23 July 2012

Army Defense of Pricey Acquisitions At the Expense of Performance

Army acquisitions trying to defend their own investments?

The Army ordered the destruction of a report that praised the performance of an off-the-shelf software program that finds buried explosives in Afghanistan and replaced it with a revised, less-favorable assessment, according to internal Pentagon documents.
The unusual action came amid a battle inside the Army. It pits those who want the service to send more of the software platform, called Palantir, to the Afghanistan War against those who favor the Army’s own developed intelligence network, the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS).
Internal emails reveal an intelligence officer in Afghanistan who was frustrated by Army bureaucrats who blocked his request to buy Palantir in the winter.
“We are trying to solve some very hard problems that pose life or death issues for the soldiers,” the officer emailed to the Pentagon.
The documents obtained by The Washington Times show that Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff, in February ordered the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) to judge the performance of Palantir.
ATEC published internally its official report in April, but the report was rescinded and ordered destroyed. The less-favorable assessment of Palantir was issued in its place in May.
The Times first reported last week that commanders in Afghanistan asked higher-ups for permission to buy Palantir, as they raved about its ability to pinpoint a major killer of American troops — buried homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The Times reported how officers had to go over bureaucratic hurdles to acquire Palantir, which is not in the annual Army budget and would have to be purchased with special funds.

The key wrap-up on DCGS is this, from an intel guy in the 82nd:
“Bottom line from our perspective is that [DCGS] has continuously overpromised and failed to deliver on capability that will meet the needs of the warfighter.
“All the bullet points they can list on a slide sitting back in the Pentagon don’t change the reality on the ground that their system doesn’t do what they say it does, and is more of a frustration to deal with than a capability to leverage.
“We aren’t going to sit here and struggle with an ineffective intel system while we’re in the middle of a heavy fight taking casualties. Palantir actually works. When DCGS actually works, we’ll be ready to use it.”
He added: “If the crew of people I work with their combined IQ, ingenuity, and years of experience, can’t figure out how to make DCGS work in this fight, they need to fix their system.”

I've worked with DCGS on the back end - data models, data schemas, system compatibility, etc - and one of the biggest problems with DCGS (just like CIDNE) is the insistence that it become the one-database-to-rule-them-all instead of acknowledging that there are other data sources out there that are relevant and useful and meaningful and they can and should be used without having to be sucked into the MCP.
The Army (in particular) and the DoD (in general) has a hard time with the idea of data sharing. In the wake of Bradley Manning, it's not an unreasonable fear. But it's too often used as a justification to defend rice bowls.

h/t Doctrine Man

By: Brant

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