pay during WW2? (1)

Mr. McGibby (41471) | about a year ago | (#44244903)

That's why most places outsource this stuff. It's a huge expense to do it yourself and economies of scale make sense to have entire companies devoted to just that one job.

Maybe the Pentagon should outsource to them then.

Re: How did the military pay during WW2? (1)

alen (225700) | about a year ago | (#44244369)

Ww2 they didn't have all the allowances they have today. That's where the screw ups come in. Not base pay

Re: How did the military pay during WW2? (2, Insightful)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about a year ago | (#44245075)

The used 100 to 1000 times as many people. Working in un-air conditioned building doing routine work over and over. Then it was all double and triple checked. When they screwed up, you could yell at them. There is no way we could afford to recreate that system with today's pay scales. Also, these were sharp people. No one like that would even apply for the job. Welcome to the post industrial society.

Re:How did the military pay during WW2? (1)

Princeofcups (150855) | about a year ago | (#44244413)

They had way more soldiers back then today, and payroll did not seem to be a problem. Maybe the Pentagon should go back to using whatever system they had back then.

A ton of staff, all drawing paychecks. Back then employees were assets. Now they are expenses to be avoided.

Re:How did the military pay during WW2? (1)

unamanic (997477) | about a year ago | (#44244547)

So you think it would be better for us to line everyone up on payday and hand out stacks of cash (like they did in World War 2)? What could possibly go wrong? As someone who is serving and has server for the last 15 years, I can tell you the only times my pay has been screwed up it has been my fault. This is true for everyone of my troops who has had over/under payment issues. Usually it's because a form did not get turned in that starts or stops an allowance, then the member does not notice the discrepancy for some time. The guy in this article was the exception and apparently has shitty leadership. His First Sergeant or Commander should have been able to get this sorted in under a month, or at least get the "overpayment" collected over a year or two so it didn't effect him while they tracked down the source of the error.

Re:How did the military pay during WW2? (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about a year ago | (#44244647)

Hard tack and a ration of rum?

Re:How did the military pay during WW2? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244699)

They payed them after the war. Much cheaper.

they had punched card IBM systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244769)

probably, they had punched card ibm systems.

if you think there were 'no problems', im not sure i agree with that. im sure there were problems.

the main difference between WWII and now is that the US did not have a massive, bloated, standing army taking up hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars every year before around 1940. before around 1917 there wasnt even a federal income tax from which they could draw all this money to waste (funnel to awful private contractors)

Re:How did the military pay during WW2? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244961)

They didn't have the necessary software to blame for not paying soldiers. I'm only halfway joking...if the out-dated system were double paying soldiers, it would have been fixed by now. But since soldiers are the ones feeling the pain, the urgency is less and the replacements end up being boondoggle failures.

Re:How did the military pay during WW2? (1)

ducomputergeek (595742) | about a year ago | (#44244981)

My dad was in charge of Payroll at Ft. Hood during the late 1960's while he was drafted. (he was a private with BA in Accounting and ran the department because the LT screwed up the Col's pay one too many times). They figured pay vouchers a lot by hand, but processed even back then via a Mainframe, usually at night. Then they would dispense the pay in cash those days. It was a nightmare even back then, often times requiring a lot of manual calculations.

Outraged! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244145)

Why the fuck don't they do what any reasonable company does... contract out that stuff to someone who is good at it... like ADP.

As a taxpayer, I am outraged.

Re:Outraged! (2)

plover (150551) | about a year ago | (#44244793)

contract out that stuff to someone who is good at it... like ADP.

They did! That billion dollars wasn't to rewrite it -- that was just to buy and integrate a PeopleSoft package! Supposedly, PeopleSoft is good at that kind of thing, since that's what they sell to other big companies too stupid to write and maintain a simple payroll system.

They don't need to try integrating to someone else's package again, unless they want to shovel another billion dollars into some other undeserving contractor's hands.

6,500 per soldier??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244189)

According to an info-box, $17.3 dollars is spent per year on computer systems to manage "finances, payroll, and more," and there are 2.7 million soldiers. "And more" must encompass a whole hell of a lot, because otherwise that's $6,500 per soldier, per year, in pure bureaucracy.

Re:6,500 per soldier??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244401)

$6500 per year isn't bad for 2.7 million employees. You would spend that every year for just a couple of SAP seats!

Re:6,500 per soldier??? (1)

plover (150551) | about a year ago | (#44244635)

that's $6,500 per soldier, per year, in pure bureaucracy.

When you contrast that number to the old $900 toilet seats and $450 hammers, $6,500 for corrupt bureaucracies to maintain their computer systems almost sounds like a bargain.

Can't read the article (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244193)

I tried to read the article, but it was written in English - a decades-old language.

Re:Can't read the article (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44244399)

Centuries, but it is being continuously updated.

