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Congressional Accountability For Broken Military Programs Is Catching On – But Are They Blaming The Right People?

Late last week we saw the release of a letter from Rep Duncan Hunter (R-CA) to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Director, National Intelligence LTG James Clapper (USAF, Ret) regarding the impending nomination of US Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, LTG Mary Legere to take the place at Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, of the out going LTG Mike Flynn. What makes this letter so interesting is that Rep Hunter is in opposition to LTG Legere’s appointment. LTG Legere is a career Military Intelligence Officer with a varied tactical intelligence background. I don’t believe that her experience is in question.

To read the letter click the link:
Rep Duncan Hunter on New DIA Nomination

Rather, Rep Hunter’s opposition all pivots around the long-plagued Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) program, and in particular its migration to a classified cloud computing environment which would allow users to access more data, from more locations. For those of you unfamiliar, DCGS-A is the Army’s primary system to post data, process information, and disseminate Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) information about the threat, weather, and terrain to echelons. DCGS-A provides commanders the ability to task battle-space sensors and receive intelligence information from multiple sources. Analysts claim it requires extensive contract support, is often down, is not intuitive and generally difficult to use. What they do like is a computer program called Palantir. Named after mythological Seeing Stones, Palantir was developed with help from the not-for-profit In-Q-Tel venture fund which is designed to assist promising technologies to support the US Intelligence Community. According to everyone who uses it, it works, and works well. How well? The data to track down arch-terrorist Usama bin Laden was reportedly analyzed and developed in a Palantir environment.

On one hand, it’s refreshing to see that members of Congress are keeping an eye on how well programs actually work. But, I’m concerned that Rep Hunter is shooting the messenger and not the folks actually at fault. In addition to LTG Legere, Rep hunter also calls out US Army Intelligence and Security Command’s Commanding General MG Stephen G. Fogarty, who like LTG Legere, is a career Intelligence Officer with a combination of tactical and strategic intelligence assignments including numerous tours in SOF. What both of these officers have done is briefed Congress on numerous occasions about the health of the system their forces use. As DCGS-A is far from a model program, INSCOM has reportedly attempted to create a duplicate cloud in order to make things work. Additionally, LTG Legere has not been as forthcoming with Congress as Rep Hunter would like regarding program details. But ultimately, the development and fielding (not use) of the actual program of record belongs to PEO Intelligence and Electronic Warfare Systems’ PM DCGS-A. That office is part of Army Material Command and not INSCOM or any other part of the Intelligence Community. If PEO IEWS was in a line and block chart of the IC, it would be a dashed line way off to the side.

Some would blame ‘The System’ for DCGS-A’s failure. Rep Hunter chooses to blame Army Intelligence leadership. But I suggest something more radical. I say we place responsibility on a broken program where it belongs; with the Acquisition community that developed it. Whether it’s an intelligence analysis system, an aircraft, or a camouflage pattern, the offices that manage the life cycle of these programs must be held accountable not only for schedule and budget but also, how well they actually work.

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9 Responses to “Congressional Accountability For Broken Military Programs Is Catching On – But Are They Blaming The Right People?”

  1. Steve says:

    Having spent a distressing amount of time in that system, I agree that the system itself is the problem. However, until a sufficient number of very senior heads roll over outrages like this there is no hope of the system changing. The system is composed of commanders and “managers” who create and perpetuate the “system” every day by the decisions they make (or refuse to make). The old adage is “they made this bed, now let them lay in it,” and that certainly applies here.

    Let us not forget that Legere ALWAYS had the option to “fall on her sword” as have soldiers throughout time when it came time to do the right thing. She chose to protect her career (certainly she’s not alone in that) and is, in literal fact, responsible for the failure of the program.

    This is yet another example of flag officers getting there by self-serving careerism, self-aggrandizement, and self-protection, and we should not be surprised when they maintain that attitude and behavior once the stars are pinned on. Again, Legere is not the only villain, but she certainly deserves what’s happening to her right now. She had abundant opportunities to make the honorable choices–again and again, but failed to do so.

    • Terry B says:

      I certainly agree that senior officers should be held accountable for what happens and fails to happen within their range of control. But I’m with SSD here. The problem is largely HOW we acquire systems to meet requirements. Not the people who have to try to make those systems work.

      As for “falling on swords” every time a piece of equipment is fielded that doesn’t work as advertised. That might work in the movies. But in real life that scenario result in only two things. A lot of bloody swords and the loss the very high quality people we need to try to unscrew the problem.

      So unless someone shows me where LTG Legere “owned” DCGS-A development and fielding at some earlier point I’m not going to hold her responsible.

  2. dude says:

    Or Duncan Hunter wants to secure business for a company in his district. I was in OTC in the immediate aftermath of the operational assessment of Palantir in Afghanistan and the fact is, as of 2012, it failed to fully integrate with ABCS. And that comes directly from Palantir NOT being the program of record for the intelligence ABCS; it simply wasn’t built to ABCS standards for integration into the larger system architecture.

    What Palantir does, it generally does better than DCGS-A. But, as of 2012, it only does about a third of DCGS-A does, so it failed to meet selection criteria.

    • SSD says:

      I have heard the issue of Palantir being in Rep Hunter’s district in the past. I do not believe that it needs to be an “either, or” situation here. Palantir could be integrated into the framework of DCGS-A. The DCGS-A problems of way beyond link analysis or any other tool.

    • James says:

      After having used both systems extensively overseas, I have found that Palantir excels where DCGS-A cannot. On remote FOBs where connectivity is a major issue DCGS-A fails to perform period. It is heavily reliant on connectivity to the server stacks which take up enormous amouts of space, have over 30 seperate hard drives which must be handled seperately from the system, and several laptops which must be networked in to the overall network then connected to the server stacks. Palantir takes one laptop, with or without internet connectivity, and does everything that DCGS-A does. Unless you are on a superFOB (say Baghram) the likelihood of you actually using DCGS-A is about 2%. The software itself is notorious for crashes, where hours of work is lost, mapping software contained within DCGS-A fails epically unless you can get the FSR out there to manually place the map chips on your system, and FSR support is sketchy at best. When I asked a FSR how to perform an operation within the system, not only did he not know how to do it, but it took a week for him to get back to me with an answer. I turned to Palantir and performed the operation with no problems so my unit would not suffer for the failings of a system.

      Overall, Palantir is a much better system, which units on the ground recognize as being superior and buy out of their operational funds.

  3. Chicago Steve says:

    Reading the letter from Rep Hunter, I don’t believe he’s so much concerned with the fact that this a broken program, as much as the fact is that he feels he was willfully mislead by the nominee.

    If true, that congress was willfully misled, I believe that gives him correct pause to hold up the person who will be in charge of military intelligence, especially in light of various NSA programs that may or may not be constitutional.

    • SSD says:

      That’s a very valid point. However, you are aware that NSA and DIA are two entirely different organizations?

  4. Ex-Navy says:

    DCGS-A has been around for quite awhile. It was around long before MG Legere took helm at Army G2. Why is Rep Hunter now suddenly concerned about the system? If it was broke in the past, why blame MG Legere or is she just the latest military official to be thrown under the bus just because they can? Having done some reading on this, it seems that DCGS-A has been around close to 10 years. Only now has it been shown to be the POS it really is.