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Army of Davids Beats Pentagon Procurement

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the many-hands-make-smart-work dept.

Hardware Hacking 412

chris-chittleborough writes "The Wall Street Journal reports that 'a Marine officer in Iraq, a small network-design company in California, a nonprofit troop-support group, a blogger and other undeterrable folk designed a handheld insurgent-identification device, built it, shipped it and deployed it in [Iraq] in 30 days.' Compare this to the Automated Biometric Identification System, a multi-megabuck Pentagon project now 2 years old. With bureaucracy increasingly strangling innovation, will agile smaller businesses be able to accomplish what once required a sprawling government project?"

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There must be a typo. (4, Funny)

EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952576)

You used "government" and "innovation" in the same sentence.

Re:There must be a typo. (5, Funny)

jonnythan (79727) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952650)

They used "strangling" in the same sentence, so it's OK.

Re:There must be a typo. (2, Insightful)

jaymzru (1005177) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952758)

What's more, it was "sprawling government project" and "strangling innovation" which carry enough pejorative connotation to make the juxtaposition permissible.

It's not just government (4, Insightful)

spun (1352) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953572)

Large corporations also suffer from beaurocracy and inflexibility. I can't believe I'm saying this being as lefty-liberal as I am, but the difference is that companies follow a natural life cycle. They start out small and agile, get bigger through success against their less nimble rivals, become less nimble themselves, and get beaten in their turn. Government has no natural rivals and thus never dies. It just shambles on, zombie-like.

I'll put that down to people's fear of not being able to support themselves, and thus being unable to let go of a job even if that job is no longer relevant. Perhaps if rights to food, clothing and shelter were garaunteed, government departments that had outlived their usefulness would be less resistant to being dissolved.

Whew! Almost let a pro-capitalist thought slip through unchallenged. ;-)

American Spirit at it's best (4, Insightful)

with_him (815684) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952582)

A great story of how I won't take no for an answer solves problems. I just hope, and bet, it will save lives on the ground in Iraq.

Re:American Spirit at it's best (0, Flamebait)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952656)

I be more impressed if they designed a way to ship all Americans OUT of Iraq in 30 days. Don't take "no" for an answer to that problem either.

Re:American Spirit at it's best (1)

JavaLord (680960) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952724)

Take it up with the democratic congress, odds are you voted for them and they aren't doing what you wanted.

Re:American Spirit at it's best (1)

Critical Facilities (850111) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952842)

I wouldn't count your chickens just yet.

Re:American Spirit at it's best (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17953222)

I have.... zero chickens!
Or do frozen parts count?

Re:American Spirit at it's best (1)

bberens (965711) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953264)

I certainly don't mean to sound as if I'm defending any democrats here, but it is the President and President alone who holds the office of Commander In Chief. Congress can destroy the funding but they cannot bring troops home.

Re:American Spirit at it's best (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952792)

> I be more impressed if they designed a way to ship all Americans OUT of Iraq in 30 days. Don't take
> "no" for an answer to that problem either.

The Americans will occupy Iraq until public opinion forces them out. So it's up to the public. Little gadgets like this won't make any difference. When people are prepared to kill themselves, arresting them (assuming you're getting the right ones) only delays the inevitable.

Re:American Spirit at it's best (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953188)

Yes, let's let Iraq devolve into an open bloodbath and become the next Afghanistan and Somalia, combined.

Re:American Spirit at it's best (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953250)

Yes, let's let Iraq devolve into an open bloodbath


You mean compared to what it is now with only 100 people a day being killed, right?

Apples & Oranges? (5, Insightful)

winkydink (650484) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952614)

So does their device withstand extremes of temperature duration both
operation and storage? High humidity? Is it impervious to dust?
How does it handle shock and vibration?

20+ years ago, I worked for a company that designed & manufactured
power supplies for the military. It's one thing to design a quick
& dirty one-off, proof-of-concept. It's quite another to build a
production device that will withstand continued use in a multitude
of military environments.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (0, Troll)

HomelessInLaJolla (1026842) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952646)

Following on the parent's questions...

> So does their device withstand extremes

of judgemental bias in the user?

> Is it impervious

to prejudice?

Re:Apples & Oranges? (1)

winkydink (650484) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952666)

>How does it handle

ignorance?

Re:Apples & Oranges? (0, Flamebait)

HomelessInLaJolla (1026842) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952716)

Ooooh! That's a good one [wikipedia.org] . Do you feel better?

Re:Apples & Oranges? (0, Troll)

Rei (128717) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952734)

Of course it is. Didn't you see the picture that went with it? They were fingerprinting "bad guys". How do we know that they're bad guys? Why, because US troops were fingerprinting them, obviously. It's not like the US goes and rounds up entire villages after attacks or anything.

