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How Dumb Policies Scare Tech Giants Away From Federal Projects

samzenpus posted about 3 months ago | from the you-get-what-you-pay-for dept.

United States 143

An anonymous reader writes "A study published in March found that that the reason why the U.S. government has sub-par IT programs is because leading commercial IT companies established in the U.S. aren't involved in government contracting. Either the government holds closed bidding, essentially stifling competition to its own disadvantage, or prospective companies are put off by the cost-prohibitive regulations associated with government acquisition given the low returns (less than 10% as compared to 20% or more in the commercial world). The dysfunction that results has been documented by the Government Accountability Office: of 15 Department of Defense IT projects studied, 11 had cost increases (one of which was by 2,333%), 13 had schedule slippages (one of which was by six years), and only three met system performance goals. If the U.S. wants to lead other governments in technical capabilities by tapping into the technology being developed within its own borders, then some say that instead of exemptions and workarounds such as was applied with Healthcare.gov, a complete rebuild of the whole acquisition program would need to be implemented."

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It's just corruption (5, Insightful)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 3 months ago | (#46954691)

Juicy contracts go to people that donate. I remember seeing a study that showed that donating to Senators had something like a 50% return on investment. It's not surprising that all that's left after the cronies get a pick are bum contracts. The good contracts go to the Kochs of the world.

Constitutional Loophole? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46954745)

I'm no academic scholar, but this lobbiest-turned-congressmen-turned-lobbiest revolving door is inherent in our system from the beginning. It's one thing to take outright bribes while in office - that's plain corruption. What's happening here is just delayed-payment, or a promise of future riches through a paycheck.

It might take a Constitutional Amendment to ban this practice...and there's fat chance of that happening with the foxes guarding the henhouse.

Re:Constitutional Loophole? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46956061)

It's spelled LOBBYIST. For crying out loud.

Re:Constitutional Loophole? (2)

M8e (1008767) | about 3 months ago | (#46956415)

Lobby, lobbier, lobbiest.

true, but partially because govt pays 10X too much (0)

raymorris (2726007) | about 3 months ago | (#46954781)

That's true, but there's also the question of why those "juicy contracts" exist. A juicy contract is one with high profits - one in which the government pays you much more than it costs you to acquire the item you're selling to re government.

  Government routinely pays a lot more than what they could purchase the same item for at Walmart. I've seen it with my own eyes. A government agency can only buy from a vendor approved for the project, after 400 pages of paperwork to get approved. The vendor charges $150 for a widget. Walmart charges $30 for the same widget. The vendor buys the item for $30 and sells it to the government for $150. To avoid HAVING a juicy contract at all, government agencies should be able to just use Walmart.com.

The pproblem, of course, is that if they can skip the BS and just get the item from Walmart, they can also skip the BS and just buy from clintobama.com

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (4, Insightful)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 3 months ago | (#46954937)

To avoid HAVING a juicy contract at all, government agencies should be able to just use Walmart.com.

If we could guarantee that the widgets they buy from Walmart are made to acceptable standards and with verifiable provenance when necessary, I'd say sure.

But even though a 30 cent bolt from Walmart looks like a $5 bolt from McDonnell Douglas, the latter has been certified as to material and strength. There is an issue with counterfeit aircraft parts, and aircraft do break when the wrong parts are installed. You wouldn't trust Walmart to provide your aircraft parts, I hope, so buying them there would be a mistake.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (1, Insightful)

Nidi62 (1525137) | about 3 months ago | (#46954969)

If we could guarantee that the widgets they buy from Walmart are made to acceptable standards and with verifiable provenance when necessary, I'd say sure.

In all likelihood, except for a very limited number of military-grade equipment (and sometmes even then) the widgets are probably made on the same assembly line in China.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (2)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 3 months ago | (#46955317)

In all likelihood, except for a very limited number of military-grade equipment (and sometmes even then) the widgets are probably made on the same assembly line in China.

I used aircraft parts as an example, and the likelyhood that the correct parts are made on the same assembly lines in China as the 30 cent Walmart versions is vanishingly small.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (3, Informative)

Mashiki (184564) | about 3 months ago | (#46956297)

I used aircraft parts as an example, and the likelyhood that the correct parts are made on the same assembly lines in China as the 30 cent Walmart versions is vanishingly small.

Actually the chances of them being made on the same assembly line is pretty high. The difference of course is that the line that has to "have" the certification, they'll use a higher grade material and take random samples for stress testing to ensure that it's right. They may even go as far as x-raying the materials before it goes through processing, and after to look for material defects.

I used to work in heavy industry back oh 15 years ago now. The stuff we sold went to the US military, and was used for scraping your ICBM's(particularly the minutemans). Everything had to be checked like that before it went out, but the differences were trivial in terms of what we sold to the general public and what went to the military.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 3 months ago | (#46956975)

I used to work in heavy industry back oh 15 years ago now. The stuff we sold went to the US military, and was used for scraping your ICBM's(particularly the minutemans). Everything had to be checked like that before it went out, but the differences were trivial in terms of what we sold to the general public and what went to the military.

Wait wait wait..... You sold parts needed to scrap nuclear missiles to the general public?

Hmm... seems that everyone needs to have some high-adrenaline hobby nowadays....

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (1)

Mashiki (184564) | about 3 months ago | (#46957271)

Wait wait wait..... You sold parts needed to scrap nuclear missiles to the general public?

Hmm... seems that everyone needs to have some high-adrenaline hobby nowadays....

Sure. Don't you know that the stuff to scrap nuclear missiles is used in the manufacturing sector quite often, any machine shop or mill will be using the same tools. There isn't anything earth shattering regarding this. The difference is, certification.

Re: true, but partially because govt pays 10X too (3, Insightful)

tsqr (808554) | about 3 months ago | (#46955331)

In all likelihood, except for a very limited number of military-grade equipment (and sometmes even then) the widgets are probably made on the same assembly line in China.

