National Intelligence Folly: How a Tragic Unsolved Murder Led to Billions of Dollars of Program Fraud, Waste and Abuse Part 26: A Decade of Challenging Programs

Part 25 started off very focused on completing the theme introduced in Part 24 of the problem all along with the NRO FIA Program, based on commentary by Gen James “Hoss” Cartwright and Alden “Al” Munson: it was government malfeasance, idjiotcy, and failure to take corrective action early on-which absolutely led to mind boggling cost overruns, tremendous lost opportunity on new programs and technology.

I earlier touched on the harm and near ruination of the NRO vaunted engineering reputation. I’ve argued that the NRO didn’t recover until a great and inspirational leader took the helm, Gen, USAF (Ret) Bruce Carlson. And then he was driven away by malfeasance and dishonesty perpetrated by the office that was stood up by congress to manage and provide oversight for big issues and programs like FIA for the IC, the ODNI-but in this case the PDDNI, and congress (SSCI.) What is wrong with these Intel Geeks (he cried?)

The dominant theme of this series is government acquisition and procurement malfeasance that I earlier “guesstimated” cost-although it is more appropriate to call it what it is-the government wasted or tinkled away some 150B taxpayer dollars over the span of the timeframe discussed. My narrative covers the period from 1955 through about 2015 or so, but the bulk or primary waste and abuse that is the focus of this series occurred from about 1997 through 2009.

This period encompasses the final phase of the FIA procurement effort when the delusion was somehow solidified, while it should have become crystal (pun intended) clear that there was only one viable choice at the outset, and it was LMC.

Why and how did it later become so clear that the contract at signing was “unexecutable”-according to myriad sources, but let’s go with DNI Acquisition Executive Al Munson-but it was somehow not apparent or realized by the source selection authority at the time? I wonder why it wasn’t even more apparent when the schedule started slipping, the Earned Value Management charts looked like a “red fest,” and one of the early huge parts fabrication line supplies turned out to be useless because of the use of tin?

The magnitude of this “tell”-to anybody paying attention-cannot be exaggerated, like picking up the kids from grade school and they are playing soccer on a busy street in front of school without adult supervision….it was not just a parts problem…

I provided myriad examples of problem programs throughout this series as evidence that we aren’t very good at this aspect of government or military procurement. I also made somewhat of a huge, signaled detour in part 25 to cover the corollary engineering problem (program) running neck and neck with FIA for the worst executing government program of the decade-the NIMA/NGA GEOSCOUT (what I call the GEOSKUNK) program.

I was on a good focus covering the theme of how widespread and well known it eventually became that the root problem with the NRO FIA Program-was the NRO procurement selection team bias against LMC-“the arrogant mean girls,” and then started a detour through a near “tour de farce” explaining how and why GEOSKUNK could be competition for a program that was nearly 20X bigger from a dollar perspective.

My detour was about to get to the culmination of a Jeff Harris story with the tale of how our monthly meetings were going, deferring for another time the discussion about the actual engineering issues. The bottom-line in Jeff’s story during these monthly meetings was that NGA’s GEOSKUNK effort was going to provide nearly “85%” of our business unit’s engineering solutions and we therefore should be looking to help in any areas we could, but particularly with program dollars.

The problem or issue I had with his logic as we sat there in 2005 is that his diagram had no timelines-dates-or years associated with it. I added a few details-like near term dates of partner programs and the readiness need dates for our enterprise architecture developments-that our team-his contract support personnel-were working on-and discussed that GEOSKUNK-much like Boeing with FIA optical-was slipping like a drunkard at Public Skating on just about every aspect of the program.

It may have been true about the 85% figure if you extrapolated out beyond 2008 or so, but that would assume success that was not yet demonstrated, credible or believable. However, our program master schedule had need dates in 2006 and 2007 that we were in the midst of engineering to be ready for when the mission partner programs flew: we simply could not-and weren’t-going to wait for GEOSKUNK to start performing in the hopes they would catch-up somehow. Jeff knew that we reported to an NGA Advisory Group that was led by the Deputy Director-it was her pet project-so this wasn’t idle talk or bluster-or my uninformed opinion.

And GEOSKUNK was not only not on track to deliver by then, but I was a frequent participant in the engineering meetings and the not so hidden agenda for anybody paying attention was the government-us-the enemy within-was focusing increasingly on a huge equipment-computer-recap effort, as the promises of novelty and new engineering solutions were not panning out-Block 2 money was delayed/deferred-and they had no engineering rigor or documentation behind them (which is why USDI had non-concurred with Block 2.)

