Part 23 was getting to the good stuff, comments by Al Munson and Gen James Cartwright from a forum in 2009 (Space Policy 101: military space 2009”) that provided a lot of insight to what made the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) procurement so problematic that the optical component was canceled in 2005 by the new Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, in what would be his first big action and likely the most consequential decision in the short history of the ODNI.
I touched upon Gen Cartwright’s comments that spoke directly to the technology challenge on these programs in somewhat general terms. Al Munson’s comments are much more specific to our story and-again-it was nice that these problems were being acknowledged and discussed in ~2009, but the battle for hearts and minds was in the summer of 2002. From the forum:
Munson said that the initial goals behind developing FIA were sound. The NRO had a strong interest in reducing the size of their payloads and getting them off of the very expensive Titan IV rocket. He said that arrogance by the traditional reconnaissance satellite contractor also contributed to the NRO choosing “a contractor team with very little domain expertise” (i.e., no prior experience at building reconnaissance satellites). Although Munson never mentioned their names, most members of the audience knew that the “arrogant traditional contractor” was Lockheed Martin, and the contractor “lacking domain expertise” was Boeing. The end result, Munson said, was that “the contract was unexecutable on the day it was signed.”
He also added specific recommendations (below) that sound familiar-like the 101 courses in the DAWIA handbook-none of which does any good when either partner-government or contractor-or both-lie, cheat, steal or are incompetent, inept, or unaccountable. It reminds me of seeing a picture of a boat launch on the internet where the hapless driver had driven his truck into the water, attempting an absolute bass-ackwards launch: a reminder that you can’t help or fix stupid. None of boat guys lessons learned are helpful for others, well, because.
Boat stories remind me of famous golfer Payne Stewart (RIP,) who after a very successful year finally splurged on a long overdue little present for himself and bought a very expensive bass boat with all the “fix’ns.” He drove it home, very carefully backed it into his garage for safekeeping and was just admiring it, when he decided he had to hear that motor-a good one on a boat like that can cost 20K or more. He started it up and listened to it purr for about two minutes when it stopped running. He called the dealership to see what if anything was wrong and that is when he apparently discovered-or realized-for the first time-what a “water cooled” engine really means. He made a second mistake when he told his buddy Paul Azinger…
More from the piece:
Munson then offered several rules that he thinks the community should follow. These rules included: don’t start programs you cannot fund, get independent cost estimates, manage requirements, work aggressively to eliminate technology hurdles, emphasize “domain knowledge” by supporting people staying in one field of expertise for long periods, and demand “domain competency” in suppliers.
Not to pick at Munson, but there are a few missing blinding flashes of the obvious (BFOs) here that cry out to be added. One with direct applicability to FIA evolves around the idea of “domain competency” in suppliers: recall that Boeing lost a lot of time and money redoing parts that were fabricated with the cosmic “no-no” of tin-it makes you wonder if the government ever looked under that touted goodness of Boeing being a billion dollars cheaper on a project that by necessity has a huge, inordinate amount of touch labor. If you’ve ever visited a satellite fabrication shop-put on the clean gear and acted like an alien-what may make a huge impression on you is the massive amount of wires: always reminds me of an old Lincoln Continental inside the doors (but on steroids, to infinity and beyond.)
Other BFOs would include don’t put fingers in a flame, never open the door when riding in a car, don’t spit into the wind, don’t clear a gun-or tank-by firing it, don’t pet snakes, don’t sweat the petty stuff and don’t pet the sweaty stuff, etc.….
The top of the list would be abiding by the criteria set for contract proposals, like-I don’t know-if prior experience counts for a significant amount-like 20-30%, as it should-don’t compromise your integrity by finding a way for a vendor who has none to win the contract: it’s just not possible unless somebody lies or cheats, which becomes a steal-and a fraud-and often a costly mistake.
Oversight (DNI, SECDEF, Congress,) the public and government leaders must demand-and receive-accountability for government personnel put in positions of trust to safeguard the public-taxpayer dollars. How could a vendor that had-in effect-no practical experience-win a contract to do something they had never done before? When the other vendor or competitor maxed that criterion: didn’t they???
You can’t possibly overcome or offset a 20-30% criterion deficiency on a proposal at this level, you’re already batting near a 70-a “D”-at this point-against the incumbent, the “all time winner, has got you by the balls (gratuitous Jethro Tull Aqualung reference,”) unless the government goes Gumby-like trying to stretch experience to fit (like, hey, they have one guy who fired Estes rockets as a kid and another guy with experience from DARPA in some Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle thing (count it:) it’s just not possible, but Boeing won it!
FIA was a government induced and self-inflicted problem where a lot of good money, people’s time, handwringing and finger pointing was spent, as well as a lot of pondering of navels in the clutch (aka, choking) when the solution was obvious as early as spring 2000-6 months in-as the first Earned Value Management data were presented at the first review and the schedule was already doing the Paul Simon thing (“Slip Sliding Away.”) The art form for government leaders is to wade through all the brightness, flash, razz a mattazz and sleight of hand to get to the no-kidding status.
Out of fairness to Munson, he did not join government and the DNI until like May 2007-pretty much long after the central issues on FIA took place-although in time to get into the mix on a lot of program issues (plenty of meat still left on that bone.) But his comments pretty much tell you all you need to know about why the procurement was a disaster.
So “arrogance by the traditional reconnaissance satellite contractor” was a factor in the selection process that resulted in the government picking a vendor that had “very little domain expertise.”
