Senators Levin and McCain call for answers on failed Air Force ERP program

Calling the Air Force’s failed Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) program “one of the most egregious examples of mismanagement in recent memory,” Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), chairman and ranking member respectively of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Dec. 5 asking for answers on the $1 billion in wasted money spent on the enterprise resource planning system.

Specifically they want to know how and why the Air Force spent that much money on a program that provided no new or improved military capability, as well as asking who is being held accountable and how will such a debacle be avoided in the future.

The Air Force established the ECSS program about seven years ago to improve weapons systems availability by streamlining its current logistics process that includes hundreds of logistics systems, and in the process save hundreds of millions of dollars. The idea was to allow commanders at all levels in the logistics chain to automate the process of gathering and interpreting logistics data.

The prime contractor for the ECSS program was Computer Sciences Corp., with the ERP software provided by Oracle.

Below is the exact transcript of the letter from the senators.

December 5, 2012

The Honorable Leon Panetta Secretary of Defense 1100 Defense Pentagon Washington, DC 20301-1100

Dear Secretary Panetta:

Just a few days ago, we learned that the Air Force has lost confidence in Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) and has canceled the program. After spending more than a billion dollars, the Air Force determined that the ECSS program has not yielded any significant military capability and would cost at least another billion dollars to complete.  In fact, the Air Force informs us that it has received usable hardware and software with a value of less than $150 million from the program. From what we know to date, this case appears to be one of the most egregious examples of mismanagement in recent memory. 

We believe that the public and the taxpayers deserve a clear explanation of how the Air Force came to spend more than a billion dollars without receiving any significant military capability, who will be held accountable, and what steps the Department is taking to ensure that this will not happen again. 

Accordingly, we ask that you provide us with answers to the following questions:

What has the Air Force gained from the $1 billion it has spent on this program and what capabilities, if any, will be salvaged from the program?

What were the root causes of the failure of the ECSS program and why did it take so long for senior management to recognize these problems and cancel the program?

Why were previous efforts to restructure the ECSS program ineffective, and why did it take so long for senior management to recognize that they had been ineffective?

What changes will the Department make in the way that it manages its procurement of its other enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs to avoid similar problems in the future? In particular, what steps will the Department take to ensure: (1) appropriate software selection; (2) adequate government ERP program management skills; (3) consistency in ERP acquisition processes; and (4) an infrastructure able to support ERP performance needs?

What role did ineffective business process re-engineering (BPR) have in the problems the Air Force experienced with ECSS and how is this issue being addressed for future ERP programs?

What steps will the Department take to ensure that the prime contractor’s failure to perform as required is appropriately considered as past performance in connection with future DOD contract award decisions?

What steps has the Department taken to review its other ERP programs in light of this experience and to ensure that they are not suffering from problems similar to those experienced by ECSS?

What options is the Air Force looking at to replace ECSS and how much are these options likely to cost? When will a comprehensive plan be in place?

In the absence of ECSS, how does the Air Force intend to meet the original objectives of ECSS and meet the 2014 and 2017 audit-readiness deadlines? 

If the Air Force is planning to rely on legacy systems as part of its mitigation approach, what steps is the Department taking to identify and assess these legacy systems to determine what modifications (including manual workarounds) will need to be implemented and when will the Department have a timeline in place for implementing these corrective actions?

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. 

Sincerely, Carl Levin Chairman

John McCain Ranking Member

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

Reader Comments

Wed, Dec 12, 2012 Caring Citizen Indianapolis

I applaud senators Levin and McCain for digging into the massive waste of resources associated with the failed ECSS project. As they engage the SASC to dig into the deep trenches of the program, and as they uncover the massive lack of accountability let us all hope that they don't limit their criticisms and actions to the Air Force leadership alone. Certainly there are a series of leaders that should be held accountable for such a waste of resources and such a debacle, however, there are also leaders with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) which worked side by side and hand in hand with the Air Force leaders to create the mess.

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 Erich Darr

Wasn't this project contracted by the same company that such had major problems with the IRS' redesign? DoD application systems should be designed and programmed by integral resources using contractors on a consulting basis to teach DoD employees how to use new software and get them up on the curve. In the end the DoD employees need to be capable of operating and modifying these software application systems. Requiring a contractor to maintain application software is a losing proposition for the government. The cost of contractor personnel to enhance and maintain computer programs is way too expensive on a longterm basis.

Mon, Dec 10, 2012

My gosh - think of what could have been done to improve legacy environment with a portion of that funding

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 Larry George Keesler AFB, MS

I cannot tell you why it took senior leadership so long to recognize the problems with ECSS, but can probably tell you why it failed. Anytime you try to integrate 100 legacy systems, it requires major, major business process reengineering changes in each of the departments being served by those systems. Those systems evolved to support the legacy business models in those departments and those legacy business models were in turn crafted to optimally support the distinct missions of tose departments. I suspect the program office had no power whatsoever to implement the required changes let alone the resources needed to assist in those changes. DoD's acquisition policy is that business process reengineering be accomplished up front before system implementation. However, that's usually not possible - particularly when acquiring a COTS system. Even if business process changes were made up front, what business model would be the objective and could one then even find a COTS system that woudl support that new model? It would be one flexible system indeed if it could accommodate business models of 100 legacy systems. The approach generally taken is to select a system and then make the process changes dictated by the business model embodied in that system. This works if the program office has the authority to mandate those changes and resources needed support those implementations. It's obvious that the program office did not have that authority or budgeted resources in this case (and rarely does - see DIMHRS for a previous example).

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