Letters to the editor

Look beyond 'usual suspects' for answers on VCF

I wanted to respond to your good article, 'Cold Case,' concerning the FBI's Virtual Case File system.

There are parallels between the FBI's Virtual Case File system, developed by Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego, and IBM Corp.'s FAA Advanced Automation System of 10 years ago.

1. Both had integrators that failed to perform but successfully flew below the radar of the press and congressional oversight. They are the General Services Administration on the FBI system and TRW Inc. [since acquired by Northrop Grumman Corp.] on the FAA system.

2. Both had background issues above the pay grade of project participants. The FBI does not want to share information to begin with, and the FAA trust fund was coveted by the administration, which appeared to have other plans for it.

3. Both were reduced to uncharacteristic finger-pointing in public and in front of Congress. Both SAIC and IBM are dignified and respected organizations in most every situation.

4. Both had their architecture singled out as a source of difficulty.

Beyond these striking similarities, there is always the need to round up the usual suspects on large software projects:

1. Of course the requirements are not known at the outset. They never are; they are only fully known at the end of the project when all the changes have been identified; by then, everyone has a deeper understanding.

2. Large software projects must undergo a process of experimentation; it is in the nature of things. Experienced adults in business know this.

3. Predictable cost and schedule performance is not the same as managed cost and schedule. With the uncertainty of requirements and changes in direction, actual costs can only match estimated costs by forced contrivance'that is, ship defects knowingly or reduce function. Is that what users want?

4. These factors are embedded in the environment of large-scale projects, but they are simply the context, not the problem.

To get real answers on the SAIC-FBI project, we need to take a hard look at the performance of the GSA integrator and whether the FBI truly wants this system in the first place.

Don O'Neill

Executive vice president

Center for National Software Studies

OPM modernization is moving ahead

I would like to clarify information in recent articles written by Jason Miller about a Government Accountability Office report concerning the Office of Personnel Management's Retirement Systems Modernization effort.

Miller's characterization of GAO's findings that OPM's modernization effort is 'at risk of failing,' and that OPM should take some steps to 'right the project,' does not clearly convey the findings of the report or the status of the effort.

The report contains nine recommendations regarding systems acquisition and management of the project that are based on industry best practices, and, when implemented, increase the likelihood of success for projects such as our modernization effort.

OPM agrees with these and has been putting the necessary processes and oversight in place. Action on the recommendations will be completed prior to beginning implementation of the two major components of the modernization, which are moving from paper to electronic record-keeping, and acquiring technology that can utilize the electronic data to automate activities and offer Web services to system members.

GAO's findings and recommendations to put the necessary acquisition plan and management processes in place prior to implementation are sound, and OPM agrees with and is implementing the recommendations.

Kathleen M. McGettigan

OPM deputy associate director

Center for Retirement and Insurance Services Program

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