Re:Can't read the article (1)

LoRdTAW (99712) | about a year ago | (#44245099)

They do have documentation though. Kids are also forced to RTFM while in school. It kinda helps.

Quick Books MIL (2)

xdor (1218206) | about a year ago | (#44244195)

I wouldn't mind taking this one on. Sure it's already been done, but I'm sure they'd pay to have it done again.

My only stipulation is that I'd want to do it all myself with just one business analyst and one quality control tester.

I think I could manage it in 3 years at 3 million dollars. However I'd probably cause the loss of 10,000 jobs so its probably not going to happen :)

Problem is only partly technological (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244197)

A government payroll is the result of so many laws, regulations, union contracts, executive orders, reorganizations, back room deals, court-ordered adjustments, sacred cows, implied understandings, top officials' nieces and nephews, government shutdowns and budget freezes, that it's impossible for any small army of people to get a mental grasp of what it's supposed to look like and how it's supposed to work.

So you get chaos.

Re:Problem is only partly technological (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244999)

Meh...You've basically just described the prototypical use case for a rules engine. The payroll engine shouldn't have any of this stuff baked in. If you externalize it, congress can change it in response to campaign contributions and you can justify your multi-million dollar maintenance contract in just a few lines of code.

Expecting too much (2)

whizbang77045 (1342005) | about a year ago | (#44244215)

Aww, come on, fellas and gals: this IS the five sided puzzle palace we're talking about. You're expecting too much of them.

Redundant (1)

neoshroom (324937) | about a year ago | (#44244333)

"seven million lines of Cobol code that hasn't been updated" is redundant.

If they were updated, they wouldn't be in Cobol.

Re:Redundant (3, Funny)

Nerdfest (867930) | about a year ago | (#44244481)

Also, seven million lines of COBOL is about what it takes to write a Sudoku solver in COBOL.

ADP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244349)

i'm pretty sure they could just pay ADP to do it like everyone else with tens of thousands of employees.

4.8 LOC per person (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244377)

The code base is so large that its ~4.8 lines per active duty US military person. The code would be shorter if it was nothing but one line per person that prints how much to pay. You might argue that this would have maintenance issues, but automated porting of it would be trivial, and for the $billion they spent try to replace it, you could pay almost $1000 per print statement to keep it updated.

Re:4.8 LOC per person (1)

PRMan (959735) | about a year ago | (#44244685)

Now that is funny. A completely manual system with thousands of employees would be cheaper to run (but MUCH more prone to fraud, of course).

Deviously convoluted by design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244485)

Of course any attempt to redo/rewrite it would be a failure, declared so without any contractor ever getting a good look at the complete code. Why... because otherwise all the little electronic fund transfers, loopholes and fake employees would start showing up and I bet that would put an end to someones very lucrative little black book program and god knows what else! I mean what else could be in there? Seven million lines of code sounds like an awful lot even with the diverse nature and considerations of military payroll and the gross incompetence of government contracted work!

Re:Deviously convoluted by design (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44244619)

Never ascribe to conspiracy what can be explained by mere incompetence.

Not to shocked (1)

Sollord (888521) | about a year ago | (#44244497)

The DoD is well known for changing the specs of a project constantly through out the life time of a program so I'm not surprised the update in the 90s failed it probably had 5,000+ changes from it's initial concept and then you add in the required corruption and incompetence needed to be a government employee or contractor and it makes perfect sense it failed.

Re:Not to shocked (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244739)

I have worked on several large project in private companies and have seen my share of failures. Assuming new code would have a similar level of complexity, doing something like COCOMO would yield about that cost and at high risk.

a billion dollars (1)

bertomatic (2743049) | about a year ago | (#44244551)

for a billion dollars, could we not just higher a bunch of accountants and have them hand write and sign the payroll checks. really! a BILLION dollars, and still broke? geeze

Is this overly centralized? (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44244609)

I wonder if part of the problem is that this is overly centralized. Someone above mentioned how they did this all with paper in WWII. I can't imagine the pay for millions of service personnel being calculated by an army of clerks based in Indianapolis. The actual calculations must have been more distributed, with perhaps pay records following a soldier along with his other records.

Decentralizing it should make the bureaucracy more flexible too. Especially in hardship cases like the one described in the story, there should be a way for some local officer to say "give him his regular pay until this is sorted out". Being in the military is no way to get rich, so these people usually don't have a big cushion to live off of. If it turns out the soldier wasn't entitled to the pay, then except in cases of obvious fraud (which I'd think would be a court martial offense) they can give them time to pay it back, maybe with some minimal interest. Come on, the IRS can track anybody and everybody if it really comes to that. At worst, if some guy gets paid a few bucks that technically he wasn't entitled to, I'm not going to get too upset about it. We're definitely not talking CEO bonuses here.

