Federal Times Blogs

Report details factors behind flameout on $1B Air Force logistics project

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Muddled governance, ineffective change management and revolving door leadership were among the forces leading to last year’s demise of a costly and high-stakes Air Force logistics modernization program, according to newly released findings from an internal inquiry.

The Air Force canceled the Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) last November after spending $1 billion for what one top manager termed “negligible” capability. But the acquisition review team offers a more upbeat take, concluding that much of the work done on the system “can be reused.”

The ECSS “wasn’t the failure people think it was,” the team adds. “It was the first step to truly understanding the enormous task the Air Force has ahead of itself.”

The undated executive summary was released this month by the Senate Armed Services Committee to Federal Times. After the cancellation, the committee’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and the top Republican at the time, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, demanded answers on what had gone wrong, what options the Air Force was considering to replace the ECSS and how the Defense Department would take into account the failure of the prime contractor, Virginia-based Computer Sciences Corp., to perform as required when awarding future contracts.

But while the Pentagon responded in March, neither Levin’s office nor DoD officials would release the answers (apart from a cover letter)  because the Pentagon opted to stamp them “For Official Use Only.”

At Federal Times’ request earlier this year, Levin specifically asked the Pentagon to drop the FOUO marking so the committee could make the full response public; the Defense Department instead said that it was not releasable ”’due to its contents,’” Tara Andringa, a  Levin spokeswoman, said in an email this month. Defense officials did permit release of the summary of the review team’s final report.

The report highlights four contributing causes and six root causes behind the program’s failure. One problem was getting “buy-in” from a user community fearful of how the ECSS would affect them personally. As time went on, the lack of effective change management got worse “because the lack of successful implementation signaled to the field that Expeditionary Combat Support System was not worth supporting,” the report says.

Management churn was routine:  The project went through five program executive officers in six years and six program managers in eight years. In addition, the ECSS logistics transformation office was staffed with term appointees, not permanent employees, leading to additional turnover. And the overall governance structure was flawed as well: The absence of “coherent leadership guidance” on meshing intermingled methodologies drove “needless delay, frustration, uncertainty and labor burden on the program office.”

That problem, the report says, “is not yet resolved.”

A year later, it’s also unclear where the Air Force stands in finding a way forward.

The ECSS was to be a key piece of the Defense Department’s drive to make its books fully auditable by a legally required deadline of September 2017. Because of scheduling issues, key officials were not available for an interview in recent days.

In written answers to questions, Brig. Gen. Kathryn Johnson said the Air Force still expects to meet both the 2017  target, as well as a preliminary deadline to produce an audit-ready statement of budgetary resources by the end of next September. Since the ECSS was cancelled, she said, the service is using a “building block approach” to deploying “new, improved transformational technologies.”

[This post has been updated to include new information from the Air Force]

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IBM to integrate Air Force pay, personnel systems

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The Air Force on Monday awarded IBM an $11.8 million contract to integrate its military personnel and pay processes into one system.

As part of the Air Force Integrated Personnel and Pay System Program (AF-IPPS), IBM will design “an enterprise resource planning-based solution to meet all personnel and pay requirements,” according to a Defense Department announcement. Work is expected to be completed by December 2014.

The new personnel and pay system will replace the Military Personnel Data System (MilPDS) and the Defense Joint Military Pay System (DJMS) for the Air Force, according to a December 2012 Mitre report. The new system will play a key role in helping the Air Force meet its audit goals.

The system will serve about 507,000 service members and “thousands of military leaders of different ranks, specialties, and career fields,” according to the administration’s IT Dashboard, which tracks the status of large technology projects. The Air Force expects the system will reduce annual payroll errors by 75 percent, and allow airmen to be compensated in a timely manner at least 98.5 percent of the time.

The Mitre report also notes the new system will have a self-service capability for airmen to update personal information and access their pay records anytime. However, the system is expected to have more than 100 user interfaces and connections to external systems, which could create technical, cost and schedule challenges, the report said.


U.S. military’s Afghan HQ opens just in time for possible demolition

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$34 million military building

Photo courtesy, SIGAR

By one estimate, it’s one of the best constructed facilities in Afghanistan, but soon the $34 million military center in Hemland province could be torn down because, well, it turns out troops are leaving and the U.S. government might not have really needed the building in the first place.

Special Office of Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko outlined the scope and history of the expensive problem in a letter this week to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, which you can read about here.

But for a virtual tour of the building’s clean, spacious and barren offices and meeting rooms, the IG’s office has posted a set of photos online.

No doubt, it’s a spacious facility, but there’s just one thing missing: people.

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Air Force early-out offer at Georgia base attracts some 400 takers

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About 400 civilian employees will be leaving Robins Air Force Base in the latest of  a series of early-out offers, according to a news release today. The package, unveiled last month, combined an early retirement option with a buyout worth up to $25,000. The 403 workers at the Georgia installation who ultimately accepted must be off the payroll by the end of next month.

The base, an Air Force logistics hub about 100 miles from Atlanta, employs some 15,000 civilians, spokesman David Donato said in a phone interview. This early-out round is the fourth since 2011; a total of 680 employees took advantage of the other three. No more are planned “at this time,” Donato said.

