Here's a story that slipped past my radar that's enough to make anyone sick, not just IT professionals. The New York Times has a piece regarding the latest report to detail the FBI failures that allowed two of the Sept 11 hijackers to slip through its dragnet. This isn't the first time some of those stories have come to light. But the newly released report, which includes a significant number of redactions in the name of national security, apparently makes some new details public. Further into the NYT story, however, came the IT-related item that escaped me when news of it first surfaced on May 24, 2005:
But in recent weeks, questions about the F.B.I.'s future have resurfaced, driven by mixed reports from outside groups about the bureau's success in reorganizing. Of particular concern are the F.B.I.'s difficulties in hiring and training terrorism analysts and in developing a modern computer software system to allow agents to search case files. The bureau scrapped a $170 million "virtual case file" system and announced a new plan this week.
Ahem. A $170 million IT project got scrapped and nearly four years after the tragedy -- a period during which the best and brightest minds were supposed to be pulling our national security up by its britches -- they're starting over? (FBI Director Robert Mueller testified to this effect according to a Reuters story). And this wasn't on the front page of every IT publication and news site in the world? Unless I'm mistaken, $170 million IT failures don't come along every day. OK, so there was also that $278 million (out of $472 million) IT fiasco called CoreFLS at the Veterans Administration that was scrapped last July (strange, that didn't make front page news either). Now, the VA wants $311 million more for another shot. Seems almost like there's a pattern here (the Federal Government).
What a nightmare. A standard part of my computer science curriculum in the early 1980s was how not to end up with a failed IT project. How is it that 20 years later, with so many taxpayer dollars and our national security at risk, these projects are falling flat on their faces. By the way, this isn't just a condemnation of whoever is in charge of those projects. It's a condemnation of this country's top IT companies as well. They've got a stake in this country's future too, and they should be lending their very best engineers, project managers, and scientists to the government -- on a full-time basis, free of charge -- until the Department of Homeland security has the sorts of systems in place that make the systems in the TV series 24 look old and slow.
[Editor's note: See Paul Murphy's take on what doomed the FBI project.]