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Why the Pentagon’s many campaigns to clean up its accounts are failing

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PentagonThe U.S. Air Force had great expectations for the Expeditionary Combat Support System when it launched the project in 2005. This accountants’ silver bullet, the Air Force predicted a year later, “will fundamentally revolutionize the way the Air Force provides logistics support.”

The new computer-based logistics technology would replace 420 obsolete, inefficient and largely incompatible “legacy” systems with a single, unified means of tracking the hardware of warfare. And it would be done for a mere $1.5 billion, combining three off-the-shelf products from Oracle Corp and modifying them only enough so that they could work together.

Seven years and $1.03 billion taxpayer dollars later, the Air Force announced in November 2012 that it was killing the project. ECSS had yielded “negligible” value and was “no longer a viable option,” the Air Force said. It would have taken an estimated $1.1 billion more to turn it into a system that could perform about one-quarter of its originally planned tasks, and couldn’t be fielded until 2020.

An August 28, 2013, report on the project, commissioned by an undersecretary of defense, filled in more of the blanks. The original promise of ECSS “was an exaggeration not founded on any true analysis,” it said. The plan was “ambiguous”; the Air Force failed to determine what ECSS would replace and what it would need to succeed.


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