Apparently, you have no familiarity with Federal Acquisition Regulations, and just like to make stuff up that will make all the equally uninformed folks here nod their heads wisely.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (3, Insightful)

BLKMGK (34057) | about 3 months ago | (#46955815)

Or perhaps he actually has some experience with aircraft. Counterfeit bolts are a HUGE issue as is quite a few other things that are supposed to be specced properly and are built in China. Everything from bolts to beams for bridges have had problems - ask San Fran about the latter. It takes all of 5 seconds to find PLENTY of evidence that counterfeit bolts are a problem in multiple industries. Counterfeit electronics are also an issue and for the military this is 100% unacceptable unless you would like to find yourself in a jet fighter coming apart because of it. If you think that it all comes off of the same assembly line you've got a screw loose yourself...

http://www.choice-distribution... [choice-distribution.com]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

www.asminternational.org/pdf/Aug8-12.pdf

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46956261)

The same 3D printer you mean. Only a brungus or a hunk would deny that 3D printing is how everything is built these days.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (4, Insightful)

rtb61 (674572) | about 3 months ago | (#46956539)

Don't get pulled in by the initial distortion. It has nothing to do with buying a particular widget. It is all down to 'VERY LARGE' tenders and contracts. Specifically tenders written in such a way as to exclude the majority of smaller suppliers and targeted at a particular cartel of very large suppliers, this all done purposefully. The cartels pretty much write the tenders they 'er' bid on, it reality just ration them out amongst themselves.

This all happened when lobbyists fought hard to shrink government ie smaller purchasing and managing units of government were no longer able to manage a complex multifaceted supply chain made up of internal labour and many smaller contracts and were forced to hand out major contracts. These of course come under the purview of lawyers with extraordinarily complex contracts, which the shrunken government departments are not able to audit due to lack of personal. This is top down corruption, facilitated by corrupt corporations, funding corrupt lobbyists who seek to ensure corrupt politicians get elected who in turn insert corrupt political appointees into what is left of government departments. So a straight up conspiracy from the get go by corporations to defraud the treasury, with the rally cry of shrinking government, whilst the reality was, make government agencies incapable of properly managing anything so making easy to steal millions and billions from the public and screw the consequences.

Reality was and is, things go a whole lot smoother when government does as much work for itself in house as possible and avoids contracting out anything as those contracts feed corruption. The bigger the contracts the greater the corruption and one need look no further than the glaring example of Darth Cheney and Halliburton, billions stolen and hundreds of thousands dead so that 'NO BID' contracts could be handed out with massive profits (not that it was the only element of a particularly corrupt war).

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | about 3 months ago | (#46957493)

Not to mention that the $5 bolt will be made in America whereas the $0.30 bolt will be made in China. Buying the American bolt will prevent sending even more money overseas. And the $5 bolt is guaranteed not to have hidden microphones or intelligence-gathering equipment in it whereas the $0.30 bolt might be designed to fail when someone, who isn't the US government, wants it to.

People say "OMG! I can't believe that the government has 400 pages of regulations for something as simple as a bolt!" but if you actually read those regulations then they make a lot of sense. They cover the specifications to which the bolt will be designed, how the bolts will be delivered, how many will be delivered in what time frame, how many must be on hand, how quickly a rush order must be fulfilled, how they will be tested for quality, how they will be secured to prevent unauthorized personnel from accessing them (this doesn't really apply to bolts, but it does to a lot of sensitive computing and communications equipment), etc. This is stuff that couldn't matter less if you just need a box of bolts to build a tool shed in your back yard, but can make all the difference in the world when you're building a couple thousand fighter jets.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955901)

I could have sworn that the government recently built bridges & buildings with poorly made bolts...

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/bay-bridge-quake-safety-bolts-fail-test-article-1.1300679

>the latter has been certified as to material and strength
There goes that theory. I'm sure you can find articles about helicopters and other aircraft having problems due to bad bolts if you google a bit.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 3 months ago | (#46957569)

You wouldn't trust Walmart to provide your aircraft parts, I hope, so buying them there would be a mistake.

A lot of people trusted Walmart with their pets' internal organs. We saw what that got them.

Hell, a lot of people trust Walmart with their own internal organs.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (3, Informative)

icebike (68054) | about 3 months ago | (#46955515)

Government routinely pays a lot more than what they could purchase the same item for at Walmart. I've seen it with my own eyes. A government agency can only buy from a vendor approved for the project, after 400 pages of paperwork to get approved. The vendor charges $150 for a widget. Walmart charges $30 for the same widget. The vendor buys the item for $30 and sells it to the government for $150. To avoid HAVING a juicy contract at all, government agencies should be able to just use Walmart.com.

The paperwork just to get on the bidders list can be enormous. So much so, that our company just told any government bidders to go through on of our resellers, because we were not going to jump through all those hoops. Suddenly, a short track paper work trail was available. Still not interested. (We had been down that way before, and wasn't really any shorter.) We got the sales anyway, just had to give our resellers their cut, which was less costly than the paperwork.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 3 months ago | (#46955535)

Government routinely pays a lot more than what they could purchase the same item for at Walmart.

...in the same way that I could get a set of "Hot Wheels" for a fraction the price of a pickup truck.

The US Government doesn't want, and doesn't buy the item that Walmart sells. They might be buying a light bulb, but they want one that's ALWAYS going to be EXACTLY the same, and certified as such. They don't want one that's going to be silently changed to a different design... That would cause maintenance nightmares, and/or could get people killed.

The vendor buys the item for $30 and sells it to the government for $150.

I've seen the financial reports from a few defense contractors, and I've never seen the huge profit margins you are suggesting. Where are they? Why isn't Lockheed-Martin more profitable than Google, Exxon-Mobile, etc?

The added expense may come from the testing and milspec certification of every individual item... Or from being required to stockpile and warehouse the item for 50 years to ensure they can continue to supply the exact item to the government. Or it may just be confusion on the part of the ignorant public, thinking that all "toilet seats" are created equal, and the expensive aluminum one used on aircraft could be substituted for a $30 walmart one, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955837)

10% is about the max most companies make although they may very well hide money in the overhead. Auditors look for any issues and are quick to fine and take back funds if they find a problem.

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 3 months ago | (#46957339)

The US Government doesn't want, and doesn't buy the item that Walmart sells.

The problem is, sometimes they do. There are some situations where you need something with exactly known parts and quality that can be replaced with an identical one in ten years (guaranteed by the vendor) if required. There are some situations where you need something that works now and if you have to throw it away in 3 years, that's fine because your next upgrade cycle is in two years anyway. The government doesn't differentiate these in the procurement rules, so even when all you want is a generic white-box PC for a secretary's desk that will only ever run MS Word and a web browser for the intranet, you still go through almost the same procurement process as for parts for a stealth fighter and end up buying a machine from Dell that is guaranteed to have specific parts, at an increase in price that's more than just buying two or three identical machines from another vendor (or even from Dell's consumer lines) and throwing them away when they break.

