Letters to the Editor
SPS: Not as bad - worse
I enjoyed reading the article "DOD buried under" [FCW, May 24] regarding the Defense Department's Standard Procurement System (SPS), which purports to facilitate the DOD mandate for paperless acquisition by 2000. The article accurately captures some of the more superficial flaws in the software of the prime contractor, American Management Systems.
However, AMS' Procurement Desktop-Defense is not as bad as the article portrays; in fact, it is significantly and substantially worse. From the initial acquisition strategy to purchase, to release of and training on beta versions that are barely usable, to SPS contract documents that are so unprofessional in appearance that they are an embarrassment to DOD, this entire commercial off-the-shelf program has been a total disaster.
Based on information we have been given, your assertion that this is a $326 million system underestimates its true cost by at least half. Lost productivity for contracting professionals who would have undergone weeks of training and then would attempt to use this "tool" would be astronomical. This price tag does not include additional licenses that will be required because the software remains proprietary to AMS.
This is probably one of the biggest white elephants to be sold to DOD since the Spruce Goose, also known as the Hughes Flying Boat, which was developed by Howard Hughes in the 1940s to transport men and materials over long distances. While the system eventually may work for activities involving simple contracting, I personally have never seen a DOD field activity procurement shop that does simple contracting. Let's do the reasonable thing and kill SPS before it kills us.
Naval Surface Warfare Center
(By direction of the commander)
Give legacy systems credit
I just read "Outsourcing pact back under fire" [FCW, May 24], and I have to take offense at the very first sentence. You state that the proposed amendment to a Defense Department spending bill "could derail the Pentagon's efforts to save billions of dollars." The Wholesale Logistics Modernization Program, specifically targeted in this amendment, never had the potential to save the Pentagon any money, much less "billions." Any new system will cost as much or more to operate and maintain as the current system. The current system already provides for inventory reductions and rapid processing capabilities that will produce the bulk of the savings.
You state that the Army Materiel Command would like to turn those centers over to private contractors that can provide some badly needed upgrades to the systems. The request for proposals for the WLMP contract contains no requirements for upgrades. The contract's goal is to first maintain the current system and, while doing that, conduct business process re-engineering studies to determine the best business practices to apply to the Army's way of doing business. There is no guidance or requirement specifying what is to be done or how it is to be accomplished.
You refer to WLMP as a $1 billion contract. The stated budget for WLMP is the current operating budget of the two activities involved - approximately $40 million a year. Given the 10-year duration of the contract, that comes to $400 million.
Rep. James Talent (R-Mo.) submitted his amendment to the authorization bill to safeguard the Army's readiness during the transition to the "new" system. So-called "soft-landing" provisions in the WLMP contract did not provide sufficient guarantees that enough of the legacy experts would be available to ensure that the Army's wholesale logistics systems would remain "go-to-war" ready.
Informal surveys have indicated that a very large number of important personnel felt they had to find another government job in the area to protect their investment in the retirement system. Many of the senior software developers have received offers of other outside employment for significantly higher salaries. If those employees are not retained, and therefore not available to maintain the legacy systems, the Army's logistics readiness is at severe risk.
You quoted retired military and retired government folks, most of whom are undoubtedly pulling a government retirement check, saying what a problem this was for outsourcing and privatization. Talent's concern is for military readiness. Making sure our soldiers are supplied and supported to the best of our ability should be our primary goal. The push for outsourcing and privatization comes mainly from the private sector and their lobbyists, who stand to make a great deal of money off the government.
Opponents to Talent's amendment ignore the frightening statistics of large modernization/privatization efforts that have failed. These botched attempts have wasted precious time and money for both government and industry alike.
The Corporate Information Management/Joint Logistics Systems Center initiative a few years back promised modern systems and huge savings. After spending more than $2 billion with virtually nothing to show for it, the Army was able to continue operations by using the Commodity Command Standard System and Standard Depot System legacy computer systems. That legacy safety net prevented disaster. WLMP's lack of a safety net could leave the Army with no sustainable logistics automation if this attempt fails.
You quote Bert Concklin, who claims the WLMP effort represents "clearly commercial" functions and states that "there will clearly be a quantum improvement." Concklin is misinformed on both points. Many inherently governmental functions are involved, such as policy, budgeting, security issues and unique Army functional requirements like war reserves, provisioning and strategic planning.
Concklin does not know the capabilities of the current systems, nor does he apparently understand the limitations of modernizing only the wholesale portion of Army logistics. Enterprise resource planning improvements can only be realized if they incorporate the bulk of the enterprise. WLMP does not.
In the article, retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney of Business Executives for National Security is quoted as saying, "We're going to have to make sure we build up enough ammo to take this thing down." Fortunately for McInerney, if the Army orders that ammo now, they will get it since our systems, CCSS and SDS, handle those requisitions for ammunition. If the push for WLMP succeeds, they might only get a rain check.
Logistics Systems Support Center
St. Louis, Mo.
***Not hard enough on WLMP
While trying to get used to politics as usual, your editorial reminded me of politics as usual ["Get used to politics as usual," FCW, May 31].
The article fails to make any reference to the last Army initiative at improving the logistics system. This boondoggle cost the government an estimated $5 billion. The end result was flushed down the toilet. The independent processing applications would not interface with any of the existing logistics applications, much less with the 56 external activities.
Another thought that you might consider is why the cost/benefit analysis is filled with half-truths and faulty assumptions. Why wasn't a real cost/benefit analysis performed? Why are the laws being avoided? What was the rush to avoid all procedures normally used in this type of situation? Why do you assume the people who have kept this system operational and functionally up-to-date are so incompetent that they cannot make the necessary improvements in information technology?
Who do you suppose will get the billion-dollar contract? Do you suppose it will be someone with a relationship to the administration? I hope when this effort to contract out the Army Logistics System comes to fruition, and you see the tremendous cost that was expended and the fact that no benefits will result, you write another editorial with the same title. Except the latter one should refer to the screwing of the taxpayer and the government employee.
The editorial sounds to me like it was written by some WLMP flunkie and placed in your magazine for political purposes. You have learned the Rush Limbaugh style of journalism. Congratulations. A journalist should publish the facts and not a one-sided diatribe with political implications.
More worker woes
Federal Computer Week reported in "Work force woes" [FCW, May 31] that "experienced technical workers often have to take on management duties - which they may not want or even be qualified for - if they want to earn higher salaries. A report released this month by the Treasury Department concluded this system impedes staffing decisions and offers 'no clear path' for skilled technical workers to advance in their careers.
"Alan Balutis, deputy CIO with the Commerce Department, said the problem is most acute with midlevel positions at the GS-11 to GS-13 salary levels. 'That journeyman level is key, and that's where we have a lot of knowledge and expertise I don't think we can afford to lose.' "
As a government employee, I can attest that the above statements are very true. It is very disheartening to know that one has to move into management and lose his/her skills to be paid more in the government. Government employees are not paid for their skills like the private sector.
The other big mistake was letting IT personnel be cut through base realignment and closure efforts and reductions in force. The more people you lose, the more others want things automated. Contractors come and go, often leaving you hanging with unfinished products. Once a contractor gains a certain level of experience, he/she is off to the next opportunity that comes along.
I'm glad someone has finally recognized this problem. My area has not had any permanent promotions in the past four years.
Army Materiel Command