Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This is not the budget item you're looking for

Or: How project management is more than Force strangulation.

The good folks at the Pentagon have a sense of humor. How do I know? Because an Air Force acquisitions branch chief decided to make a point about not pouring money into big projects with an uncertain utility using the biggest example ever: the Death Star.

In a well-written article filled with tongue-in-cheek references to the Star Wars universe (and a hilarious illustration), Lt. Col. Dan Ward shows how the Death Star was essentially the victim of bad procurement and project-management decisions.

Utility? It had almost none. It only fired its main weapon once, and the Empire did not actually want to go around destroying too many planets, as that would de facto destroy the empire.

Cost? At 14 times the current U.S. debt, it is hard to argue that it was worth the money either time they tried to build it, given the utility.

Well-managed? As Ward points out, the second one is running behind schedule when it is destroyed, and only Darth Vader's murderous "motivational speeches" can get things moving again.

In his mind, those issues trump even the two Death Stars' vulnerabilities, allowing them to be blowed up real good by a bunch of rust-streaked one-man fighters. (albeit with George Lucas' screenwriting in their corner)

I am a lover of big, fascinating technology programs, but I see his point. The National Aerospace Plane, for instance, was a huge money sink for years before everyone collectively realized it wasn't going anywhere and even if it did, who would use it? A giant, airborne laser, while an interesting technology demonstrator, doesn't have much use in the real world.

So, in all, a fun and interesting read. It is good to hear our military planners have a sense of humor--and the good sense to know that the last thing we want to become is the Evil Empire.