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Military Can't Seem To Get IT Right

Military Can't Seem To Get IT Right

It seems key members of the so-called Coalition of the Willing have much more in common than their willingness to jointly wage war against Saddam Hussein.

The revelation in August that the Australian Defence Department's attempts to computerize its Defence supply network had led to an awe-inspiring $50 million cost blowout came hot on the heels of similar damming findings about the IT operations of the US Defense Department and the UK Ministry of Defence.

In fact given the IT failings revealed by auditors in the US, Britain and Australia one can only marvel that the three Defence/Defense Departments managed to wage war against Iraq at all, beginning in March 2003.

Last month the Australian National Audit Office revealed a $50m blowout in the Australian Department of Defence's supply project, from an original $16 million, and said the project still wasn't working. The ANAO concludes the Standard Defence Supply System (SDSS) upgrade has not delivered value for money.

"The Project exhibited extensive scope reduction and, based on a scheduled final deliverables being accepted in June 2004, operated with an extended schedule in excess of 200 per cent of the planned schedule. SDSS version 4 was to provide Defence with improved finance functions, tighter controls over data integrity and transaction processing, and improved reconciliation and reporting. The Project has failed to materially deliver many of the outcomes for which it was funded," the report said.

ANAO finds by November 2003 the project had already exceeded its initial approved budget by more than 200 percent.

But it seems the Defence Department can take some comfort from the fact that it is in pretty good company. Last month the US General Accounting Office revealed that despite trying for more than a decade, spending $US19 billion a year and building more than 2000 databases, the US Defense Department still can't track the Pentagon's supplies, finances or people.

Instead, America's armed forces are using a tangle of duplicative, isolated and often outdated computer systems to keep tabs on their assets. And those business systems are so "fundamentally flawed" that they are leaving the Pentagon wide open to "fraud, waste and abuse."

The Pentagon says it has 2274 systems for staying on top of everything from its supply of uniforms to its health-care costs. That includes 311 personnel databases in the Army alone and 276 financial systems just for the Navy.

But it's all just a best guess. The Defense Department's comptroller "recently acknowledged that the actual number of business systems could be twice as many as previously reported," the congressional report notes.

Meanwhile in the UK a report by MPs has found the Ministry of Defence's much touted smart acquisition process has failed on almost all counts. The Defence Committee found most contracts were over budget, over schedule and jeopardizing forces in the field, with not only big projects running some ₤3bn over budget this year alone, but average orders running more than a year late.

In fact the MPs describe the performance of the Defence Procurement Agency - which buys equipment for the MoD - as "woeful."

The report personally criticized Defence Procurement Minister Lord Bach for failing to get to grips with "long-running systemic problems", while committee chairman, Labour MP Bruce George, said the problems identified by the report were "quite staggering".

That none of these massive IT failings seemed to hamper the three Departments abilities to wage war is perhaps a testimony to how much money governments can throw at Defence when they choose to. But while officials in each country are keen to deny any of the IT woes have impacted on military operations, pointing to Iraq as the proof of the pudding, the true impact of the "shock and awe" imposed on taxpayers - and hence the political fortunes of the government of the day - in each of the three countries has yet to be fully assessed.

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More about Australian National Audit OfficeAustralian National Audit OfficeDefence DepartmentDepartment of DefenceNational Audit Office

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