Perhaps they could apply this to traffic crimes as well. I'd love to see them fingerprint whatever maniac was driving this vehicle [youtube.com] . Perhaps they could revoke this guy [youtube.com] 's pilot license as well. Wait, wait -- scratch that last one. Those people were probably fingerprinted remotely.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (0)

silentounce (1004459) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952830)

Simple question... have you actually been to Iraq in the last four years? If you haven't then I suggest you refrain from speaking about that which you do not know.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953018)

So why don't you tell us what the troops were doing? If they were out of line, then they deserve discipline. If they were rounding up villages, they deserve prison. We have standards, bud.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (5, Insightful)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953300)

No. We should listen to the people who've been there, but we will absolutely not refrain from speaking just because we haven't. Do you have opinions about Vietnam? Kosovo? Sudan? The Civil War? Stem-cell research? Environmental policy? Do you think you should be disqualified from expressing or advocating a position simply because you weren't in those places or actively engaged in those research projects?

I hear your line of commentary a lot. The experience of people who are there and who have been there is important, but everyone's individual experience is still just that - it doesn't give an overview, you may miss very important features of the situation that didn't occur where you are (and, of course, it leaves out the experiences of Iraqis). Asking your experiences to be taken seriously is important. Trying to quell discussion based on those experiences is wrong.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (1)

Elemenope (905108) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953568)

You got friended for that one. ;)

Re:Apples & Oranges? (0, Troll)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953262)

Of course it is. Didn't you see the picture that went with it? They were fingerprinting "bad guys". How do we know that they're bad guys? Why, because US troops were fingerprinting them, obviously.

Wait a minute... I'm confused... the US troops were fingerprinting each other?

Doesn't their government do that to them before they send them over?

Infantry proof (4, Informative)

wiredog (43288) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952702)

That's what we called it when I was in the Army in the mid-80's. The PRC-77 was the size of a briefcase, carried on your back, and fairly pricey. Cost far more than handheld walkie talkies that operated on the same freqs. But the PRC-77 was far more robust. When it's raining artillery, robust is what you want.

Re:Infantry proof (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952874)

Ah, the PRC-77. You could drop an HEA shell on them and they'd keep working.

Re:Infantry proof (5, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953196)

The problem is that military technology is falling behind consumer technology. For example, many troops are carrying consumer GPS units because the military units (which can actually be more accurate) are too difficult to acquire and use. It's a lot easier for the troops to get large shipments of consumer GPS units w/spares that do what they need them to rather than waiting for the contracter to finish building an improved model after the war is over.

Another way of thinking of the situation is like this: Is it better to have a piece of equipment that might break rather than having no equipment at all?

If the answer is "yes", then a stopgap solution like the one in the article needs to be deployed immediately. If the answer is "no, it would be worse than having nothing" then the troops should make due without.

Re:Infantry proof (3, Interesting)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953422)

But the PRC-77 was far more robust.

And naturally, after the PRC-77 run was over, every engineer that made it robust was taken out back and shot, and the plans shredded, pulped and incinerated, and the contractor began working on the PRC-78, spending 5 years trying to figure out just how to make it robust.

In the real world, robustness is solved. Engineers don't need half a decade to build some contraption that can take a licking and keep on ticking, they just have to look at the previous designs and apply the same techniques to a modern device. But hey, when its the government's money, spending 2 months researching 400 different types of rubber grommets to determine which one works best for shock absorbing because, you know, physics might have changed in the last year or so, is a perfectly reasonable idea.

It Is My Experience (4, Insightful)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952738)

That the quick and dirty app working now usually trumps the super-duper uber app that may get built in 3 or 4 years.

Re:It Is My Experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17953352)

AH! So that's why I keep running Windows! I knew there was a reason all attempts to switch to Linux end up in a day reinstalling Windows and all upgrades and patches necessary.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (1)

Normal Dan (1053064) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952804)

My guess is these problems will be found and fixed in time. This looks like an important device they should have had years ago. They now have something that works and they are going to want more. As the demand increases, they will have the money to build it better and test it more thoroughly. It doesn't matter if it can't withstand weeks of dust, humidity and heat, it's a device we need sooner than later. Also note, it's about the database and filling that database. If a device breaks, no big deal, we get a new one. The database can withstand the heat and dust, hopefully.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (4, Interesting)

bluekanoodle (672900) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952848)

Take the google example to extreme, build the system of out cogs, and when a cog breaks replace it. Granted some things need to be military spec, but these devices are being used in a law enforcement style capacity, not a chugging through the brush for 20 days role. Just like the police style equipment this is modeled from, the users of the system are never more then a couple of hours aways from the base of operations that a replacement part can't be substituted. whats important is to ensure the units are interchangeable and that you keep sufficient stock on hand.

In any case, having something like this that has not had extensive field trials is better then what they had before, which was nothing. The problem with the military procurement system, is that everything has to go thrugh the same process, regardless of whether its a 200 handheld unit, or a 1 million dollar vehicle. This does not allow the agility that the private sector can afford.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (1)

bkr1_2k (237627) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952918)

Designing for environment isn't hard, it's just expensive. Having a working prototype will allow them to get real funding (and fast) to pay for environmentally capable productio models. In the meantime, something that works part of the time (more often than not in most cases) is better than nothing at all.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (1)

mrzaph0d (25646) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953390)

allow them to get real funding (and fast)

err..you must be mistaken, they're talking about the government..