That's on purpose silly (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 3 months ago | (#46955853)

it's the closest we can get to socialism in this country. Bascially, America has a huge amount of idle economic capacity. The wealthy can't even begin to tap it, but they have so much of the wealth that left to their own the entire economy would grind to a halt. So we tax and spend because it's the only way to get things moving. It's that or the Dark Ages and 1000 years of nothing...

Re:true, but partially because govt pays 10X too m (1)

erroneus (253617) | about 3 months ago | (#46957559)

Paying too much isn't paying too much. When "stupid government spending" is highlighted, the people are entertained by this as if it were some kind of joke. It's not. This is highlighting and obvious channel by which money is being moved. You're supposed to find out who the government is buying paperclips from, who made the decision and all that. You will find that giving the people's money out to these other people is the return on investment. So what's the investment? That's what we're supposed to be looking at.

Re:It's just corruption (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46954853)

I am 99% sure I, at one point, got dragged into that 6 years late one (NGES?). The person (Don Shrapco, i think) in charge of it is a grade-a moron who changes requirements (still) every few weeks. It was working very well 6 years ago and then they decided to FORCE their new knowledge base database thing into it because otherwise no one would give them funding to develop it further. So that killed all teh tools, all teh models, and set them back at least 5 years.

Re:It's just corruption (4, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 3 months ago | (#46954951)

Juicy contracts go to people that donate.

Another big part of the problem is the lack of accountability. Even in the event of massive cost overruns, no one, either government employee or contractor, is held accountable. No one is punished. Nobody's career ends. If project mismanagement meant that the responsible government employee would lose his job (and pension) and the contractors would finish the job on their own dime, things would change.

Re:It's just corruption (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 3 months ago | (#46955193)

Political corruption always exists.

As distasteful as it sounds, especially in a democratic society, wealth will always have a disproportionate say in what, why, who, and how things get accomplished. The degree to which it affects ye olde taxpaying citizens is a parallel graph to the degree government is allowed to interfere in the free markets and the allegedly free peoples' everyday lives.

And you had right up until the oxymoron:

responsible government employee.

Re:It's just corruption (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 3 months ago | (#46955341)

That's the consequence of "small government". If there are enough people in place to make sure that the boss doesn't put his idiot nephew in charge of a department the damage is less. Such a thing applies everywhere so it's not about government as such.
Remember that they are working for you so it's your money they are funnelling into their friends pockets.

Re: It's just corruption (2, Insightful)

deKernel (65640) | about 3 months ago | (#46955473)

So let me get this straight...to not have corruption you need to have a big government... WOW.

You've misunderstood my post (1, Insightful)

dbIII (701233) | about 3 months ago | (#46956829)

"Small government" advocates are frequently shysters who don't want anyone to catch them with their fingers in the till - or the useful idiots of such shysters. Having enough people to ensure that foxes don't get allowed into henhouses unaccompanied does not necessarily mean "big government".
Is that point put simply enough or should I try again?

Re:It's just corruption (4, Insightful)

Strudelkugel (594414) | about 3 months ago | (#46955255)

Actually it's a bit different from what you describe. The government loads contracts with all kinds of deliverables beyond the actual product being requested, such as documentation that never reflects reality since there is never enough time to do all of it and deliver a product. Everyone knows it won't be read anyway.As often as not these things distract the contractors. Then there are the process mandates and contract requirements that employ large numbers of people who are all busy checking checkboxes. All of this is done to prevent failures, but obviously the failures occur anyway. Part of this is often because the government tries to create a Facebook or Google in a couple of years, but also because the regulatory environment designed to prevent failure is so complicated critical information can be lost or obscured. It's not that the "accountable ones" are not held to account because they work for government, it's more the case that the contract complexity almost makes it impossible to determine who really is accountable.

Obviously when you don't really know who is accountable for something you don't know who to ask for reliable information, so people start making assumptions. "You want escalators, not elevators? But the contract says vertical lift system. We interpreted that to as..."

Re:It's just corruption (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | about 3 months ago | (#46957335)

The government loads contracts with all kinds of deliverables beyond the actual product being requested, such as documentation that never reflects reality since there is never enough time to do all of it and deliver a product. Everyone knows it won't be read anyway.As often as not these things distract the contractors. Then there are the process mandates and contract requirements that employ large numbers of people who are all busy checking checkboxes.

Obviously, this drives up prices. But that alone is no reason NOT to include the extra effort in the bid price and time estimate. Some contractors will intentionally make an unrealistic bid and then try to charge extra anyway. Reminds me of Toll Collect in Germany (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toll_Collect [wikipedia.org] ). That was a consortium of really large gompanies BTW. Fraud anyone?

Obviously when you don't really know who is accountable for something you don't know who to ask for reliable information, so people start making assumptions. "You want escalators, not elevators? But the contract says vertical lift system. We interpreted that to as..."

OK, that is a problem where the government is at least partly at fault. Any cost overruns coming from that are IMHO more justified.

Re:It's just corruption (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46956051)

Not sure if the linked article realizes this, but tech companies are out to make money, and having a contract with government more then likely means any new tech they create could become classified and or exclusively for government use, obviously, the amount of money they could make releasing that tech to the general public or to other companies/businesses would be far more incentive to stay away from government contracts.

There's story after story on how tech being released to the public that the government had used and kept to itself for years, hardware/software, ect. And they try to pass it off as some new tech, when it really is about 10-20 years old by the time the general public get around to using it.

Have you ever worked for a big corp? (3, Insightful)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 3 months ago | (#46956305)

It's like that everywhere except small business. Scott Adams was only half joking when he made that Dilbert strip about nobody remembering the outcome of the projects you've been on...

Or the opposite... (3, Insightful)

jopsen (885607) | about 3 months ago | (#46956679)

Another big part of the problem is the lack of accountability.

More likely it's too much accountability, everything being defined in water-fall style specifications, which can't possibly be implemented.
Less accountability, trust and iterative development have been identified to provide higher project success rates...

the responsible government employee would lose his job (and pension)

WTF? Pension is money saved up. Why should anybody ever loose that. In any line of work, that's just messed up.
There is talk of criminal neglect, do a criminal case...