Many NIMA/NGA folks conveniently forgot that after the GEOSKUNK contract was awarded, the briefing story was that these folks were going to hit the ground running, a lot of energy, domain expertise, with deliveries happening as soon as 90 days, to be repeated about quarterly. And-wow-that would be different for an organization that had become accustomed to promises, schedule slips, non-performing or underwhelming program updates that were not improvements. As the first quarter was coming to a close a new schedule made the rounds that showed 6-month centers for deliveries-but the bottom-line was that we eventually returned to what we had seen historically, with deliveries scheduled every 18 months or so, with updates or “drops”-mostly software updates, scheduled as needed along the way.

And OBTW I mentioned previously that in an attempt to paper the trail (as we say in the business) and produce documentation that would pass muster in producing requirements trace, the government allowed the contractor to overrun the engineer architecture FTE cap by some 13m in 2003-2004. Break it down-the first year and a half was spent in requirements and definitional work-interminable meetings, with no deliveries to speak of: rinse and repeat.

Jeff gave somewhat grudging recognition of my point, but the real proof that he got it was-that was our last monthly meeting hahahaha. It became somewhat of a standing joke of “hey, I wonder how Jeff is doing?” I met with all our contract leads on the acquisition as well as the systems integration side regularly, bi-weekly or more frequently and always made it a point to “tell Jeff hello.”

Earlier NIMA selected LMC (this was after NRO FIA award, but before Boeing was fired) as the winner and contract integration lead for GEOSKUNK-notwithstanding that most participants in the “march of the dead” acquisition process believed that General Dynamics had a far superior proposal that did a great job addressing an important Clapper priority-airborne. Completely unbeknownst to any of the next 10M people you meet is that LMC also won the nod for a companion “sole source award” that was special and was not disclosed-so awarded without competition-for what I would later describe as our program effort (I don’t want to belabor it, but you may want to reread that last bit again slowly, and think of some of the worst acquisition practices you can think of, and where this might rate—definitely right up there!)

So LMC was also our contract lead with a team that included some half dozen or so vendors. We had a lot of good people that did tremendous work as part of our team that at one point-when I was doing a book audit with our Business Management Team-included hundreds of swinging full-time equivalents: it was not a small project and I’m mentioning it only to the point that I was busy “walking the walk” during this period-not just yakking about this acquisition stuff.

But from day 1 on the GEOSKUNK side there was a problem in that LMC had a complete enterprise architecture description that was expressed in something called the “DEADs” (Destination Enterprise Architecture Description??) But our DAWIA folks who had selected them for the contract lacked corresponding government documentation intended to define and drive the contractors work breakdown schedules and deliveries (the needs and requirements that could be turned into statements of work to correspond to the solution represented by the “DEADs.”)

I think that’s significant, but in brief LMC had a solution to an objective architecture that the government had not yet described or articulated. Many would say that is nonsense-of course they did-how could there have been a bid and proposal process unless the government specified the need and requirements? In answering I would say consider that-as I just related above, the first years were spent blowing the contract engineer budget building the requirements and definitional documentation. Later-when NGA was working to line up all manner of “schtuff” that had to be done to plan the move to our New Campus East (NCE) building being constructed in North Belvoir-with planning starting in earnest in 2006-2007 and move-in (Building Occupation Date (BOD)) originally planned for late 2010-2011, one of the things that was never completed was an “as is” architecture.

With the GEOSKUNK contract engineering “a new TPED” according to the brochures and bumper stickers, then certainly what the government had tasked them-contracted to do-would be some major element or parts of a new enterprise architecture. What could have been easier in support of the planning for the NCE than to produce the existing-new-architecture? I guess I was raised differently, but there is only one way you can architect a “to be” architecture without using as a point of departure the “as is,” and that’s if you (1) aren’t worried about or have plenty of money (2) and you just plan to buy all new stuff: and that’s what we did-and that’s the answer to the trivia question of how we ended up blowing through all the money that had been provided under the Base Realignment and Closure funding by some 360M dollars. That seems like a lot of money-and I am confident about the amount because one of the programs I discussed earlier in this series was the bill payer.

I jumped ahead a bit in describing the goodness of GEOSKUNK and the opportunity provided by the NCE. Our business unit did finally implement a few aspects of GEOSKUNK engineering during this time-I already described the disaster that was “Aqua Logic,” which had a stack pointer flaw that crashed our control center and lost connection with some 3 dozen sites, resulting in our program backing it 100% out of one of our brand-new deliveries. The other long touted management focused enhancement was called “Order Entry and Tracking,” terminology often used in the financial or stock trading business where receipts and certainty in execution are not only important-but necessary from a legal and liable protection standpoint.

Which sounded like a good idea in the PowerPoint versions I had listened to, sort of like a reminder that analyst X generated an important report that needed to be reviewed by Y in order to make deadline Z for the Presidential Daly Brief submission. Now we did that routinely and always had somebody on the hook for the important stuff, delegated by management to chop or make the call on a submission: but that was not this program.