Re:Apples & Oranges? (2, Insightful)

ajlitt (19055) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953118)

RTFA: They did not design any new hardware. They put together an application to run on an off-the-shelf ruggedized fingerprint scanning PDA and a hardened (article isn't clear about what this means) laptop for database storage. The app isn't even from the ground-up: a police event tracking application was used as a base.

This goes to show that the Not Invented Here attitude of most government contractors is due to wanting to stretch out a contract rather than trying to make a more reliable design.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (1)

winkydink (650484) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953280)

I did RTFA. This thing is going to get dropped (a lot) on hard ground and in the sand, and probably in water for that matter. It will be left out overnight in who-knows what kind of elements, it's going to get left on the hood of the HMMV when somebody drives away. It will get tossed in somebody's pack and that pack will then get tossed who-knows where and who-knows how hard. Are you getting the picture?

Re:Apples & Oranges? (1)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953382)

And that's why you have spares.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (2, Insightful)

Terminal Saint (668751) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953218)

A good solution now is better than a perfect solution two years from now. I'd rather have one of these devices that breaks down occasionally than go without until it's perfected.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (1)

MECC (8478) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953228)

I had a friend who was deployed to Iraq a couple of years ago. He carried an iBook for a year and a half through the worst of it. A large zip-lock bag was how he got it through the desert. It didn't break down.

He found a way. They can too.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (1)

soft_guy (534437) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953246)

The important thing is that if the device can save lives but is not perfect in every way that it be denied to our troops forever lest its imperfection save fewer lives than it might have had it been perfect. Thus, our troops should have nothing. In fact, let's send them naked and unarmed to Iraq lest their clothes or weapons fail.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953408)

For a comparison, valid or invalid to occur, there has to be something to compare this against. We have a prototype that is probably rugged enough for law enforcement use, but not rugged enough to meet military specs. But as far as I can tell, we're comparing this against having no device at all. I think that's a clear win for the device. And this isn't something that has to be that reliable (as another replier noted). It's not life-threatening if it breaks in the field and most of the time, they'll be able to pick up a spare.

Re:Apples & Oranges? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17953502)

RTFA-It is for the Iraqi POLICE, not the U.S. Army. The degree of ruggedization required is different.

The answer is yes.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17952626)

Big business controlls all. Think about the billions of dollars of waste in iraq.. our taxpayer money. A couple days ago i read that the government shipped 4 BILLION DOLLARS IN CASH on palletes over to iraq. What kind of moron government does that? Now how much of that 4 billion in unaccounted cash has been dipped in by insurgents, our own government, and hell probably even our own troops. (pallate of cash worth millions, no one is watching, its human nature sadly). Anyhow beyond all that, the decisions in iraq are made with heart and not thought. Small businesses can't make the money the Halliburtons makes, but maybe they care more about the troops than Halliburton..

even for hard things, less seems more (2, Interesting)

yagu (721525) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952632)

I once learned (or was taught) at a consortium if you (as a corporation) couldn't build a new major application/suite of applications in six months, you shouldn't do it. I think the message wasn't that if the task was more than six months it was too hard... the message (in my interpretation) was you should find a better way to get to your endpoint, i.e., in a business setting you had to be more "agile" (sorry).

I think this is even more true for this example. Bigger organizations (and they don't seem to get more bigger than the government, eh?) beget less ability to:

  • decide what you need
  • design it
  • create it
  • deliver it

When lives are at stake it is even more/most glaring. It would be nice to see the government (whoever that is) take a lesson from this. However, different pieces of the government maintain a stranglehold grip on their turf and are generally loathe to loosen that grip.

Less is more, but it's hard to convince the more to let the less get 'er done.

Re:even for hard things, less seems more (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17952722)

I once learned (or was taught) at a consortium if you (as a corporation) couldn't build a new major application/suite of applications in six months, you shouldn't do it.

If that were an absolute law, the games industry would have ceased to operate around 1995 or so.

Re:even for hard things, less seems more (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17952958)

Duke Nukem Forever (DNF) is a first-person shooter video game being developed by 3D Realms, and is the next game in the Duke Nukem series. It is notable for its protracted development schedule, which began in 1997, and still has no definitive release date, apart from the oft-quoted "When it's done."
- [url:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Nukem_Forev er]
1997, not your "1995"...

Or were you thinking of a different game? :P

I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-The-Legal-System! (2, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952634)

Now without all of those pesky "legal restraints", "checks and balances", and "aquittals"! Now, when you round up every male between the ages of 16 and 70 after an attack and have them fingerprinted, everyone else will know that they're all suspected terrorists.

Re:I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-The-Legal-System! (1, Flamebait)

El Torico (732160) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953000)

Actually, the insurgency would have been over very quickly if every male between 16 and 70 had been executed. Of course, that would be a monstrous atrocity, but it would be effective. After all, Rome didn't get much grief from Carthage after the Third Punic War. Fingerprinting doesn't seem so harsh in comparison.

