Military computer upgrades 30 years behind schedule, cost $7 billion

Friday , June 22, 2012 - 4:53 PM

John Nolan

DAYTON, Ohio - Nine computer network upgrade projects across the Defense Department were collectively 30 years behind schedule and more than $7 billion over budget, government auditors have told Congress.

The problems first identified in 2010 persist, the auditors told lawmakers in a report this month.

The delayed programs include Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps projects, some of which were begun about a decade ago.

Among them are the stalled Expeditionary Combat Support System project, which maintains its management office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base outside Dayton and had been managed by Computer Sciences Corp. from nearby Beavercreek, Ohio. About 500 company or subcontractor employees were laid off locally after the company’s contract was terminated in September because of delays.

The Dayton Daily News began investigating the troubled project last year, examining decades of U.S. Government Accountability Office reports.

The cost overruns and missed schedules are typical of problems the Defense Department and its agencies have had for years with computer modernization projects, said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. She said it calls into question the Defense Department’s own stated goal of being able to produce audit-ready financial statements starting on Sept. 30, 2014, a deadline that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta moved up three years from the prior 2017 goal.

Inadequate planning, supervision and management of plans to replace systemwide business systems have led to some programs being abandoned, overhauled or delayed so long that the software technology has become obsolete, the GAO has told Congress in numerous reports in this and prior decades. Stalled or abandoned projects represent billions of dollars in taxpayer investments, according to the GAO, auditing and investigative arm of Congress.

Without more precise financial information about Defense Department operations, there are questions about whether the department has a reliable basis for budget planning and execution, said Asif A. Khan, a GAO official who oversees its audits of the defense system modernization projects. Problems that GAO described in detail in 2010 are still issues, he said.

"It’s a huge problem for DOD," Khan said in an interview. "You could be basing your decisions on false information."

The GAO has recommended scheduling, management and quality-assurance monitoring improvements. The Defense Department has agreed in writing to adopt most of them.

One particularly troubled category is the enterprise resource planning system, intended to be more economical because it uses commercially available off-the-shelf software. But the off-the-shelf technology often fails to meet the military’s unique management needs, outside experts have said.

The toll includes two prominent Air Force projects, the Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System (financial management and accounting) and the Expeditionary Combat Support System (logistics management and inventory ordering).

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is a focus of the work because it is a major control point for Air Force logistics, acquisition, and research and development.

The ECSS project, begun in 2004, had been managed by Computer Sciences Corp. from Beavercreek. It was intended to replace about 240 outdated computer systems across the Air Force with an integrated new one that would allow network-wide communication for improved tracking, management and assignment of inventory and personnel.

The Air Force stopped work on the project in September and is working on a report to restart it and establish a new completion date for deployment, likely to be in 2017 or later. That report is due to Congress in August.

The Air Force said this week that it will keep its ECSS program office at Wright-Patterson. The service also plans to consolidate its Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System office at Wright-Patterson, relocating part of it from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., to join with the management function already at Wright-Patterson.

Computer Sciences Corp. is no longer associated with ECSS, and the project’s approximately 500 local jobs were ended. The Air Force said $1 billion has already been spent, and said CSC’s problems in meeting deadlines led to the project’s halt. Officials said the new system is needed to reduce waste and lost time, and improve deployment and ordering of equipment and parts.

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Troubled history

Since 1995, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has designated the Defense Department’s business systems modernization program as "high risk, because of its vulnerability to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement."

The Defense Department is entrusted with more taxpayer dollars than any other U.S. department or agency, the GAO noted.

The department has about 2,200 business systems. For fiscal 2013, the department’s $613.9 billion budget request included $17.2 billion for business systems and information technology infrastructure investments.

Source: Government Accountability Office

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)2012 Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

Visit the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) at www.daytondailynews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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