But this kind of "accountability", which is more about assigning blame to someone and ruining their career, is exactly why nobody wants to do government contracts.

and the contractors would finish the job on their own dime, things would change

Yes, contractor would factor in the risk of failure, or risk of going over price and raise his prices by a factor of 10.
Or just use a shell company and let that go bankrupts if he fails to deliver the contract. Bottom line: software development is high risk, from a study of 4500 projects over $15M, 45% of it projects goes above budget and 17% threatens the existence of the company.
See: http://www.mckinsey.com/insigh... [mckinsey.com]

The inflexibility of contract and specification governed software development is at the heart of the problem here. More accountability isn't going to fix that. More punishment will only cause officials and contractors to do more work to cover their own ass... Instead of taking an actual risk, which is what software project management is all about, it's about managing risk and uncertainty.

Re:It's just corruption (1)

erroneus (253617) | about 3 months ago | (#46957545)

That doesn't explain who or why the Obamacare site people were selected. We already know why, but it just highlights the corrupt process.

Why not have an in House IT for the work? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46954715)

In house can lead to cost saving from both less overhead and from being able to consolidate stuff as well having more buying power as one big unit.

also you can more to getter better people as you are not paying all of the contacting overhead.

Re:Why not have an in House IT for the work? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46954797)

but but private enterprise is always better! my daddy said so, and he's a contractor who bilks the government for millions of dollars so he should know!

Re: Why not have an in House IT for the work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46954817)

In house?! Have you taken a gander at the salaries that the Govt pays? Have you witnessed the crap their employees must put up with?! Even when they manage to find good employees they require them to move from position to position in order to "broaden their experience". Good luck doing any of this in-house with the current environment!

Re: Why not have an in House IT for the work? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955679)

I'm a federal IT worker. One of the systems in the GAO report is managed inside our organization. It's an absolute cluster. The government pays easily 10 times what it would cost to do the development in-house. Requirements take forever to get vetted and into the actual software product, and then they're often not implemented correctly because the developers are 8 or 10 levels removed from the actual customer. They're working from paper requirements that may as well be Greek.

But the government doesn't really have much option due to the way the system is setup. We can't pay developers what they're worth. Having to deal with the stupid rules and red tape is straight up soul crushing. If you do manage to find someone qualified for the job, they usually bail because of the avalanche of incompetence and injustice they're faced with day in and day out.

My favorite is when managers do the exact opposite of what their technical experts advise them to do. Oh, we already have a system that does X? Let's pay this contractor seven figures to replicate that 6 months from now.

Re: Why not have an in House IT for the work? (1)

BLKMGK (34057) | about 3 months ago | (#46955863)

If you think the developers would be any closer than 8 levels if it were done in house you're deluding yourself. The process in place now would be just as bad with in house because everyone would want CYA "accountability" and that too means reams of paperwork and heaven forbid anyone talk face to face - it has to be "documented". That soul crushing red tape isn't going away when you try to do big systems in house. Try to fire a Govt worker who's screwed up, unless they were appointed and it was a public mess it's near impossible. Fire a contractor? Snap your fingers and they can be gone. Managers are put in areas they have no clue about to get them out of their "box" so hell yes they make mistakes. Want to get promoted? Gotta' spend big money on big projects boss!

Re:Why not have an in House IT for the work? (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 3 months ago | (#46955397)

True, but software development and running it in production are different skill sets. While it makes a vast amount of sense to have inhouse software development when you want unique software you have to have enough ongoing work to be able to keep the people who can do it. It becomes a situation that requires good management and good communication between departments and a willingness of management to avoid backstabbing for short term gain. When you have horse judges, cheerleaders and frat boys running things it is difficult to do such a thing in large organizations - especially when one of the horse judges would rather contract out to a bunch represented by a hot chick.

Complex rules == easily gamed systems (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46954751)

There must be a theorem like Godel's that says that any interestingly complex set of rules is gameable.

There are a lot of studies showing that the contracting procedures of NYC and other larger political entities result in fewer, larger, more politically-connected contractors, and that is the result of several rounds of voters getting fed up with the corruption, voting in 'reformers' and giving them the power to correct the corruption, rinse and repeat.

By this time in history, we surely understand that more rules does not produce more honesty, more justice? But we keep on making more law, more rules, the inertia of the Status Quo.

Re:Complex rules == easily gamed systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955817)

> any interestingly complex set of rules is gameable

Like the US tax code.

I was involved with a catering contract, and we spent more on managing the project and working for over two years to get paid than we billed total for the project. I don't know if it's hyperbole, but my boss claimed we spent over $10 per meal in project/billing management. In the private sector, a company would just place a take-out order and spend maybe $20 total on labor to order, receive, and reimburse for the entire meal. Also, the only reason we keep a FAX machine at several of our restaurants is just for the government orders since they will not use email. That's an extra $75/month for the phone line plus time to manage the equipment and space to keep it.

Re:Complex rules == easily gamed systems (1, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 3 months ago | (#46957007)

This is exactly why people favor smaller government. If you can't make it a good system, then make it small enough to not cause much damage.

Re:Complex rules == easily gamed systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46957175)

If the government is small it does not have much power. A big part of government is not edicting rules, it is making people follow them: hence enforcement agency, control, judges, prisons, etc. Ultimately the blame does not lay so much on government per se, it lays on non-government entities constantly trying to contravene the rules. It is human nature I guess.

Cost Plus (2, Informative)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 3 months ago | (#46954755)

There's also the lovely open-ended cost plus contracts that force everyone to dramatically underbid in order to win them. The lucky winner gets to write their own checks and rob the government blind.

Re: Cost Plus (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46954829)

Cost plus isn't open ended by far and still must work within a budget. I work on such a program and we most certainly must control costs.

Re: Cost Plus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955043)

Perhaps within the past few years with the 'sequestering' this is true, but having served then transitioning to different facets of contracting IT support the underbid and overcharge scheme/tactic is very real. I am currently supporting a defense org and have been dealing with a contracting company that missed their IOC by three years. They just delivered this new environment that is so riddled with issues it would seem that it was done intentionally to ensure that their presence is required to figure out the maze of mis-configurations they've deployed; spoiler alert: their onsite personnel have been transitioned from their old engineering task order to a new support task order. And by the way, they are still collecting and performing the work due on the original TO while getting paid for the new support TO, which is pretty shady. However, much like the ourboros of lobbyist-senator-payout, the guy that has been championing this contracting company is now the CTO so there is no end in sight to this specific scenario. This is the third org I've supported and it's been same shit, different smell each place.