Re:I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-The-Legal-System! (1)

killjoe (766577) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953494)

Why aim so much higher then the lowest point in history? Sure fingerprinting is better then killing but then so is castration or mutilation. Why not just castrate all the males after all it doesn't seem so harsh in comparison. Better yet why not rape them and the cut off their legs it doesn't seem so harsh in comparison to the third punic war.

Re:I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-The-Legal-System! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17953308)

Not to mention that fingerprinting is very hard to use even when you're not in a battlefield situation: Lawyer wrongly arrested in bombings: 'We lived in 1984'
PORTLAND, Oregon (CNN) -- The U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday it is paying $2 million and apologizing to an Oregon lawyer wrongly accused of being involved with the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Spain. Brandon Mayfield was arrested in Portland on a material witness warrant in May 2004, less than two months after the bombings. According to an FBI affidavit at the time, his fingerprint was identified as being on a blue plastic bag containing detonators found in a van used by the bombers. The FBI's fingerprint identification was wrong, however, and Mayfield was released several days later.
http://www.cnn.com/2006/LAW/11/29/mayfield.suit/in dex.html [cnn.com]

Erroneous Fingerprint Individualizations -- Why do they occur?
Most recently, Dr. Dror was interviewed by the BBC on his research in erroneous "fingerprint identifications" and how they are caused.. Dr. Dror has given us permission to provide a link to the source where the entire interview can be heard and observed. Click on: http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~id/bbc.html [soton.ac.uk]
http://forensic-evidence.com/site/ID/Err_fingerpri nt.html [forensic-evidence.com]

I find it hard to believe that these grunts are in any way trained to the level of the FBI's experts and even if they were it'd still be damned hard to identify people from their fingerprints as shown by the frequent misidentifications made by the best FBI and other LEA people.

This is just over-blown propaganda from people with a product trying to get a chance to suckle at the government teat and at the same time trying to dress it up as "not part of the government" and "doing something for the troops".

Ineffective and mendacious hypocrites is probably what they are, but to be charitable they may just be fools.

This is the entire problem with "cheap combat" (5, Interesting)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952638)

Something tells me that if we drafted the appropriate industries to build a *REAL* military industrial complex, and punished profiteering adequately in the first place, our troops could have had this technology (instead of a stupid deck of playing cards) in 2002, instead of waiting until 2007 for it to be delivered. But since Bush doesn't want to impact the profitability of this war, we have to wait for a significantly patriotic David to identify who the enemy is. It's exactly this lack of vision that has turned Afghanistan back into a Taliban-controlled country and destroyed our success in Iraq.

Re:This is the entire problem with "cheap combat" (1)

artifex2004 (766107) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952998)

How does anyone, even with patriotism levels, identify who the enemy is [cagle.com] ?

Re:This is the entire problem with "cheap combat" (4, Insightful)

compro01 (777531) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953040)

well, we (Canada) are working on afganistan, though no one seems to want to help us with it. not meaning the US, as they have their hands full with iraq.

though this is yet another example of how damn effective gururla warfare is. the only time you tend to see terms like "dishonourable conduct" and "unfair tactics" is from the side that is not doing well.

if you don't buy that it is effective, consider that the enemy, armed with AK-47s, RPGs, high explosives, and dedication to their cause, are holding their own against what is likely the most expensive and advanced miltary in the world.

Re:This is the entire problem with "cheap combat" (2, Interesting)

soft_guy (534437) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953342)

if you don't buy that it is effective, consider that the enemy, armed with AK-47s, RPGs, high explosives, and dedication to their cause, are holding their own against what is likely the most expensive and advanced miltary in the world.
This is classic asymetric warfare. It is how the US was beaten in Vietnam and it is how the US is likely to be beaten in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Re:This is the entire problem with "cheap combat" (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953370)

though this is yet another example of how damn effective gururla warfare is. the only time you tend to see terms like "dishonourable conduct" and "unfair tactics" is from the side that is not doing well.

Traditional armies have been saying that about insurgents since at least the US war for independance. They didn't line up into neat rows and square off against British soldiers like they were expected to.

if you don't buy that it is effective, consider that the enemy, armed with AK-47s, RPGs, high explosives, and dedication to their cause, are holding their own against what is likely the most expensive and advanced miltary in the world.

Of course it's effective. They are using the tactics that the Americans trained and equipped them to use against the Soviets. And, they were good at it -- you'll notice the Societs eventually gave up and went home.

It's a higly effective set of tactics.

Cheers

Re:This is the entire problem with "cheap combat" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17953096)

I agree, from the start this war has been about making money, not protecting America. Personally, I'd suggest that Congress pass bush's war budget less $15 billion dollars. If he wants the rest of the money, he can faithfully execute the fraud and embezzlement laws to reclaim the $15 billion that's gone missing from the past 4 years of budgets. The weak claims that the fraud is taking place in Iraq and therefore not covered by US law fall on deaf ears when the government can have Russian programmers and British gamblers arrested just for passing through the country. Most of the CEOs of these companies are right here in the US. Start with KBR and Custer's Battles, the two most egregious offenders.