Big disclaimer: I'm not a vet. I suspect someone will say "that's not how the military works", which may well be true. I suspect it was something closer to a decentralized system in WWII though. I doubt some guy in Pearl Harbor coming back from a sub patrol had to wait for a piece of paper from Indianapolis to get paid. If someone in congress was serious about fixing this they could too. I would hope this kind of thing would get sympathy from everyone. Then again there's a federal law that says you can't foreclose on someone's house while they're serving overseas. You don't think that stopped the banks, do you? Or that they received any serious punishment because of it.

lowest bidders don't document (1)

jehan60188 (2535020) | about a year ago | (#44244633)

when you give work to the lowest bidder, you're bound to pay for inept programmers instead of computer scientists

use paycor\adp (1)

Twillerror (536681) | about a year ago | (#44244839)

Regardless of your political leanings this is a job that the private sector could handle way way better. It is super hard to create a good software shop...let alone being the military.

We use paycor and we have good to great IT in general. We could program a pay app, but why the hell would we? Is pay schedule really that complicated....if it is why not simplify it...a great opportunity for reform.

How much? (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about a year ago | (#44244853)

Seriously, a Billion Dollars?

Incompetence. This sounds like explaining to the boss how you can't write a program to pay 3.25 million employees accurately and on time.

Then explaining how you can't write a program that pays 325,000 employees accurately and on time.

Then explaining how you can't write a program that pays 32,500 employees accurately and on time.

But they did in the 60s.

Just as the FAA has sunk $ into new air traffic controls software with nothing to show for it, and New York City ditto with payroll software, incompetence. But I was watching the NMCI grind its way towards me a few years ago, and that was disaster on afterburners. I should know by now the Government is probably not the model of competence in many areas.

I wonder, though if they might ask Social Security how they get checks out every month. Maybe that is the software model they should look at, or *gasp*, consider that they cannot use a better tool then COBOL. So stop looking.

call it what it is: fraud (2)

markhahn (122033) | about a year ago | (#44244857)

when the mil/gov spend a billion on some software project and it fails, we need to start calling it what it is: fraud perpetrated by consultant/contractors.

it's bad enough when the industry burns 10-50M on an ERP project for a company (or university!), but pretty soon those tens of millions add up to real money. spending a billion should be HARD!

ADP? Paychex? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44244923)

For $1B I'm sure either one of them could have done the job.

Either run payroll for a while, or delivered a turnkey system that worked.

Sheesh.

only 7 million (1)

confused one (671304) | about a year ago | (#44245171)

Only 7 million lines? That doesn't seem right for a government project at all... Way too small.

I think they had good docs once (1)

Ralph Ostrander (2846785) | about a year ago | (#44245285)

I worked in NOC at DOW and we had very good documentation. Including the documentation on making documentation. For that kind of money you could have brought back the same people who documented it in the first place. If you want good documentation today or dont have any. I know what your problem is, you need to hire more females on. They nag the guys into doing better sucks for the guys until those docs save the company millions. Say a router is down and the printer cant print bills of lading so the trucks are backing up. But you put the router number in and the docs come up showing a dsl back up. boom the printer is printing and money is being made. Because the last time it went down they documented even what commands they used to bring up that link to the dsl. Just an example but works everywhere. Everyone should be updating those doc like if equipment has moved to a new location. I hope there is down time and not putting out fires all the time. If so you really need good docs. You need to assign one person on each of your teams to hold the hand of new people and have everyone document everything. Example I left my station to fart did 60 second turnover before handing off the station to J Wilks Booth. Why I wrote all that bored.

Typical Government Efficiency (3, Informative)

kartaron (763480) | about a year ago | (#44245291)

For 33 years the government has been trying to replace the 60 year old air traffic control systems. Three different systems have been tried. The first was a complete write off, meant to be an IBM designed Unix based system, it went overdue by years and billions and was killed off in 1994. http://www.baselinemag.com/c/a/Projects-Processes/The-Ugly-History-of-Tool-Development-at-the-FAA/ [baselinemag.com] The Second named CARTS began in 1996, meant to be a replacement for the aging radar systems the program did replace the older systems in some airports, but again the program was killed for cost overruns and stalled production. http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/tracon-air-traffic-control-modernization-faces-prospect-more-schedule-cost/2013-06-02 [fiercegovernmentit.com] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-31/air-traffic-upgrade-over-budget-facing-delays-report.html [bloomberg.com] In 2003 they revived the project with compartmentalized implementations of an integrated system in order to see short term improvements. The first system, a replacement for CARTS renamed STARS) went in in 2012 and it is costing 60% more than expected, with the remaining systems set to be developed and implemented over the next 13 years. The next system to be implemented, ERAM, is already overdue by 4 years, over budget, and according to FAA reports, subject to critical failures and instability. http://www.airtrafficmanagement.net/2013/06/nextgen-over-budget-delays-certain-report/http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/eram-continues-undergo-critical-failures/2012-10-02 [airtrafficmanagement.net] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Next_Generation_Air_Transportation_System [wikipedia.org]
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