From time immemorial, civilizations have been plagued with software glitches that have frustrated both citizens and Emperors alike. Most Americans, not to mention the world's finest historians, are unaware that the construction of the Roman Coliseum was plagued by cost over runs and software glitches that threatened to delay the grand opening for years.
Of course, software at that time consisted of barbarians slaves from the nether regions of the empire who had to manually manipulate the marvelous technological wonders that Rome's finest architects could design. But, be that as it may, this blog will focus on modern software glitches, which have cost citizens of civilized countries and elected leaders alike hundreds of millions of dollars and oftentimes, hundreds of human lives.
Famous Computer Glitches
The FBI and the Sentinel Computer System
ABC’s Jack Cloherty and Jason Ryan reported in 2010 that the new FBI computer system was two years behind schedule and $100 million over budget.
The purpose of the computer system was to allow FBI agents to keep track of the details of cases and to share information and evidence with fellow agents, as opposed to the cumbersome system of paper forms, memos and phone calls.
The “Sentinel” computer system, produced by Lockheed Martin, and scheduled to be operational in 2009, was not the first attempt to computerize FBI files.
The FBI spent three years and $170 million attempting to develop the Virtual Case File system. After realizing the system would not work, in 2005 the FBI turned to the Sentinel system as an alternative.
But the Sentinel system had its own problems. The Inspector General of the Justice Department reported that only half of the system had been finished but $405 million of the $452 million allocated had been spent. So the FBI decided to eliminate the contractors and finish the job by hiring experts to do the job in-house in one year and on budget.
The Inspector General was dubious based on past FBI failures with computer projects. But the FBI pushed forward and in August 2012, 3 years overdue and $451 million later, the FBI declared victory.
Republicans say that any sort of health care reform should be done on a state level. Of course, historically, we have seen Democratic and Republican Governors and Legislators ignore the problem for years, with the notable exception of Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Naturally, there were problems with starting up RomneyCare. According to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, there were numerous computer glitches and delays. But the program was eventually up and running and the citizens of the state now embrace RomneyCare enthusiastically.
Even today, given an option to adopt “free” Medicaid expansion for 3 years, over 20 Republican states have put the life and financial security of their own citizens at risk out of political ideology and spite toward the President.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal says the 3 years of free federal money is not affordable, because after 3 years, the state will have to shoulder the burden of having to pay 10% of the cost, with the Federal Government paying the other 90%.
What goes unsaid, until now, is that Medicaid is a program designed to provide health care to those with low incomes, the working poor and the suddenly jobless. A cure for the Medicaid “problem,” which is the high cost of providing benefits to the deserving, would be to implement policies that boost the incomes of the beneficiaries. For example, raising the minimum wage, requiring businesses to provide reasonable benefits, stop exporting jobs by not subsidizing businesses that export jobs with government tax breaks, and starting an infrastructure construction program which would create good jobs and as a result, reduce the number of those who would otherwise qualify for Medicaid.
But do conservative Georgia politicians (and pretty much all Georgia politicians of all parties over the last 200 years holding statewide office are conservatives) have a history of being good stewards of the conservative Georgia taxpayers money with computer programs? Not really.
The State of Georgia and Affiliated Computer Services
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC Jan. 22, 2004) a problem similar to the present woes of ObamaCare with computerized medical information technology occurred in Georgia in the early 2000’s. The state signed a 5 year contract worth $350 million with Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) to consolidate into one software system the processing and paying of health benefits for 2.2 million Georgians, a novel approach no other state had undertaken.
The company missed the deadline to begin phase one by six months. The company missed a series of other deadlines, and medical providers were unable to access the computer network or even reach the company by telephone. Medical providers were not paid, resulting in hardships for doctors and hospitals that served large numbers of Medicaid and PeachCare patients.
A consulting firm concluded that millions of claims would need to be adjusted, frustrating thousands of doctors, hospitals and other medical professionals who had suffered payment problems. The state ended up canceling the second phase of the contract with ACS but wasted millions of dollars.
Denver International Airport Computerized Baggage System
In 2008 Calleam Consulting, Ltd. published a case study titled “Denver International Airport Baggage Handling System Case Study. Why Technology Projects Fail.”
While the case study blames faulty decision making, what that boils down to is that the computerized baggage system as imagined or designed had never been done before and was too complex for the technology and software engineering knowledge of the day. Of course, pushing the envelope is how progress is achieved, and that is a good thing. But sometime advanced technology goes wrong. (Example: the Hindenberg, Titanic, Challenger)
The idea of the management of the Denver International Airport’s was to have an $186 million automated integrated baggage handling system which would connect all three of the DIA concourses in order to reduce air plane turn around time, reduce air line and airport labor costs and reduce customer waiting time at the baggage carousels.