It's exactly this lack of vision that has turned Afghanistan back into a Taliban-controlled country and destroyed our success in Iraq.

Before any mods think this is some kind of troll, Afghanistan went back to making Christianity a capital offense less than a year ago [michellemalkin.com] . If the goal of the war in Afghanistan was to spend American tax money, it was a success. By any other measure, it was a complete and utter failure. It is still an extremist-controlled Islamic nation, and when they're done with the Christians inside their borders, they're going to be coming after the rest of them, with the guns and bombs that the US gave them and trained them to use.

Re:This is the entire problem with "cheap combat" (4, Insightful)

Skadet (528657) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953186)

But since Bush doesn't want to impact the profitability of this war[. . .]
Wait, do we hate Bush because he's spending too much money on the war, or because he didn't finance it enough to let the troops do their job? I'm so confused!

Re:This is the entire problem with "cheap combat" (1)

bluemonq (812827) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953290)

Both. We hate Bush because he wanted to spend money in Iraq instead of finishing up Afghanistan first, but then he made it worse by risking the situation and not backing the Iraq theater 100%.

Re:This is the entire problem with "cheap combat" (2, Insightful)

E++99 (880734) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953552)

Something tells me that if we drafted the appropriate industries to build a *REAL* military industrial complex, and punished profiteering adequately in the first place, our troops could have had this technology (instead of a stupid deck of playing cards) in 2002, instead of waiting until 2007 for it to be delivered. But since Bush doesn't want to impact the profitability of this war, we have to wait for a significantly patriotic David to identify who the enemy is. It's exactly this lack of vision that has turned Afghanistan back into a Taliban-controlled country and destroyed our success in Iraq.

You have it completely backwards. It is free enterprise that can move with agility and innovate, and which has done so in this case. And it is the overwhelming regulation required with any complex Federally controlled enterprise which strangles it. So, no, the idea that some fascist, command-economy, profit-punishing, military-industrial complex would out-innovate what we have now, is COMPLETELY NUTS.

gov't never as efficient as business (4, Insightful)

gravesb (967413) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952676)

The government will never be as efficient as a business. This is especially true in procurement, where there are enormous safeguards to try and restrict corruption. Of course, these safeguards don't always work. But they have been added over time as people learned to cheat the system, and are there for a reason. What we lose in agility we gain, somewhat, in transperency and review. Its a trade-off, and it makes the article's contention a truism. Its also intentional.

Re:gov't never as efficient as business (1)

kurthr (30155) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952940)

I actually agree with much of what you're saying, but in this case the government basically is a business.
I think there's a bit less internal corruption in business, because there's more money to be made taking it from outsiders rather than the internal budget. There is more external corruption (Enron et al), because if you can rip off your customers or the stockholders that's where the BIG money is. Embezzlement and kickbacks are usually small timers in sales and accounting.

If you've worked for a really big business and the governtment, you'll notice that they're not really much different.

Re:gov't never as efficient as business (1)

wol (10606) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953042)

Which is not to say that businesses are always efficient in the short run. In the long run the inefficient ones either become a monopoly (in which case they can become even more inefficient) or they go out of business. And yes, inefficient businesses can still become a monopoly through various means, no matter what an economics professor in college might tell undergraduates. The reason that governments can be inefficient is they are a monopoly.

Re:gov't never as efficient as business (1)

MrSteveSD (801820) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953068)

Efficiency is not always the best thing for the consumer though, which is something governments never talk about when they want to privatize things. For example, since privatisation, the trains where I live have been getting shorter and shorter, so people really have to cram in now. It's more efficient for the train company since they don't need to purchase as many carriages, but their improved efficiency has been at the expense of customer comfort.

Re:gov't never as efficient as business (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17953532)

"The government will never be as efficient as a business. This is especially true in procurement, where there are enormous safeguards to try and restrict corruption."

i'm not sure why people keep saying this. government is business now. we hire an army of consultants at 5x the cost per person that a government employee costs.

and those safeguards aren't the problem - the problem is that the metrics used to detect corruption don't work.

the wrong question (2, Interesting)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952692)

With bureaucracy increasingly strangling innovation, will agile smaller businesses be able to accomplish what once required a sprawling government project?

I think a better question is: "Are sprawling government projects and bureaucracy really necessary?

Re:the wrong question (1)

qwijibo (101731) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952826)

Do you have a better idea to keep the utterly incompetant from turning to a life of crime? I thought the whole point of these projects was to keep those people away from projects that could work if they didn't get involved.

I wish we could. (3, Insightful)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952728)

If my login wasn't clue enough...

I've had so many negative experiences when dealing with governmental customers. While there is a lot of blame to be laid on the large companies, I can't fathom (or rather I don't want to) how much money has been wasted by people who really don't understand what they want, or how much it will cost to actually get what they want.

I've spent months doing work only to have it erased by the customer, worked another month, only to have them revert back to the origin. Only then do they discover that you can't just 'go back' once production has started without huge costs.

