Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Dumb & Dumber

Dumb & Dumber, a flick I never saw but heard was very funny, is not the reason for the post, of course, but rather acts as segue into our government's often misguided forays into tech showing us that Jim Carrey's and Jeff Daniels' characters have nothing on the geniuses who spend our money in mind numbingly stupid ways.

Example 1: Note, this is a very small sample of governmental incompetence as you can well imagine.

FBI's Virtual Case File system
Final cost: $170 million
Who's responsible: FBI, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC)

The FBI handles huge amounts of paperwork and evidence in the course of investigating criminal cases. The bureau's Virtual Case File program, begun in 2001, attempted to ease the tracking of cases by pulling together, in electronic form [13], as much of the casework as possible.

But after four years of development -- with $170 million spent and not a single component of the system finished -- the FBI decided to scrap the Virtual Case File [14].  

It gets better.

After years of costly delays, a long-awaited computerized system for managing the FBI's caseload remains far from completion and risks coming so late that it will be obsolete on arrival, a Justice Department report warned Wednesday.

The Sentinel system was designed as a user-friendly paperless way to manage cases that would be ready in December 2009 at a cost $425 million. It replaced an earlier $170 million computer program that was scrapped after consultants deemed it outdated and riddled with problems.

The program's funding was raised to $451 million in 2008 but the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General said the project is now $100 million over budget and nowhere near finished.


FAA's NextGen air-traffic control system
Final cost: expected to be between $15 billion and $22 billion by 2025
Who's responsible: Federal Aviation Administration, Metron Aviation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Boeing, CSSI, General Dynamics, and ITT

Would it concern you to find out that, as planes approach some of the nation's busiest airports, air traffic controllers periodically lose all radar tracking and have to switch hastily to a system involving paper, pens, and the controller's persistence of vision and memory, lest planes crash into one another during approach or takeoff?

It certainly is an issue for the FAA, which manages the air-traffic control system in the United States. And yet the agency's planned update to the air-traffic control system [16] is not expected to come online for at least two years.

Named NextGen [17], the system is, in the words of an FAA spokesman, "a portfolio of separate stand-alone products" designed to help planes fly closer together in an attempt to save on fuel costs and reduce waiting times in the air and on the ground. Each separate, stand-alone product has to be custom built, however, and the FAA is not exactly a model agency when it comes to technology integration. The whole thing is scary enough to make me think seriously about sticking to the rails, the roads, and the high seas.

And lastly...

California's decertified electronic voting machines
Final cost: unknown, probably in the millions of dollars
Who's responsible: manufacturers of noncertifiable voting machines

Okay this isn't a federal government fiasco, but it does involve the most populous state in the nation. Technology advocates claimed a huge victory in February 2008, when California's secretary of state officially decertified thousands of electronic voting machines. In one county alone (Riverside, near Los Angeles), all 3700 e-voting machines were taken offline a few days before the presidential Super Tuesday primary of that year.

The e-voting system was dogged by allegations that the machines could too easily conceal mistakes or deliberate code changes that would make valid recounts impossible, though the machines' manufacturers resisted calls from security experts [15] to solve the recount problem. But for the California counties that bought the machines, the cost remains a sore point that resurfaces every two years during primaries and elections.

No wonder CA is broke and the US is in trouble. If yours truly did work like this, I would be sued, too bad the bozos who did this work weren't.

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