Re: Cost Plus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955677)

I know the one you're talking about, and your corporation is not competent enough to fuck the government on purpose. Unfortunately, we are not competent enough to write a spec that we could hold you to in court, or, actually, write a spec at all. It's a lose, lose (except for short-term shareholder profit) proposition. You guys look like the fucking incompetent morons you are, and when you accept that 10b is really 10.2 descoped, we lost hard. too.

Re: Cost Plus (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955455)

The general motivation for a contractor with a cost plus contract is to spend every cent that the contract (and CO/COTR) lets them spend. They will essentially never make more profit off lower revenue by spending less of the "cost" part of the "cost plus". In that sense, yes, they *do* need to control costs... to maximize them within some bound.

Re: Cost Plus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955887)

If they underrun and don't spend the money then it must be spent with a no-cost ECP, returning it isn't usually an option and will incur penalties. You see the Govt. has this fucked up thing where returned budget monies aren't really considered savings but instead screw ups. Obviously if you didn't spend it last year then despite you telling me you badly need it this year you don't so you won't get it. A manager who tries to save money is penalized. What the Govt does need to do is estimate costs better for effort needed and not put too much money forward. With the current budget situation though I see capability being hurt and cut simply to keep heads above water - we've hit bone and then some with the cuts where I have optic.

Government attracts parasites (4, Insightful)

hessian (467078) | about 3 months ago | (#46954771)

First, there's all the rules that make sure rules first go to minority- or female-owned companies, or to companies in at risk zones.

Next there's all the regulation.

Next there's government slowness. It's not market responsive.

The result is that people who are interested in running a business go away, UNLESS their business model is making money off government by charging it extra for all of its special demands.

It's no wonder the DC area is growing faster than anywhere else and salaries are higher there.

Re:Government attracts parasites (3, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 3 months ago | (#46955343)

Don't forget another factor: the government is too well armed to fail.

Re:Government attracts parasites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955767)

the factors you cite are certainly important.

but one of the most important aspects of a business who deals entirely with the government
is an understanding and willingness to deal with the way the government operates.

    o how to put just enough work into milestones so that the contract manager will sign off, without
        slipping or doing enough or a real job that you might slip next time.

    o have a long enough pipeline that you can deal with the long funding cycles and
          not go out of business

    o be willing to just agree to everything knowing that when it comes down to it,
          they are just as invested in calling the project a success

    o have been in the business long enough, most likely having come through the
          revolving door yourself, to have a personal relationship with the people who
          are handing out the money

    o be so enculturated in the agency that you know the new keywords, how to phrase
          things to look they they agree with the broad strategies in place even if its
          the same old shit

    o how to make 5 slides made up of the same clipart and text that you've presented
          for the last 5 years look definitive and exciting

face it, extracting tens or hundreds of millions of dollars out of the government is an art
form....just one that has nothing to do with anything else, particularly getting any real done

Re:Government attracts parasites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955915)

Where I'm at the Govt. employs subject experts from business as contractors who are NDA'd up the ass and not allowed to compete for work. Those 5yr projects with the same slides? We nail those, cut the project, or bid it to another company who can get shit done.

We do occasionally have programs run too long but it's most often because the Govt. keeps wanting to polish the pig over and over. Requirements creep is a bitch and while we can try to hold it down sometimes it simply occurs but it sure as hell isn't because the companies do it. With the current budget environment anything that doesn't deliver gets cut and while we might blow money trying to do something that's a stretch (usually in an attempt to automate and SAVE money) if it doesn't perform and show merit fast we axe the SOB. Woe be to the contractor that treads in our shop and tries the horseshit you've described. If a company performs and keeps performing they're safe, the rest? Not so much...

Re:Government attracts parasites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46956111)

well, there's two options

    either I just made all that up and I got lucky enough to hit a sore spot

    or i've spent a few decades on both sides of that desk and seen it played out again and again

you pick

Re:Government attracts parasites (1)

bfandreas (603438) | about 3 months ago | (#46955779)

Then there is complexit. Even at a federal level the states still have a lot of wriggle-room to do things slightly different. And even on a lower level different branches of the same agency may be allowed to do things slightly differently.

Next thing is tha the requirements may not be stable. If it is an IT system for some hot-button political matter(healthcare springs to mind) with lots of eleventh hour requirement changes then you basically don't stand a chance.

Then there is almost always somebody on the customer side who will want you to fail so they get to show their face on national TV.

Once your project has a couple of hundred of staff on your side working on it you are bound to fail. There is a thing as "too big to succeed".

No amount of money will make up for that kind of risk in your projects. How do you expect to give an cost estimate in a situation like this that doesn't potentially break your neck? Big government contract? Only if I'm settled for life afterwards to make up for the emotional and reputational damage afterwards. Payment preferably in nice Pacific islands. Hawaii would do nicely.

Hmmm... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46954775)

I think maybe the U.S. government has sub-par IT programs because the U.S. government is sub par at doing just about everything.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

joe_frisch (1366229) | about 3 months ago | (#46954933)

The government does a lot of things that private industry does not do - generally things for which the economic incentive model can't work, or where we are not looking for the economic optimum.

As an example, look at basic science R&D. A commercial company generally won't to basic science because the value of the results is in their very wide scale applicability and that is very difficult to monetize.

A free market education system would probably not bother to educate the least capable 20% of students, but there is a belief that we want to provide an opportunity for education for everyone.

Re: Hmmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955569)

Government spending on basic R&D is approximately a rounding error. The US budget is in such bad shape mostly because decades of politicians (on both sides of the aisle) have acted like using Treasury money to give goodies to non-producing voters will somehow pay for itself.

Re: Hmmm... (1)

HuguesT (84078) | about 3 months ago | (#46957201)

Gov spending on R&D is about 3% of its budget. This is more or less the OECD average. If I understand what you are saying, you mean that R&D is a productive expense but that large parts of the remaining 97% are not so productive. By far the largest part of the US budget is medicare/medicaid, social security and next defense [wikipedia.org] . Basically more than half of the budget is paying for pensions, the elderly, poor and unwell people in the USA who otherwise would have no other option. I leave it to your moral compass to decide whether this is non-productive spending.