Question in the back? Well, yes, that does mean that the “kids” running our national satellite program for the US government-that was considered such an essential part of our national security that the very classification is in the “release of information will cause (not might, or possibly) grave damage and harm to the United States…” decided against picking the otherwise qualified “mean girls.”
Al’s comment about the contract being “unexecutable” on the day it was signed is understandable as I pointed out through this series, but we do well to remember that there were two contracts awarded and-at the top level from an objectives standpoint-three big developments ongoing that included the ground-awarded to Raytheon in June 1999, and the satellite portion awarded to Boeing in September 1999, consisting of the radar and electro optical components, as well as all the rest of the architecture “stuff” necessary to make it work.
What became so obvious and apparent in 2009 that was not so much in 1999??? I can tell you-as I have related in this series-our team that worked these issues in 2002 knew immediately upon reading and going through the Boeing proposal for the first time-that we had “big problems in River City.” Given the magnitude or ramifications of this procurement that would set the tone for the national intelligence collection security architecture and capability well into the 21st century-and in light of the debacle that happened somewhat in the middle of it with the discovery of the new NRO Headquarters, a ”prudent” or somewhat cautious, belt and suspenders acquisition and procurement team might have split the award on the satellite side.
Maybe have Boeing demonstrate a radar article or two, complete the necessary infrastructure, let Raytheon mature the ground, maybe have LMC produce the optical-maybe do an incentivized split award much like was later done for the United Launch Alliance: but-nope-one roll of the dice.
The not so funny part of this-although it is hysterical if you think about it-is that the government apparently suffered the delusion and thought they had huge leverage over the LMC “mean girls” with the $1Billion dollar cheaper Boeing contract proposal. In truth it’s not funny at all, but it provides insight into the thinking of the government decision-makers. I mean-what’s the worst that can happen-really?
When the Best and Final Offer (BAFO) was solicited by the government-a classic Harvard approved contract closing negotiation tactic-but in direct contradiction to the corollary tenet in business-and job interviews-that “thou shalt never negotiate with or against yourself”-nor-especially in this case-bring up money first, or take less than what you think you are worth-particularly when you truly know what you are doing and are the only one among the three “contestants” who does-many believed that it (BAFO) was a huge tell and tremendous nod to Boeing in light of the cost volume of the two proposals. But what a totally fruitless and feckless ploy, given all the work that had gone into the bid and proposal effort to this point.
All that blather, finesse and talk in an otherwise acknowledged really well written proposal gets exposed when the bell for the start of the fight sounds-Mike Tyson comes out-he’s angry, cause-Mike Tyson-and you have to back that stuff up! I’m reminded that when I was teaching martial arts for a time I used to stop in at local shops when I was TDY and observe or work out if it felt right-martial arts has a tendency to nurture “squirrels” who not unlike our story sometimes wander from the ethical, spiritual part of the art: just troubled individuals. One time I was in Fountain Hills, Arizona and stopped by a local Tae Kwon Do (TKD) shop and was a little early for class but met the head instructor. He looked like he had been beat like a rented mule and then beat again, myriad times: yellowish bruises in the midst of healing-painful to look at. It turned out that former Army Olympic Gold Medalist Ray Mercer was scheduled to fight in the Phoenix area the previous week, but his opponent broke his hand. With such a short notice cancellation-like two days, the Fountain Hills based TKD instructor filled the card: and got pummeled almost beyond recognition (in one round…) He nearly begged me to lead his advance class that afternoon, he was hurting so bad…
There is talking, there is walking, and there is bidding a calibration metric that has never been accomplished on earth by folks who do that for a living (I don’t know Vern, like bidding a two minute and thirty second mile….)
To close on this part of the discussion, Munson pretty much told us all we need to know about why FIA became one of the costliest procurements in the history of the IC. Talk about self-inflicted wounds: it’s like our government took our automobile to the muffler guy to get the transmission fixed and then kept passing us the bill as it just went on and on and on….
I can’t totally give Al a free pass. When the PDDNI-Don Kerr if you are counting at home-unilaterally cut in ~2007 or so a congressionally supported, DNI approved program of 70% of their funded Research and Development funds to find dollars for-surprise-projects (a huge, egregious, worst practice theme of this series-did I mention he was career CIA?)-breaking the approved program: including the Independent Cost Estimate, the Intelligence Baseline Capabilities Document, the Program Management Plan and the Independent Life Cycle Cost Estimate-Al was in charge of acquisition at DNI and was the senior being briefed on the program. The PDDNI action violated every tenet in the DAWIA handbook-and everything Al said should be done in a program-and yet it happened under his watch.
And-OBTW-much like in the case I’m presenting here-several years later-2012-the DNI Inspector General released a finding that what the PDDNI had done was a violation of statute and acquisition law that undercut the tenets of the DNI’s own acquisition regulations, while failing to provide mandatory notifications and actions vis a vis congress: talk about a tennis apology. At least we know who the enemy is in these instances (us.) The PDDNI is still on probation 10 years later for fraud, waste, abuse, deliberate malfeasance and criminality (hahahahaha, like hell he is…)
Who is the last program manager or acquisition executive who lied, cheated and stole and had to pay for it-the last one I can think of was Darleen Druyun, she of the USAF Tanker scandal (I’ve never seen a picture where the camera doesn’t look too close to her) who about drove USECAF Peter B. Teets (RIP) to pull his hair out (poor guy-seriously.)
2 January 2023 (hard to believe)
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