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Food stamp system goes down
Only a few weeks ago Xerox, the operator of the Electronic Benefits System (EBT) was conducting a routine test of their backup systems. For reasons which aren't clear, this lead to the system shutting down for five hours.
EBT is the system for food payments to beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program in 17 states. It's what is usually known as food stamps. Of course, they don't use stamps anymore, they use a special debit card.
During the five hour outage merchants are supposed to use an emergency voucher system, but some merchants decided to just keep accepting the cards, which effectively no longer had limits on them. Some cardholders went on a shopping spree.
The Failure Of The FBI's Virtual Case File Project
Between 2001 and 2005, the FBI attempted and failed to build a system called the Virtual Case File.
Part of a larger project called Trilogy, Virtual Case File seems to have been designed as a case study in how not to run a large IT project. It experienced significant cost and schedule overruns. There was scope creep. The scheduling was driven by desired outcomes, not reality. There was lack of clear ownership.
Author Simon Moore says the heart of the problem is vague requirements. The requirements were ill-defined and changed throughout the project.
The FAA Advanced Automation System
The Federal Aviation Administration's Advanced Automation System (AAS) project was supposed to provide a complete overhaul of the nation's major air traffic control computer systems: new tools and displays for controllers to improved communication equipment and a revamped core computer network. In the end, the FAA decided that $1.5 billion worth of hardware and software out of the $2.6 billion spent was useless.
The testimony of a GAO official before Congress in 1994 makes clear that it was bad management which caused all the problems:
AAS's cost and schedule problems have resulted from several technical and managerial factors. First, FAA and IBM's development and implementation plan, including cost and schedule estimates, was overly ambitious given the highly demanding requirements and the complex software architecture for this system. Second, FAA did not provide adequate oversight of IBM's performance, especially during the initial development of the key ISSS component. As a result, IBM's lack of progress did not always surface in a timely manner. Third, FAA was indecisive in resolving some issues about basic requirements, such as the format of new electronic flight data strips to be used by controllers. In our opinion, the above factors — not inadequate funding or federal procurement rules, as contended by some proponents of an air traffic control corporation-- have caused the AAS’s problems.
AAS is another in a long line of projects that underscore what IT is up against in trying to work in government: The procurement process took far too long and was far too political. The new system was supposed to be magically powerful compared to the old one, so expectations for it ran out of control. It also seems that IBM was as unrealistic in the design as anyone and didn't execute well.