As for defense, I agree this is too much.

Complete restructure??? (4, Insightful)

prisoner-of-enigma (535770) | about 3 months ago | (#46954779)

What? And destroy the current lucrative system of kickbacks, cronyism, and propping up otherwise unprofitable, unaffordable, unworkable systems and businesses? How will Senators and members ever get elected properly without the subtle system of bribes that currently grease the wheels of professional politics? Don't you know *anything* about how to get stuff done inside the Beltway?

Sheesh...you people need to get a grip and understand how power works in this country.

Re:Complete restructure??? (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 3 months ago | (#46955563)

What? And destroy the current lucrative system of kickbacks, cronyism, and propping up otherwise unprofitable, unaffordable, unworkable systems and businesses?

Nobody said a restructuring would replace that.

But.... (1)

bsdasym (829112) | about 3 months ago | (#46954787)

who's gonna build the new bidding website for the new program?!

Working for the GAO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46954793)

What a fatalistic, futile place to work it seems. Never been there, but it seems every ideal they might stand for is quixotic in reality.

Is that how Government pays $1M for a drone kit (1)

InsultsByThePound (3603437) | about 3 months ago | (#46954819)

of 3 planes (1 camera/control).... something that should be priced maximum as a regular family sedan if that....?

AC for reasons. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46954845)

I've been an employee of one of these contract IT companies for a little over 2 years, and I can tell you that my contract is undoubtedly no different.

From my perspective as a software developer, it seems like the issues are all deliberate. There's been a pattern since I've worked here. Everytime a competent developer leaves, they're replaced by someone who can't develop software. Sometimes it's the chief's friend, or some government employee's wife, or whatever. But no fewer than 3 positions on my team have been taken up by people who have no computer science education, no interest in software development, and no inclination to learn.

Last person that was hired, someone came over to tell me 4 minutes before his interview. I printed off a ludicrously simple programming problem and handed it to him, asked him if he'd have the guy "solve" it. The manager interviewing let the candidate hesitate on the problem for 4 seconds before pulling it from him, and saying "don't worry about it, I want to keep this interview short.". So my team is down another programmer and + another welfare recipient.

The only reason I've stayed her so long is that the work is occasionally incredibly interesting, but recently my boss decided to pull me so I could do something to "help the team" it involves clicking links and typing into a spreadsheet for 8 hours a day.

A few months a government employee decided they needed the area that my team's revision control server occupied as their office. My server was decomissioned, the area was converted to an office, and the government employee transferred to another location less than a month later.

I complain every few months, but the only thing complaining seems to do is make everyone suspicious of me. I need to get out of here.

Re:AC for reasons. (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 3 months ago | (#46955223)

If this were any site but

/.,

I would question your fashionably late cry for help, Edward Snowden.

Re:AC for reasons. (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 3 months ago | (#46955329)

You're describing any IT shop in the country where budgets aren't tight. Before the financial collapse I had a director that literally didn't have a job. He just sat in his office watching girls come in and out of the deli next door for 2years. When the layoffs hit, boy did we get to hear all about how the place would fall apart without him. It didn't.

Re:AC for reasons. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955583)

If budgets aren't tight, why don't I have a revision control server anymore?

Re:AC for reasons. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46956849)

That's basically the reason for gov contracts. Funnel tax payer money through some boondogle into friends pockets.

It's not an accident. You're just a chump caught in the middle.

You can never get out (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46957421)

They have you. You must apply to leave your job. forms filled out by hand in triplicate. Then they will be sent to data processing for manual data entry into a form originally written for Lotus Notes. This form is rediculously out of date so your reason for leaving "better opportunity elsewhere" becomes "disgruntled employee".Just so happens that all reasons for leaving are strangely changed into this single available checkbox on the form.

4 Months after applying to leave, which in the mean time you are required to show up to work, else be charged with fraud for receiving government paychecks if you don't, they return the form to you for having a signature not matching the one on file. The signature on file being your old signature you used to use when you were in gradeschool since the picked it off your permanent record.

Eventually this drives you completely crazy are you're checked into a government hospital.

Onerous requirements for federal contracts (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46954955)

Audits and certifications and travel restrictions and the inability to go out to lunch with a government employee because it might be a "gift" etc etc etc.

Re:Onerous requirements for federal contracts (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 3 months ago | (#46955241)

Bayesian probability suggests your experience may be limited to those GS-whatevers whom only using the force for good works.

Sounds like the rest of the world (5, Interesting)

aXis100 (690904) | about 3 months ago | (#46954987)

I get the feeling that it's nothing to do with being a Government agency. I've seen more than 50% failure rate on very large IT projects for other regular businesses and corporations.

There seems to be a major problem with sotware projects producing an accurate requirements spec, and following that though to implementation. End users have no idea what they want, fill the requirements full of edge cases, and keep moving the goalposts. Programmers often have no idea how the software will be used so whenever there are gaps they improvise with the most ridiculous schemes. And software architects always say "technology XXXX will save us, it makes YYY so easy", forgetting entirely that you still have to produce a sensible user interface with a sane workflow and that takes 80% of the effort.

Personally I cant see this getting better for a while. It's not the fault of any one person, it's just human nature when trying to deal with highly complex systems. We need to use a radically different design approach and employ exceptionally good project managers, and even then we might still want to cross our fingers.

Re:Sounds like the rest of the world (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 3 months ago | (#46955591)

I wish I had some mod points for you.

Another big part of the problem is that nobody wants to accept limitations in their shiny soon-to-be-built new system. The 80/20 rule always applies, but trying to convince creative architects to accept 80% of their dream at only 20% of the cost is impossible.

Government contracting (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955141)

There are companies whose sole purpose is getting government contracts. They know how to write the bid and which useless-but-nice-resume people to subcontract. After they get the contract, the subcontractors subcontract to the cheapest shop in india. The people on the bid with the phds write a few emails, collect their checks, and move on. These are usually the same people sitting on a board for some other government project, show up for meetings once a month, and get paid well into 6 figures.