Or maybe they do understand it, but just don't care.

device not about saving lives (-1, Flamebait)

nickhart (1009937) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952732)

this silly device will not save lives and is a waste of time & money. the only device troops need to identify an "insurgent" (read: any person defending their homeland from an illegal foreign occupation) are their eyeballs. the vast majority of Iraqis (and Afghanis) want the US out of their country now (not to mention the vast majority of US troops want to be out now, along with the US public--so much for "democracy").

Re:device not about saving lives (1)

ZZfoxELITE (897076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952992)

I think they might need a little more than thier eyeballs. What about the time the american troops shot up a BBC Van covered in BBC identification and stickers? What about the recent "hero" in his plane taking out a british soldier? What we need on the battlefield is real identification of targets. This device is probably a good implementation of such a device, but more similar are needed. obviously he can't just rig up a load and sell them however.

Re:device not about saving lives (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953112)

I think I have a minor correction. The "friendly fire" incident you're probably refering to happened during the invasion in 2003. It took this long for the video to come to light.

Re:device not about saving lives (1)

nickhart (1009937) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953154)

uh, no--what we NEED to do is vacate this battlefield that we created and have NO right to be on.

Don't feed the monster! (1)

toupsie (88295) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952740)

Oh man, do you know how many puppies will be blended [www.imao.us] because of this article's title [amazon.com] ! Don't feed the monster!

Beware of the Source (2, Insightful)

mattbadass (165861) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952742)

In situations like this, I would be careful the source. This is coming from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which is extraordinarily conservative. I'm not saying that this isn't a shameful example of the Pentagon getting bogged down in bureaucracy. But anything coming out of the Wall St Journal's editorial board smacks of political agenda. In this case "government == bad. free enterprise == good". And this is one of the directors of the editorial board to boot.

Just my 3 cents.

I thought they already... (1)

Its_My_Hair (703796) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952770)

had a system for this [about.com] .

Gold Platting (3, Insightful)

Hangtime (19526) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952816)

There is a difference between trying to get everything perfect and good enough. This is good enough. Waiting around trying to figure out how to get all this networked isn't it going to help.

Just try cutting off the gravy train... (4, Interesting)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952832)

The moment you try to limit funding to a wasteful Pentagon program you're accused of hating the troops.

And so it goes.

The standard rip against wasteful education spending is, "You can't just throw money at a problem and expect it to be fixed!"

Yet that's done 10x with the military and no one bats an eye.

A little hyperbole (1, Flamebait)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952840)

Problem: If a cop in Anytown, USA, pulls over a suspect, he checks the person's ID remotely from the squad car. He's linked to databases filled with Who's Who in the world of crime, killing and mayhem. In Iraq, there is nothing like that. When our troops and the Iraqi army enter a town, village or street, what they know about the local bad guys is pretty much in their heads, at best.

Solution: Give our troops what our cops have. The Pentagon knows this. For reasons you can imagine, it hasn't happened.


I do police RMS systems for a living. They don't have all this most magic of technology. Usually, roadside, the cop will radio in to the dispatcher to have them run an NCIC check, although increasingly they have the infrastructure to put this on a laptop in the car.

Anyways, more on topic, it isnt about the government not being able to develop this device. The government doesnt develop such devices, we do, in fact we sell something quite similar. Governments have to bid contracts and select one. The problem, as presented in TFA, is that they are trying to fight a war with peacetime procurement rules.

It's not "hurr US too stupid to make a database", it's "dems dont want to let them have the funding they need".

Besides, aren't you guys going to freak out about the privacy implications of a database that people can put names in? ONE THATS USE BY DUN DUN DUNNNN THE US GOVERNMENT?!

The DEMs do support it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17952936)

Nancy Pelosi just wants her Silicon Valley financers to get a piece of the action ... and let's increase the H1B quota while we're at it. The newly unemployed Americans can serve as cannon fodder .... er ... ah ... biometric machine operators in Anbar province.

Re:A little hyperbole (4, Insightful)

illegalcortex (1007791) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953030)

dems dont want to let them have the funding they need
So, tell me again how the dems managed to cause this problem when they were utterly out of power for the last for the last decade. Oh, and for the last six years the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress with enough votes to pass anything other than mandatory baby sacrifices and had a president that would sign any bill sent to him?

Those lousy Democrats sure are crafty...

Re:A little hyperbole (1)

Gropo (445879) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953474)

Oh, silly illegalcortex! The Republicans were anticipating the congressional takeover by the Dems, thus they knew any measure they took towards a proactive, less wasteful military budget would just get flushed down the tubes anyways. (Democrats just love themselves a big, wasteful, no-bid contracting military after all) So they didn't bother. They didn't waste valuable floor time on futile measures, because Republicans honor the desires of their constituents far more often than the companies that benefit from military contracts. It's the Republican way!

*excuse me while i go throw up after that big Conservative double speak sandwich. Does that make me bullemic?