The reason for the latest downsizing “was to better align the complex workforce with the incoming workload,” Stacy Wood, a human resource specialist, said in the release. “As our workload has decreased, the workforce needed to be shaped so it’s the right size to match the workload.”  The across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester were not a factor, he added.

Air Force creates new mascot: Spoiler alert, its sort of a monster

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For those of you who follow environmental initiatives, the Air Force has been on a recycling kick recently. Whether its recycling scrap metal or trying to reduce waste by using compostable silverware, the Air Force is trying to cut down on as much garbage as it can.

And now it has a mascot for its efforts.

From the Air Force:

CHUCK-IT, the recycling mascot, targets children between the ages of 5 and 12 and is the latest addition to the “Win the War Against Waste” tool kit — an outreach campaign developed to support the Air Force’s worldwide environmental objectives for solid waste management.


I am not sure if its the crazed look or the skewed wheels, but this recycling monster is probably the most awesome environmentally friendly mascot since the "Toxic Avenger"

More quotes:

The CHUCK-IT mascot targets children but has appeal for those of all ages, said Nancy Carper, AFCEC’s integrated solid waste management specialist.

“Children often get stuck taking out the trash and recycling, so CHUCK-IT brings some fun to this not-so-fun chore,” she said.

The tool kit provides Air Force installations with outreach materials to help keep their campaigns fresh as they move toward achieving higher levels of waste diversion, Carper said.

I don’t have much more to add, except that I eagerly await the comic book and cartoon tie-in that will inevitably follow.

Public Service Recognition Week: Octavia Hall

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As an Army brat, Octavia Hall has always been around public service. She spent most of her life in Germany bouncing around several bases. Hall said it was both her family and her community who encouraged her to serve.

“When I went out to the bus stop, I remember the soldiers coming over to talk to us about going to school, getting a good education, asking about our career goals. They contributed a lot to my wanting to serve,” Hall said.

As military families do, Hall’s family moved again, this time to Maryland. In high school she was active in cheerleading and a singing-show group she compared to the hit show Glee.

When graduation approached, Hall wasn’t interested in military service, but she knew there was a place for her on the civilian side. After receiving her diploma from La Plata High School, she was hired as a resource adviser at Joint Base Andrews. Hall helped families with child-care needs, career development courses and dual military spouses dealing with deployments.

“It’s always been instilled in me to help others in need,” Hall said.

Hall’s job at Andrews led her to her current position as the president of  Local 1401 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Listen to Hall share her views on public service:

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Air Force buyout, early out applications close Friday

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Are you at the Air Force, and thinking you might want to take the buyout or early out offered earlier this month? Better get moving. Friday is the last day for eligible employees to apply.

The Air Force hopes 4,500 civilians will apply for this second round of buyouts and early outs. Those who are accepted have to retire by April 30.

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Senate repeals ban on gays in military

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The Senate on Saturday repealed the long-standing “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibited openly gay men and women from serving in the military. The final vote was 65-31 in favor of repeal.

The bill now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it next week.

View our sister websites, including ArmyTimes.com, for more coverage.

Air Force ad has rock band seeing red

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The Air Force pulled a recruitment ad off its website after the rock duo The White Stripes threatened to sue the agency for using one of its songs without permission.

The ad, which aired during Sunday’s Super Bowl, included an instrumental version of the Detroit band’s popular song, “Fell in Love with a Girl.” According to a statement posted on the band’s website, the song was re-recorded and used without permission. The band said it would be forced to take action to stop the ad if it wasn’t removed.

The band took particular issue with its song being used to help recruit airmen to fight in a “war that we do not support.”

The White Stripes support this nation’s military, at home and during times when our country needs and depends on them. We simply don’t want to be a cog in the wheel of the current conflict, and hope for a safe and speedy return home for our troops.

The band posted a clip to its song and a link to the Air Force ad, but the ad has since been removed from the Air Force website.

At the risk of further upsetting the band, we’re posting the official video below.

YouTube Preview Image


How not to do a photo op

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The Air Force likely will have some explaining to do following this particularly poorly thought-out photo op, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Seems the Air Force thought it was a good idea to have a Boeing 747 fly very low around Manhattan while being escorted by an F-16. Apparently, the FAA and the New York City Police Department were told of the stunt, but no one warned the public. Understandably, more than a few New Yorkers made for the exits, as reported by WSJ:

The low-flying 747 sent workers worried about a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks fleeing their offices in the New York City area.Traders bolted from the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange after seeing the jets. The exchange, which sits on the east bank of the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan and is blocks from the site of the terrorist-destroyed World Trade Center, didn’t order an evacuation.

People trading oil, natural gas and other commodities on the Nymex floor apparently took no chances. A Nymex security official was “literally standing, holding his hands up in a calming gesture. Guys were running right past him,” said Pete Donovan, a vice president at Vantage Trading in the crude-futures ring. …

Construction workers fled the 43-story headquarters for Goldman Sachs Group Inc., currently under construction across the street from the trade center site. The workers later returned to the job.

In the end, there certainly were many photos taken, including these that were posted on the WSJ Web site.

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