Surprised (1)

ark1 (873448) | about 3 months ago | (#46955183)

Surprised to learn of the low return on gov contracts. From what I heard, private sector usually lowballs initial contracts to be the lowest bidder but charges through the nose for any changes to requirements which are inevitable in large/complex IT projects.

Re: Surprised (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955507)

Federal acquisition rules prohibit contractors from making much profit -- an accounting arm of the customer department/agency/whatever (e.g. DCAA) pores over the contractor's books to ensure that. On the other hand, as long as the contract is in place, that ~8% profit is damn near guaranteed, which is more than private-sector companies can hope for.

Funny (1)

Loopy (41728) | about 3 months ago | (#46955323)

I don't remember this sort of incisive analysis going on with regards to healthcare or tax law.

Whereas private DP projects.... (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | about 3 months ago | (#46955383)

...never experience cost increases, schedule slippages, or fail to meet performance goals?

Big data projects fail all the time. They just don't get as much publicity when they are private.

Re: Whereas private DP projects.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955529)

Private companies spending their own money also have strong incentives to use their budgets efficiently, and in particular to kill hopeless projects early. Almost the opposite is true in government, where spending every cent in your budget makes it easier to argue for an increase the next time around, and dragging out a schedule as much as possible (short of pissing off the higher-ups so that they kill your project or reassign you) means you can spend more total dollars and/or spread your attention over more projects in your fiefdom.

Another perspective (1)

MikeRT (947531) | about 3 months ago | (#46955421)

And when the government's mismanagement of the contract leads a successful contract into ruin, guess who gets the blame? The contractor because the public doesn't get the benefit of seeing how the sausage was made. They'll never see how a contract that may have been a pretty good product got tuned into a clusterfuck because someone changed priorities and an architecture that was mean for one set of requirements "for some strange reason" couldn't neatly be refactored to a different set of requirements.

Isn't it obvious? (1)

jasno (124830) | about 3 months ago | (#46955437)

Commercial software and 'cutting edge' tech companies work fast and loose. We just need to make shit work, not necessarily adhere to page after page of specifications. That is the polar opposite of government work. There's no way in hell I'd want my company to take me away from the high-return world of hack programming and force me to read pages of documentation and requirements for each line of code I write.

Re: Isn't it obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955609)

For the most part, those pages and pages of specs and other documents are either written or mandated by the kind of people who produce the kind of code that shows up on The Daily WTF. On the bright side, they're not writing code...

More seriously, good designers and developers can meet fairly stringent process requirements without a huge amount of documentation. However, most project managers, system engineers, etc. are not good enough to pull that off. And safety-critical, flight certified, or similar systems really do need a lot of very dry and sometimes boring documentation to help ensure (and demonstrate) that the product is as safe as the customer/regulator/whomever wants or needs. Cargo cult managers then conclude that having lots of documentation reduces risk, and you end up with a very frustrating and unproductive environment.

That's not a problem... (2)

evilviper (135110) | about 3 months ago | (#46955439)

prospective companies are put off by the cost-prohibitive regulations associated with government acquisition given the low returns (less than 10% as compared to 20% or more in the commercial world).

The head of a major company, that has interests in both defense and private contracts, described it quite simply (paraphrasing):

You get larger profit margins in the commercial space, but it's uneven and uncertain. The defense contracts offer long-term stable and predictable profits.

Of course the defense contracts require a bit of revolving-door politics... Hiring former government employees who know all the exhaustive rules and regulations, and can write a contract proposal in such a way that it will get accepted... and a whole team of people similarly focused on the government relationship, and compliance with rules and regulations.

In the end, on balance the two come out roughly even. But, of course a company that doesn't do any government contracts, can't hope to start getting some without a big investment in a team that get you off the ground.

Here's an idea... (1)

WheezyJoe (1168567) | about 3 months ago | (#46955557)

The article suggests there's a lot of room for improvement, but the first problem is that our Congress can't be bothered to do the (admittedly) hard, tedious work of improving it. Seems like all they care about lately is grand-standing to attract more money to buy more TV ads to get re-elected... to do the same thing over again.

Howabout we actually show up to the polls in decent numbers this year and vote them all out. It don't matter who they are or who the opponent is, even if it's a chimpanzee, we all pull the other switch and send the incumbent home to do whatever he's gonna do. Let the star-chamber campaign gods of both parties scratch their heads why the pricey attack ads didn't work. Then do it again two years later, and again after that, until we get a Congress that actually takes the people's business seriously (the "people", you know, being all of us).

Yeah, I know. But don't they say something about democracies getting exactly the government they deserve?

Re:Here's an idea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955899)

Okay, genius -- tell your Congresscritter how to fix the system. Or tell us here, and if you convince me, I'll go to my state's Senators and my district's Representative and I'll try to convince them to reform the system.

What's that you say? That you don't know how they should fix it, you just know they should?

And you think this makes you any different than all the other constituents the politicians grand-stand for?

Government IT (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955565)


Government IT is not proactive, they are purely reactive. The people in the trenches tend to be treated like dummies.

- Endless security holes in an OS? Don't change OSs, wait for $SECURITY_FIRM to release an update to their shoddy product.
- Some network gear is cheaper and just as good (or better) than Cisco? Oh we can't: too much money invested in CCNA-type ass-wipe paper.
- "Great idea, Bob. We're going to pass it by some contractors for the once-over."
- "A lot of these external-facing Linux boxes would be safer running OpenBSD." "Oh, but our guys only know Linux."

Shared Services Canada (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955623)

LOL if you wanna see shit piled on shit, you only have to see the giant cluster-fuck that is Shared Services Canada (SSC) [ssc.gc.ca] : the GoC's attempt at consolidating 43 government departments' IT into one. Some groups have complete deadlock. Some people have TO THIS DAY not been communicated with by their manager after a good year and a half in.
 
Yet the status emails we get from senior management make it sound like everything is ~just fine~.
 
Hiring is a joke, they don't want the BEST people for the job, they only want people who are bilingual. So a drooling inbred wearing a hockey helmet from Kee-Beck can get a good job without any skills.
Disclosure: I am BBB, meaning I get by well enough in either language, but giving bilingual a higher value over technical skills? In an IT environment? No wonder moral sucks the big one.

So I sit there in my little CS-03 cube and mutter "4 more years and out... 4 more years and out..."

Re:Shared Services Canada (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955777)

You talking about transformation? Seems like these guys have produced squat for the past +2 years.