Re:A little hyperbole (1)

hyperstation (185147) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953212)

you know what? i don't like NCIC too much either. why the hell should any cop on the beat have access to everything i've ever been in trouble for, aside from current warrants and probation?

Nope (3, Informative)

kurthr (30155) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952860)

"will agile smaller businesses be able to accomplish what once required a sprawling government project?"

No, because they don't have the political power to actually get large contracts. Their larger competitors will use their influence on legislators to get "written in" to large budget bills. Can you say, "No bid contract"? Their less scrupulous competitors will bribe legislators or military procurement. We've already seen this in Iraq with everything from oil and water, to flack jackets.

The most insidious tool that's used are the absurd design requirements documents. They set out an often completely unnecessary set of requirements that often only one company, or perhaps two very large companies can provide. This keeps any bidding process "under control". What will be delivered may not even meet those requirements, but only after years of delays, "best effort", and disappointment. The only good thing that seems to come out of the larger projects are the much derided "slush funds" that let individuals actually innovate without being put under this absurd process.

Why is it set up this way? Is there a better way with the Bureaucracy we have? Is tearing it down the way to go? Good questions. DARPA and some small programs try to fix this around the edges, but something with this much money in it will always draw the crooks.

NASA is subject to the same pitfalls. It just costs less money, and fewer people die.

Now taking bets (0, Troll)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952876)

How long will it take for the government to forbid the use of the new device?

Two problems: org size and gov't creativity (3, Insightful)

jofny (540291) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952896)

Yeah, smaller companies distribute and process information more effectively, so they are almost always better suited to developing new things than the government or the large contractors. However, producing old things repeatably to the same spec and with organizational resiliancy is something smaller companies have a harder time doing, so from a long term perspective it's not a clear win for smaller companies.

The only time the government really beats out private industry (and to a greater extent, larger orgs beat out smaller ones) on new technology innovation is when it's a money issue (the materials really do cost billions of dollars). As technology has gotten cheaper and become more accessible, that advantage has slowly disappeared.

A larger issue than size, though, is that governments (most of them, this one in particular) tend to recruit homogenous workforces and encourage groupthink. Workers are encouraged (directly or through lack of promotions, harassment, etc.) to "fit in" at an institutional level. So, it's not surprising that the government is not as innovative as other places.

People lately are often heard saying that the US government doesn't "pay enough" to get good people. I dont know about you all, but I'd give up a little pay to work on interesting projects and with good people. The government's problem is that it doesn't -like- people who are creative, innovative, and different and actively selects them out - not the pay.

Think of the children (4, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952898)

We know that we can build equal equipment cheaper and faster, but just think of the children of the KBR executives that will not receive a tropical island for christmas because some do goodder was more interested in protecting troops than Haliburton profits. I mean, my god, if our desire was to simply stop terrorism we would have another president right now, and probably would have put bin laden on trail rather than hussain.

There's a difference (5, Funny)

CaffeineAddict2001 (518485) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952920)

The government doesn't spend $10 on a screw. They spend $10 on an M2.5 truss head stainless steel threaded fastening device.

The next time you consider government healthcare.. (0, Offtopic)

MBraynard (653724) | more than 7 years ago | (#17952934)

Remember this story.

Free Market > Government Mandate

Re:The next time you consider government healthcar (1)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953472)

I'm quite certain you've never seen a free market in health care.

Re:The next time you consider government healthcar (1)

fishybell (516991) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953514)

I know I shouldn't feed the troll, but here I go:


As you seem to be talking about healthcare here, I'll put the whole free market vs gov't in perspective. The most "free market" healthcare system in the world, America's, seems pretty good except for a couple of things: a) cost, and b) availability. In the US the poorest and the neediest get to ride the train for free, as it would be impossible to pay for healthcare on their own. The upper class effectively rides the train for free as well because a very small percentage of their income goes to healthcare (especially as there is a maximum tax for medicare). The middle class get's screwed with large bills to cover not just their own private insurance, but also pays into the social medicare/medicaid that they can't use because they earn too much. As far as availability goes, it's even worse. Only certain hospitals are covered by medicare, only certain doctors accept it. Why? Because they charge too much and the gov't says "whoa...no way man." If a rich person needs a pacemaker installed, he can choose the finest cardiovascular surgeon in the country. If a pensioner requires the same procedure he'd have to settle for whatever surgeon is available at his local hospital. The middle class man needing a pacemaker had better sell his house because the insurance company will try they're damndest to screw him over; and they'll likely win.


Let's compare this all to a social healthcare system. The government pays for all non-elective procedures, all follow up medicine, and all preventive care, and they do it for everyone, rich, poor, and in-between. The best part too? Everyone pays their fair share. The poor pay little to nothing, the middle class family would pay roughly what they pay now for insurance premiums, and the rich would pay a non-capped percentage of their income. In the end, everyone pays a little less as there are no insurance companys needing to make a profit. I'm not saying a company doesn't deserve the right to try and make a profit, just that a company who maximize their profits on the suffering of their clients (see Katrina for many examples) shouldn't be allowed to operate.

