Technology giant or technology dud?

Saw this headline and story today, and it made me think about the Information Technology capabilities of the U.S. government.

New Report Shows Pentagon Has Lost Track Of Over $8.5 Trillion In Taxpayer Money Since 1996

It’s no secret that fiscal efficiency is not the U.S. government’s specialty. But just how wasteful are our government agencies? A new investigation by Reuters sought to pin data to these long held assumptions about financial inefficiency in the government. The results of the investigation are even worse than most of us thought.

According to the report, the Pentagon has accumulated over $8.5 trillion in unaccounted taxpayer money since 1996. Congress passed a law in 1996 requiring all government agencies to be subjected to an annual audit, but the Department of Defense (DOD) has not been forced to comply with the law. The DOD has been given until 2017 to ready itself for an audit, but Pentagon officials doubt they can meet the deadline.

According to the article from Reuters, most of the money has been lost due to archaic and dysfunctional accounting systems within the Department of Defense that do not work.  There are problems with, not only the accounting systems, but with the inventory systems as well.

This is the same Department of Defense that has the most technologically advanced weaponry available at the drop of a hat.  This is the same DoD that can drop a smart bomb that will almost ring the doorbell before proceeding into the home and blowing everything to bits and pieces.  So, how is it they can operate and maintain such advanced tools and not even be able to build a basic system to keep track of inventory and money?  Is it merely incompetence, or is it all by design to extract maximum dollars for all the little pet projects and goodies?

The DoD is part of the same government as the NSA, which was under fire for using advanced technology and such to spy on pretty much anybody using technology if you believe all the stories.  How is it that our government can eavesdrop in on a conversation in the most remote places in the world but can’t balance a book within a cabinet department?

There doesn’t seem to be a difference either whether it’s in-house IT personnel or contract IT workers doing the job.  Take the federal health exchange website as proof of that.  We’re most of the way through November, and the site still isn’t functioning as it should.

I can’t blame it all on contracting as I don’t know the details of the DoD stuff, but this should be a prime example of what happens when you put profit over substance.  Long ago, when government IT work was done in-house, we put men in space, men on the moon, and built systems that other countries could only dream about.  I’m not 100% against contract work, but when a contractor can’t bring in a job on time and at cost, they should be summarily dismissed and not allowed to bid for contracts again until they can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are up to the task of doing the job.  The better thing would be to try to recruit the best and brightest to work for the government and rebuild our IT workers so we have the capability and capacity to do these things in-house to avoid having to keep padding the pockets of incompetent and incapable firms who can’t do the work we need when we need it.

First things first though, and we need to straighten out the mess that we know as the Department of Defense.  That money did not just disappear into thin air.  How can we, as taxpayers, be confident that our dollars are being used wisely when nobody can tell us how they’re being used?  And, unlike other things, this just ain’t a “Blame Obama” issue as this has been going on far longer than he’s been in any elected office.




4 thoughts on “Technology giant or technology dud?

  1. 1. We can never really be confident our money is being used wisely. It’s our job as citizens to stay on top of them and make them account for it.

    2. I once had to fix a failing inventory system and it’s surprisingly hard to do. It’s not just a matter of the right software and scanners. There’s a huge and complex human component, involving training and motivation and responsibility and accountability. What do you inventory? For instance, obviously the Army can’t inventory every bullet. But a significant amount of money goes into ammo, so you have to figure out some unit of bullets it does make sense to inventory. At what locations do you want to track those units of bullets: just in major warehouses, or at individual posts, or down to the squad putting them in rifles? Who’s going to be responsible for writing the bullets out of inventory when soldiers actually use them? You probably have a number of different types of bullets — different calibers, different manufacturers, different characteristics. How much of that do you need to know for inventory purposes, and how will you teach all of the people who conduct inventory how to distinguish one from another? It’s a matter of management, and the people who are good at it might not be the same people who are good at making battle strategy or leading soldiers. Compound that by the fact the DoD comprises four separate services, and think of the vast amount of stuff they all use. My little inventory system was less than $100 million over a few hundred locations in four states and it was never perfect.I imagine the very best DoD inventory would always be just approximate.

    Technology is a tool, not a solution.


    • I can understand that as I had to deal with inventory in retail, although it was on a much smaller scale. The question I have is how can one singular government be so incapable of dealing with inventory and bookkeeping in one area (defense) and at the same time be so clever as to eavesdrop on any communication at any time in any place to the extent that it’s been claimed (NSA)? That makes me wonder if some of the claims involving the NSA have been overblown to some extent. Given the overall track record of the government with IT projects, there is the possibility of having that one success from the thousands of failures, but I’m not so sure that’s the case.


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