Re:Shared Services Canada (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46955907)

Yes, Transformation/Horizonal. Utterly useless, all hot air and no actual work. 2 years+ with nothing to show other than slide deck and graph BS to feed lies to senior management.
 
At least within the portfolios they are getting traction, I've seen/heard of very good things happening in Social and Science. Finance is a dud. Not sure of Sec/GovOps. Most of Transformation could be shown the door tomorrow (not me, I'm great! :))

Even better is to have the gov. restore hiring. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 3 months ago | (#46955881)

Seriously, before Clinton and W gutting federal gov. hiring, they had top notch ppl, AND they were mostly secured. Now, we have spies all over via the contractor programs. Worse, many of them are inept, or brought in from India or China, leading to a serious brain drain.

So, time to restore hiring of decent employees.

And is business better? (2, Interesting)

Zalgon 26 McGee (101431) | about 3 months ago | (#46956135)

Government can't hide its mistakes as well as industry can. How many SAP implementations have delivered on time and on budget? How many other projects have cost companies millions more than planned?

Yes, government IT is bad, but its not unique in that...

Re:And is business better? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 3 months ago | (#46957011)

Yeah, it's hard to imagine what company the government could have gotten to make Healthcare.gov perfect. Would it have been Facebook? Think of all the bugs in Facebook, we're just lucky they don't have our credit card information.

Cautionary Tale (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46956245)

A friend of mine had hands on experience with a contract that was "done right." It was a standing offer arrangement to purchase computers within the government. Competitive bids, open competition, it all sounds A-OK, right?

It wasn't. My friend had to use some of those computers from the winning bidder. They were garbage. Something like 50% of them failed out of the box. Over the course of a year the failure rate approached 100%. The amount of wasted time and effort, and the costs of trying to get those computers serviced easily ate up the contract savings and more besides. The vendor proved as incompetent at repairing the systems as they were at initial assembly. Some of the computers literally never worked and were never repaired adequately.

And understand, the winning bidder was the low-cost bidder, just like the rules stipulated. No department was allowed to deviate from the standing offer, not even in the face of demonstrable vendor failure to provide a usable product.

Certainly you can say, the bid process should allow or even mandate that factors other than price determine a winning bid. However I'd bet a considerable sum of money that in this situation, those other factors were considered. And the winning vendor looked good enough to win based on that.

YMMV. I wouldn't ever say that every competitive bid is destined to fail, only that the process contain some safety mechanisms. Something to deal with unsatisfactory vendor performance.

You think a design feature is a bug??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46956461)

Government contracts are usually DESIGNED for corruption. Have you ever actually READ a government RFQ (Request for Quote) or RFP (Request for proposal) for any technical thing? I have - MANY times. They are generally well-tailored so that only the vendor the government wants will have a product or service that exactly matches the "requirements" (and often only the exact item the government wants to buy will meet the "requirements"). This is one of the most important ways that crony-capitalism works.

1. Airplane builder shows politician its airplanes (and reminds him many of his votors depend on those jobs).

2. Congress tells company, its investors, and employees that they NEED him in office to assure thir "fair access" to government contracts, etc.

3. Congressman gets campaign contributions.

4. Pentagon needs new planes.

5. Congressman uses power to let pentagon know how great planes that "just happen to be from his district" are.

6. Pentagon understands it may not get money from congress to buy any other planes but law requires a bidding process, so it crafts RFPs and RFQs to precisely fit planes from congressman's district.

7. Competitors browse RFQs and RFPs and quickly see no potential because it would cost too much to make their plane match precise requirements (which are probably not tied to actual mission requirements that their planes would be perfectly capable of meeting or exceeding) so competitors either do not bid or only bid as a way to keep a toe-in-the-water.

8. Pentagon, via "completely open" process, buys exactly the product the vendor in the congressman's district wanted it to buy, and the public is none-the-wiser.

Big Government and Big Business at play.... lubricated with corruption, and spread through every department, agency, etc. so broadly that the public cannot keep enough eyes on all of it. It's completely normal and unstoppable as long as government is big and involved in everything. If you could scale the federal government WAY down to just what it was supposed to do, then the corruption opportunities (which would STILL exist) would would be far fewer and therefore more-easily monitored. Oh, and it's absolutely NOT just in the pentagon (as in my example), the Obama administration injected outreach groups into the Obamacare system in such a way that many of their activist groups, like the former ACORN and SEIU, got the business (and access to federal money). Nothing new here at all.

Disgusting exploitation of talent (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46957543)

The contracting system seems to work like this: Contracting company bids for a job, and gets the contract. They then spam job sites looking for someone who has the skills to do the job. The company takes its cut off the top of their lowball bid, and pays the software developer whatever is left. I see this as exploitative and would not work for this system. At least in the private sector, there's no middle man skimming money out of a developer's paycheck. The contracting system is designed to self-select people who can't get jobs any other way, so no wonder government IT projects are tragic. If they want better software, why not reform this exploitative setup and attract a better level of talent? The utter failure of the government health care site was no big surprise, it was just in the public eye.

There's regulations, you know. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46957565)

I buy stuff like this for a living for the DoD. There's aspects that are included in the FAR and DFARS that we can't get around. First and foremost is the Trade Agreements Act, or TAA, as specified in the FAR 52.225-5. It means we don't buy from a vendor unless they can guarantee the product is made/substantially transformed in a country that falls into 1 of 4 categories: World Trade Organization, Free Trade Agreement Countries (think NAFTA, CAFTA), Least Developed Countries, or Caribbean Basin Countries. There's additional rules for DoD after that, including stuff along the lines of, "must be a friendly nation" unless there's nothing available that is similar in those countries. Also of particular 'fun' for contracting folks: data rights. If Contractor A develops software for the Navy to, say, run the on-ship electronics, they get to keep the data rights for 5 years! So, when Navy needs an upgrade to the software to add capability for a new type of missile in THREE years, there's only one source to go to. THEN, the data rights for that upgrade get a NEW 5 year clock.
When we try negotiating out the data rights to let Navy procure software upgrades or even a new system and provide Best Value, we get the DFARS clause thrown right back at us, and then the initial contract cost skyrockets. To make matters worse, let's say we waited 5 years, and then decided to create a new effort since the data rights have expired. Guess who still has to buy that data from the Contractor.

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