Security hole (1)

gizmo_mathboy (43426) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953058)

All I could think of is that they found a nice security hole into Iraq.

It's the system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17953132)

Any time you have one group of people buying things for another group of people you are guaranteed a mess. It doesn't matter if it's .gov, .mil or .com.

The solution is to let the people who need it buy it. The problem with all of the above is that .gov & .mil know they will have a career afterwards selling into their organizations so they are picked and pick people who play the game. Again since it's not their lives on the line what do they care.

Why? (2, Insightful)

vic-traill (1038742) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953144)

So, call me an ignorant foreigner (I'm Canadian), but why are US military forces doing the job of a domestic police force in a middle-eastern country?

I swear to god I'm not trolling - but for the life of me, I don't understand why you're shipping guys halfway around the world to do someone else's job.

Re:Why? (1)

jofny (540291) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953336)

Because what happens over there affects you, me, and the future of our respective countries. A government's mandate is to protect the interests of its people. Therefore, the US is over there doing what the present incarnation of its government believes is protecting its interests. Whether or not you agree the US is doing a good job of protecting its interests, whether it caused the problem in the first place, should legally be allowed to be there, whatever...it's hard to argue that the futures of the US and most of the rest of the world (from economic and military perspectives) are not completely intertwined with what happens there.

Whether it's a good idea for the US to be there is arguable. Their reasons for being there, though, are crystal clear.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17953604)

Whether it's a good idea for the US to be there is arguable. Their reasons for being there, though, are crystal clear.
In other news from Bizarro Land, Up is down!

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17953394)

For the same reason American GIs were policing Germany and Japan 60 years ago.

Americans are stupid .. they can't do a war the way war was supposed to be done - kick someones ass , be as ruthless and bloody as you need to be until there is nothing left and they are willing to give up or at least not to mess around with you anymore.

No stupid nation-building or anything like that.

You either go to war and that means maximum destruction (for that saves lives in the long run as opposed to so called measured response) or you don't go to war in your are not willing to do what's required to win a war and the cause is not worth the destruction.

It is not a "major war" (4, Insightful)

paiute (550198) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953236)

Trying to fight a "major war"? We are not at war and have not been since 1945.

FailZors... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17953312)

bunch of gay negros your replieS rather

article is an oversimplification (5, Insightful)

finlandia1869 (1001985) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953448)

IAANAT (I Am A Navy Acquisition Type). Don't give me the "ditching the peacetime acquisition system would fix this" argument - innumerable, half-assed products are developed and dumped on the troops during wartime in the name of getting things to the field quickly. They get fixed only after it catches fire and kills the crew. Or they don't work after falling in salt water. Or something like that. Wartime is no better. Troops in the field always want the latest and greatest Right Now; they don't care that 79 other guys are asking for the same thing, but a little different, resulting in 80 incompatible systems that each carry their own, unique logistics tail.

I also can say that the big contractors are indispensable for some things. Lockheed Martin maintains and updates the monster that is Aegis, for example. David has no ability to do this. Maybe an army of Davids overseen by LockMart acting as lead integrator, but otherwise no.

The acquisition process has serious problems, don't get me wrong. But anecdotes don't make a good argument.

News of the Obvious (2, Insightful)

jalefkowit (101585) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953498)

It's news that a small group of committed individuals moves faster than Department of Defense procurement? Continental drift moves faster than Department of Defense procurement.

It can take decades for a new weapons system to go from concept to prototype to deployment. Look how long systems like the F-22 fighter [globalsecurity.org] were in the procurement pipe. The DoD procurement process is so lengthy that by the time the system is deployed, the threat it was designed to counter has often disappeared.

Interesting. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17953518)

Operating around the town of Khalidiya, north of Baghdad, Maj. West has been the leader of a team of nine U.S. soldiers advising an Iraqi brigade. This has been his second tour of duty in Iraq. When not fighting the Iraq war, he's an energy trader for Goldman Sachs in New York City.
  • conflict of interest
  • conflict and interest
  • interest in conflict
  • etc.
(Don't take this seriously: I'm not trying to make a statement, just playing around with language.)

what a surprise (1)

asleep79 (1002660) | more than 7 years ago | (#17953550)

everyone in business is familiar with the concept of playing chess by commitee. it doesn't work. any large beaurocratic organization is going to have increasing momentum and inherent inefficiency as it grows. all government wants to do is grow ... it's like a giant club of people who want the easy life of no responsibility, no fiscal goals and no reprecussions for not accomplishing anything. the huge companies of the world have similar problems, but the main difference is on some level they are required to be fiscally viable. otherwise, they'll run out of money eventually and fail. the government is required to do nothing but maintain status-quo. government has no need for innovation, new ideas, efficiency or even deadlines. they don't need these things because they are funded by the never-ending money tree that is taxes and their ability to constantly raise them to continue stuffing their "hard-working" pockets. it should surprise no one that the government can't deploy anything in a remotely reasonable amount of time, accomplish any of its goals or do anything worthwhile really. the real question is, why aren't smaller more agile companies beating the government on these projects more often?
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