Constant's pations

If it's more than 30 minutes old, it's not news. It's a blog.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Homeland Security: Why the FBI remains in the dark


A motion needs to be filed to issue an injunction on the current software development effort to track passengers. The program has every sign of a disaster in the making. Senior SES within DHS and DoJ have failed to demonstrate they are effectively managing this program. Continuing down this path is an imprudent use of public funds. Close court monitoring of this software development program is warranted.


Ref: The big reorganization following 9-11 forgot to include one player.

The very agents who knew about the impending plot, but were convinced "the buildings would not fall down."

Today, we are asked to comment on the plan to protect traveler's information.

Small problem.

The needed details required for that review will not be released until after the comment period is over.

More telling, is FBI blames the confusion over "their being left out of the loop."

Wait a minute. FBI is integral to the information-data-systems that rely on, use, and review the information in the databases.

It was DoJ briefings that were given to the Homeland Security personnel on how to respond to terror warnings.

Are we to believe that despite the data systems established in the early 1980s, that there is still a communication problem between DoJ and DHS?

Folks, the idea of a "reorganization" was to improve things, not to create new barriers and ricebowls to justify delayed access to information.

If public comments are truly desired, then we need to take a step back. Our comments should also address the apparent inability of the "fruits of this reorganization" to effectively communicate about basic assumptions.

Going forward, if this nation is truly committed to "fixing this mess" [however it is defined this week], then that solution needs to spring from a common set of assumptions.

Yet, as the comment period closes, it is readily apparent the "solid foundation assumptions" are unstable.

This does not bode well for a prudent contract award, nor a compelling baseline from which to measure progress.

If this nation truly wants to send a signal that we are working toward a common end, then this nation must ensure that the program managers are given clear guidance.

Yet, it is sadly apparent that the guidance is at best muddled. The FBI that is well educated in the DoD-related performance management systems, and regularly hires contractors to develop software, is now acting as if they are a victim.

Please! The SES is falling down. They are letting the flawed reorganization drive flawed contracting.

What needs to happen is: Public comments need to be provided that reflect not only concerns with the technical details, but with the apparent programmatic issues.

It is a severe problem when the customer [in this case DoJ] is acting as if it is out of the loop, unable to get the other party to listen. It is a larger problem when the senior leadership within both DoJ, DHS, and DoD cannot collectively put their heads together to ensure the lessons learned are crossflowed.

The unfolding disaster is not new. What is new is that despite the disaster, the end result, if not corrected, will be to impose the consequences for this disaster on the public.

Indeed, it will be stressed-agents on the front lines who will vent their anger on defendants, witnesses and informants. Failed data system will mean inefficient operations.

And in the end, errors can cost lives.

The public comments on this travel watch system need to be carefully reviewed, not just in terms of constitutional muster, but whether the initial baseline is solid. It is clear, with the FBI feigning ignorance and "out of touch" with matters it would have us believe they are well aware, that things that should be solid are not.

This is a leadership issue. And it involves SES sitting down with their software program managers and industry consultant-contractors to get a straight story: What needs to be baselined, what needs to be agreed, and then provide that proposal to the public for comments.

At this point, we have the reverse: The government has a messed up management system, no solid foundation, and a poor software architecture. Their solution is to close the comment period before the final decisions are made.

That is backward. DoJ and DHS need to come to an agreement. What are they going to do, how are they going to do it, and ensure the government customers and users of that data system are satisfied with the result.

At that juncture, the proposal will be ready for public comment.

We are far from that. And it is outrageous that the window for public comments is closing well before the baseline assumptions are agreed to.

Once again, the government is using the "poor communication problem within government" as the excuse to create a botched solution.

To this date, the "approved solution" has been to kick the "whatever we get" out the door, and make the agents and public "put up with" whatever system architecture is created.

Until the federal government ensures that the major players like DoJ are part of the initial discussion, the public is going to be poorly served. Not just with issues over privacy and the constitution, but whether public funds are being adequately managed.

At this juncture, it is clear the same causal problems that led to 9-11 [poor communication, leaving players out, continuing without adjusting] continue to affect the SES.

We should not be surprised why DHS and DoJ have problems. They were never collectively disciplined for the leadership problem that led to 9-11.

Thus, we should not be surprised why this acquisition effort, before it goes into contract award, is so botched and plagued with problems of "not even bothering to ensure the DoJ-customer" is part of the baseline discussions.

Despite the "new era" and the "number one priority on terrorism," they cannot handle something simple as communication.

And this SES wants the nation to believe that things are going well, trust us, we're doing a great job.

Get real. It's time the SES get their heads together. Review their "lessons learned" on other software efforts, and ensure the baseline is solid.

At that juncture, DoJ-DHS might have some credibility. Perhaps, the public at that juncture might have the information needed to make an informed comment.

At this jucture, we are far from that. And the solution to this problem is to extend the comment period and get the SES to fire up some thinking.

The end solution is not to dump the "whatever we get" on the back of the American public.

Moroever, if the "comment reviewers" say the "quality of comments is poor," that only relfects on their failed program mangement. The quality of comments will be understandably poor when the quality of the baseline is at best illusory.

It will be a serious mistake for anyone to conclude "the poor quality of comments" is a green light to embark on the voyage: To the land of illusory software baselines; and the stratospher of software programs that fail to address basic-DoJ requirements.

Yet, continuing down this path is doing more of what failed prior to 9-11: Using the "rubber stamp of a poorly informed Congress" to endorse doing more of what should otherwise be corrected.

The Senior leadership should be alarmed. Uncertainty is a part of risk; but management means managing that risk by baselining the program. We are far from that. DoJ rarely admits it is ignorant. When it does, we know there is a problem.

We've seen the net result of that approach: People hidden away in Guantanamo, facts hidden, and CIFA personnel cycled through, yet nobody can provide a clean story to either the Supreme Court or the Congress on "what really happened."

No, if you want public comments, get your act together. One sign of a "we're on the right track to being serious about public comments" would be for DHS-DOJ-DoD-CIFA to get their act together and get some attorneys into Guantanamo.

If DHS-DoJ-DoD-CIFA cannot credibly listen to the Supreme Court in re "getting attorneys to Guantanamo as the Supreme Court has already directed, there's no reason anyone in the public should credibly believe that any comment would be seriously considered in re a "minor" issue like the constitution.

You demonstrated have need close oversight, yet you refuse to provide that information needed for oversight.


Date as of 10/03/2004

An motion needs to be made request the court issue an inunction to, inter alia:

  • Cease work on any coding;
  • Delay the next milestone-contract award until the baseline is set, agreed to, and comments are received;
  • Direct the auditors from the GAO and DoJ-DHS-IG to find out what is going on;
  • Compel a firm software-development-baseline with clearly established and agreed to assumtions that the user-DoJ understands and buys off before the "request for comments" is then issued;
  • Re-baseline the issue-comment period; and
  • Require senior management within DoJ-DHS to provide a straight story to the court on what they plan to do to fix ~their~ communication problem over a relatively "minor" issue like dealing with data that will protect the country.

    It is so ordered

  • Yet, clearly there is a software baseline that is not firm when it should be; and there is a "requirement" the public "sign off" on something that remains in the pre-birth stage.

    From this vantage point, there is yet another disaster in the making. And DoJ is all too happy to go along with the ride hoping they aren't held accountable.

    You made a poor choice. Put the cart after the horse.