Why Now?
Thursday, January 13, 2005
  The FBI Wastes $170 Million

The computer system that was supposed to modernize the FBI record keeping and information sharing, doesn't work and isn't ever likely to do what the bureau needs. Very old news in the computer world.

A large organization has no IT resources in-house and refuses to pay for professionals to write a requirements document. They specify what they want and the day after the contract is signed they have to start making changes because they left major requirements out of their "Request For Bids". Small contractors generally have to suffer the costs of the changes and go broke, but the big players know this will happen and make their profits from the change orders.

The biggest problem seems to be the sudden interest in counter-terrorism after September 11, 2001. There were no provisions for counter-terrorism activities prior to that time.

An independent $2 million review of the system has concluded that it would be cheaper to start over that to try to patch what has been done up to this point. Some people claim that the vendor, SAIC, took advantage of the FBI, knowing that the system would never be what they needed.

Having been there and done that with government contracts, I can tell you that you will never be awarded a contract if you don't follow the bid to the letter, even when you know the bid is stupid. SAIC knows the rules of government contracts and I know a number of programmers who work on these projects. You know going in that nothing you write in the first two years will be in the final product.

The new VA computer system is about to be dumped, the Florida Children and Families system was a total failure, and the list goes on. You have to follow the contract to the letter to get paid, and the contract is always garbage.

The Children and Families system was a classic. The contract specified that all information be stored based on the client's name. Apparently, whoever wrote the specifications didn't consider the possibility that there might be more than one person named John Smith.


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