Earlier-or in another series-I regaled with the tale of the AN/APR-39A (XE-2) digital, synthetic voice radar warning receiver test, which had a voice warning referred to as “Bitch’n Betty” or “Mumbl’n Mike.” Which likely sounded like a great idea to some developer but was guaranteed to be turned off by a pilot within seconds. The last thing you need when you are flying an aircraft that needs to take tactical actions and evasive maneuvers-is to have that racket yelling at you in the background.

The implementation of OE&T basically generated an alert for every conceivable operation and corresponding action taken on the network, depending on your described “role.” I wrote a tongue in cheek scenario based on just a few days experience that documented the messages generated by one person’s “potty” break: nobody cared that Andy generated an intel report in the system that had to be reviewed by Janey, double-checked by Jimmy and posted by Julie. We backed that useless crap out of the system as well. So GEOSKUNK was batting a thousand percent at this point for us.

A surprising shortfall in the NCE move was that apparently nobody saw it as a fabulous opportunity to put our actions in line with our words and truly re-engineer our TPED processes with the recommendation provided in the NIMA Commission Study: the planning indicated we were not going to move very many systems, preferring to buy new hardware/firmware/software, but simply modernize compute for the existing systems.

I was honestly up to my neck working program stuff throughout this time, but when I popped up and was provided a break via a new job, I could not believe this was the overall plan. We had been touting the goodness of all these GEOSKUNK elements-well here is a chance to deliver some system changes-what better time is there to do this? Particularly on the heels of the delay in Block 2 that occurred, which had about bumped up to the opportunity window for the NCE planning.

One of the first GEOSKUNK experiences in my new job involved some “problems” with the distribution of our record reporting system that sits in about three major places serving hundreds of customers downstream, connected via load leveling and data base reconciliation software that ensures each is on the same page of music. It was mere weeks after the touting of the delivery that I was pulled into meetings with our Chief Operating Officer, one of our integration leads, and our acquisition leads for the system. There was a problem in that the combined reliability level of the “systems” was averaging about 62%, while the reference or anchor system (master) had not been above 65% since installation. The equivalent system in my previous job was maintained at a readiness level of ~3x9s (99.999) because analysts could not do their jobs without it.

We talked about a whole bunch of stuff but one of the more insightful discussions was the fact that each of the (3) systems was funded under a different contract administered by a different directorate in NGA (what the hell, how in the world of the Fosbury Flop was that allowed to happen?) I would say that constitutes somewhat of a worst practice in contracting: these were pretty much identical functions but allowed to be characterized differently, as one was an ops server, one was an enterprise server, and one was a development server (oy vey.)

I was sitting there taking this in, thinking-these folks are a soup sandwich, when I asked what I hoped was a throwaway question, “did these servers contain the Aqua Logic software?” Nobody knew-which was not surprising because that was a question for a contractor, not a government-process-person.

So we broke up and met again some two weeks later. I figured-hell, two weeks-they must have resolved it-nope! The sense of urgency meter was not even budging. We went through about the entire meeting, and it was finger pointing-none of the individual systems was the problem, the separate contractors were all performing at contract specification, but were being adversely impacted by the “other systems.” And-wait for it-guess what came out towards the end of the meeting? Each of the systems used Aqua Logic at the heart of the system. I walked them through how we backed it out of our enterprise and went back to (re-activated) our Oracle based solution that had never experienced such a problem in the history of our program-but at least two systems had already been cut over and were Microsoft Operating Systems: which was surprising, since it had never passed security testing for this type of application over the past four years or so in our footprint…

All to say that the NCE move was not going to be the big opportunity it otherwise could have been had we been humming along, hitting on all cylinders and looking for opportunity and challenge.

It’s a bit flip to say “just buy all new stuff” but what that means to me is we just replicated and rehosted all those legacy and heritage systems in the new building, that then later became the source of and focus for all the later Portfolio Management Plans that schemed to replace them-but, again, while lacking plans and ideas on how to go about it (and frankly the knowledge, skills, ability and talent to pull it off.) I’ve never seen anything good come of letting those up to their knees draining the swamp get anointed as the “future swamp draining portfolio development team.”

So I know dear reader is sharp and following all this donkey/monkey business, so riddle me this: if GEOSKUNK resolved to do computer recap as somewhat of a last resort plan when Block 2 was not getting any loving from USDI-so computers, hardware, software, firmware, a replacement Enterprise Support Center- like new computers for Christmas for everyone-a new computer in every pot-how could the NCE Information Technology (IT) bill have cost so much? Well-good question-and the answer is-we bought all new IT: again. Rinse and repeat.

My friends, frenemies and others think I have a “Jones” for our acquisition folks. What I really have angst about is between 2002 and 2012 NIMA/NGA spent the better part of 2.2B dollars on IT and yet were undertaking a portfolio management effort once we transitioned to NCE because we needed to modernize our enterprise services, processes and data holdings. I don’t know Vern, that seems like an unforgivable offense and tragedy to me.

5 Jannuary 2023

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