There was an interesting story this morning in the news about how several software development projects for the government burned through billions of dollars and produced no results.
Basically the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs wanted to create a single system to keep track of their healthcare records. The reason for the need to make this sort of unified system is that currently dozens of pieces of software don’t communicate with one another and this leads to long delays for veterans seeking medical care. When you need medical care a long delay is not merely a nuisance, it can be a life-threatening issue.
I work for a company that does software development and I wanted to talk to a few of our developers before I wrote this blog. I thought that it couldn’t be that hard to create a database driven tool. Certainly, I imagined, scanning in all the old paper records would be quite time-consuming and cost much in the way of salary for the people doing it, but the software itself couldn’t be that complex.
I was sort of right. The complexity of such software is immense because they are trying to replace dozens of different systems, all with their own record retention quirks. Transferring the existing records requires tremendous attention to detail. In addition the ability of the systems to sort through perhaps hundreds of billions of records is apparently no easy trick for any software. We work with one client who has an enormous amount of data and their aging database system can take five minutes to retrieve a piece of information. If you take five minutes of computer time and then imagine every single vet making a claim at that moment; it’s easy to see how it would quickly cause a system to collapse.
That being said, the developers I spoke with said the problem was most likely the government took the bid from the wrong company. That a software developer used to working with massive amounts of data probably made a realistic bid on how long it was going to take and how much money would be needed. They were likely underbid by a company that did not understand the complexity of what was involved, and offered a low bid.
I don’t know for a fact that this is what happened but it certainly seems likely as the software was eventually completely scrapped.
Money was spent and nothing was gained. Now they will either have to rebid the entire project or simply give up because there isn’t money in the budget to complete the task. This means that veterans waiting for adjudication on their claims will continue to wait, the wait will get progressively get longer, and the chance for errors progressively higher.
I’ve written before about how the low-bid system is extremely detrimental to honest companies who simply try to provide a good product at a fair price. I’ve mentioned before that bribery in the bidding process is rampant both from government workers and the contractors hoping to get the bid.
A company makes an artificially low bid, collects billions and provides nothing, declares bankruptcy, the executives cash their checks and move on, taxpayers foot the bill, while congressmen buy a new house with the kickback money.
The government is so large that billions of dollars are stolen without a second thought. The money is so immense as to make even an honorable person compromise his principles. What would you do for a billion dollars? Be honest.
The simple, easy solution? There isn’t one, despite what most pundits say.
In my newest novel the companions are contemplating an immense task and are advised by General Yumanar; Those who attempt to move a mountain will always fail. Those who start by lifting a single rock eventually succeed.
And thus I write my blog, my novels.
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eBook)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt