In this case, it was the Air Force. In 2005 it began a program designed to integrate into one system about 240 outdated computer networks at 600 locations that didn’t communicate with each other. It was to manage things such as equipment inventories, contracting, financial administration and personnel assignments.
The Air Force first estimated that the Expeditionary Combat Support System
would cost $5.2 billion. On Nov. 14, 2012, it said it was canceling ECSS after spending up to $1.03 billion. The system “has not yielded any significant military capability,” according to an Air Force statement e-mailed to reporters. The Air Force estimated it would need $1.1 billion more to complete one-quarter of the originally designed program. Even so, it would not be ready until 2020.
Was there outrage? On Dec. 5, 2012, Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and member John McCain (R-Ariz.) of the Senate Armed Services Committee sent a letter to then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta saying they had heard that ECSS had been canceled and that “usable hardware and software with a value of less than $150 million” remained from the program.
They called the situation “one of the most egregious examples of mismanagement in recent memory,” and added, “We believe that the public and the taxpayers deserve a clear explanation.” Among the questions they asked were “who will be held accountable, and what steps the Department is taking to ensure that this will not happen again?”
These weren’t amateurs working on the ECSS program. Oracle and Computer Sciences Corp. were among the key contractors. Mark Douglas, a retired Air Force colonel who worked as a contractor on the program, wrote last month in Information Week, “The size and scope of ECSS were . . . too big for the Air Force to assimilate, based on complexity, number of systems and impacted organizations, pace of implementation and inability to deal with management risks.”
ECSS was part of a broader, more costly Pentagon program to meet a congressionally mandated target of Sept. 30, 2017, when Defense is supposed to have an auditable consolidated financial statement. That would be a first.
Yes, Defense, which has been spending $600 billion or more every year — more than half of the federal discretionary budget — has not presented an auditable financial statement.
In 2005, after initiating efforts to deal with its financial management, the department developed a program called Financial Improvement and Audit Readiness (FIAR). Four years later, the Defense comptroller directed that FIAR’s efforts focus on “improving processes and controls supporting information most often used to manage operations,” according to a 2010 Government Accountability Office study.