The problems at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service have a familiar ring to them. Even an occasional observer of the federal scene will spot similarities between the difficulties DFAS is experiencing and those of many large software development projects.
In fact, John Gioia of Robbins-Gioia, a firm that specializes in managing large projects, often challenges federal executives to name even one successful, large-scale software development project.
It's hard to do. What comes to mind, of course, are the big projects in trouble - the FAA's air traffic control modernization program, the Internal Revenue Service's Tax Systems Modernization and many others.
It sounds as though DFAS' problems are exactly the same sort we've seen before - an ambitious plan with changing requirements and an evolving scope.
Certainly some of these mistakes can be rectified with better management, but others seem to be the result of DFAS learning for itself what already has been discovered, painfully, elsewhere.
The government needs a better solution for sharing such experiences. We are aware of the efforts to create and make available a collection of best practices in government procurement. And many agencies are looking to the commercial world to see what solutions are working there.
But it seems appropriate for some central oversight organization - OMB or Congress - to provide less-voluntary guidance. A slight course correction early in a project may save millions of dollars and valuable time.