But because of the problems with the computerized baggage handling system, the opening of the entire airport was delayed for 16 months, from the projected October 31, 1993 to the actual February, 28, 1995.
The delay cost the city of Denver over $1 million dollars a day for construction costs and loan interest. Once the airport opened, only United used the baggage system for their concourse. But after several years, Untied abandoned the system because the maintenance costs were $12 million a year.
In this example, the computerized baggage system was a complete failure.
More Examples of Computer Glitches
Some Conservatives insist that Free Market businesses are better than governments at building competent computer systems, as well as everything else. But both government and businesses have created computer software disasters. Not to mention, most government computer programs are created by independent, for –profit businesses. Software glitches can have serious consequences, including the deaths of innocent people. Here are some examples.
During the Gulf War on February 25, 1991, a Patriot missile failed to intercept an Iraqi Scud missile which then hit a barracks holding U.S. troops in Dharan, Saudi Arabia. 28 U.S. soldiers were killed and scores were wounded. According to the GAO report, “a software problem led to system failure.”
On June 4, 1996, the Ariane 5 rocket developed by the European Space Agency failed after launch. The program cost $7 billion to develop and the value of the rocket and cargo was $500 million. The official explanation for the failure was a “software error in the inertial guidance system.”
A computer software glitch almost distorted the results of a German Parliamentary election in April 1992. According to German law, a party has to win a total of at least 5% of the votes to win seats in the Parliament. In one section of the country, the computer gave the Green Party that magic number at the expense of the governing Social Democrats. (SPD) The Greens had actually only won 4.97% of the votes. The computer software program compiling the vote totals took it upon itself to produce a nice, simple number and rounded up the total to 5. To the relief of the SPD, the error was eventually caught. Maybe the computer was secretly an environmentalist.
On August 23, 1991, the Norwegian Sleipen A Oil Platform in the North Sea sank. According to the post accident investigation, there was a software error in the design program. The “sheer” stress that the underwater concrete supports would have to endure was underestimated by 47%, thus the concrete walls were not built thick enough. The 57,000 ton platform held 40,000 pounds of equipment. The concrete cracked and water poured in faster than the pumps could remove it. The platform sank and was a total loss. The monetary cost was $700 million.
The U.S. space program, just like the European Space Agency, has had more than its share of computer software glitches resulting in several mission failures. Here are just two. There are more.
In September of 1993, the Mars Climate Orbiter mission failed due to a computer software failure. The exact cause is not known for certain, but one theory is that when the landing legs deployed approximately 40 meters above the surface as designed, the computer assumed that the craft had landed on the surface and turned off the landing jets. According to this theory, the craft then crashed. It was known during construction of the craft and the creation of the computer software that this scenario was possible but no software fix was ever created.
In July 1962 NASA’s Mariner 1 Venus Probe failed due to a computer software failure. Several possibilities were advanced as to the cause of the failure of the mission. One theory is that one of the lines of code in the software had a period where there should have been a comma, and another theory has been advanced is that the failure was caused by a missing hyphen.
During the Falklands War, the British war ship HMS Sheffield was sunk because the computer software recognized the incoming Exocet missile as “friendly.”
Due to computer software errors and exacerbated by human error, the US Guided Missile Cruiser USS Vincennes believed the Iranian Airbus 320 Flight 655 was an attacking Iranian F-14 Tomcat and shot it down, killing all 290 passengers and crew on board.
It was at first assumed that the Iranians retaliated by placing a bomb aboard Flight 103 which went down over Lockerbie, Scotland. Libya was eventually blamed and took responsibility.
At Software Horror Stories, http://www.cs.tau.ac.il/...
107 examples of computer software disasters such as the above are listed, as of May 1, 2011.
Of course, one doesn’t need a computer software glitch to create a spectacular failure. The Tacoma Washington Suspension Bridge collapse happened 6 months after it was completed in 1940. This suspension bridge buckled and collapsed in a mere 40 mph wind.
There are numerous sites on the internet that document the various and numerous disaster caused by computer software and also dysfunctional roll-outs of computer programs of all types. One only has to take the time to educate one's self to see that the rocky launch of the Affordable Care Act is typical of the creation and launch of complicated computer programs, in the past, as today.