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Senate Report: Air Force 'Systematically Failed' With Billion Dollar Software Acquisition


"...the Air Force violated many crucial guidelines and best practices for information technology acquisition."

A senate report released Monday says the Air Force "completely and systematically failed" in its procurement of a new logistics system, and ended up wasting "$1.1 Billion in taxpayer money."

And the report says one of the main reasons it failed: the Air Force didn't run itself like a Fortune 500 company.

Chris Puckett visit Chris Puckett, Director of Instillations and Logistics at the Air Force Space Command, briefed Vandenberg Air Force Base leadership in 2010 on "a new tracking system that will fundamentally change business processes, personnel roles and jobs across the spectrum of the Air Force Logistics community." But that system failed, and cost taxpayers more than $1 Billion (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lael Huss)

The Senate Permanent Committee for Investigations, led by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), released it's report of the Air Force's failed acquisition of the Expeditionary Combat Support System over the course of eight years, calling the effort "one of the most egregious examples of mismanagement in recent memory at the Department of Defense."

Between 2004 and 2012 the report says the Air Force failed to properly acquire the new system "because it lacked a clear objective and the organizational will to implement changes to its internal business processes vital to integrating ECSS into the organization."

The report reads:

"ECSS’s failure resulted, in large measure, from the Air Force’s systemic deviation from widely-endorsed organizational guidelines. Those guidelines, which comprise a set of management principles called business process reengineering (BPR), are mandated by several legislative and internal DOD directives and are designed to ensure a successful and seamless transition from old methods to new, more efficient ways of doing business. In so doing, the Air Force violated many crucial guidelines and best practices for information technology acquisition."

In other words, the Air Force didn't run itself like a Fortune 500 company, like the report says is expected.

"BPR has proven effective in the private sector, allowing Fortune 500 companies to successfully institute large-scale changes within their businesses, including changes from the merger or acquisition of other businesses," the report explains. But, it states, "The Air Force continually and systematically failed to adhere to BPR guidelines, causing major problems that crippled the program."

But the irony here is thick; how often has Congress been criticized because it is less effective than public companies or private corporations? At times the senate investigation paper reads more like Bill Lumbergh chastising The Office for not using their TPS reports properly.

"The first major failure to adhere to BPR guidelines centered on the Air Force’s cultural resistance to change. This culture encompassed users who refused to accommodate new ways of performing their day-to-day tasks," the report explains. Apparently people have a hard time changing when something is working. Not shocking.

"However, Air Force personnel resisted proposed changes and were not willing to alter their existing business processes in order for ECSS to succeed," the report says.

The Air Force canceled the program in 2012 when, according to the New York Times, "the Air Force realized that it would cost another $1 billion just to achieve one-quarter of the capabilities originally planned — and that even then the system would not be fully ready before 2020 — it decided to decamp."

U.S. Senator John McCain and Sen. Carl Levin released a report stating the Air Force failed to produce any capability associated with ECSS that would justify the $1.1 Billion spent on the acquisition (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images).

The report places the blame squarely on the Air Force rather than taking some responsibility for what some experts consider inconsistent acquisition strategy stemming from outdated annual DoD funding cycles.

But even nauseating irony can't distract taxpayers from the loss of more than $1 Billion because of poor execution, and according to a joint statement from McCain and Levin, the Air Force admitted that it did not understand what it needed to do to implement ECSS, which directly contradicts Congressional mandates.

"The Air Force’s billion dollar ECSS failure is the most egregious example of mismanagement at the Department of Defense in recent memory,” Senator McCain said in a statement. "Moving forward, we must apply the lessons learned from this debacle so that the Department of Defense’s current and future efforts to modernize those large business information technology systems that are vital to its strategy to becoming auditable and improving how it ‘does business’ do not face the same disastrous fate as ECSS.”

This massive software acquisition failure could pale in comparison to a system-wide F-35 Joint Strike Fighter debacle, which some experts fear after international partners have backed off the jet and all the new stealthy airplanes had to be grounded for safety last week because of fire hazards associated with the jet. According to Time, The F-35 needs 24 million lines of software to operate. That includes 10 million on the plane itself – three times more than the F-22, the Air Force’s hottest warplane, and six times more than the latest version of the F-18, the Navy’s best fighter.

Most experts say the F-35's $400 Billion procurement plan won't go up in smoke, but the arguments Congress makes in this report about the Air Force's leadership problems aren't insulated to the logistics pipeline, and the jet just experienced it's first Class A mishap, so there's no telling when the Air Force could see another failure report from Congress.


Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter. 

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