Examination Into Statements About Wasteful Practices at the National Civil Defense Computer Facility, Olney, Maryland

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1971-07-02.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                  COMPTROLLER     GEMERAL     OF      -i-H
                                WASHINGTON.    0.c.          2056e


Dear Senator    Cook:                                                    lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

      This is in response to your request that we examine into
Mr. Robert S. Triplett's    statements about wasteful     practices at the
   .-      Civil Defense  Computer
                  _..&--. -         Facility,
                                    __--- --.-.- Olney, Maryland.
      Mr. Triplett   stated in his letter   to you and in discussions
with us that little     or no use was being made of computer-system    soft-
ware costing about $600,000, disk files installed-a,bout      3 years a=
c?ZXing about $550,000, a high-speed p-Tinter costing about $100,000,
and an extensive    data communication system costing about $500,000.
He also said that the Olney facility      had not claimed about $4,000
due under the computer maintenance contract.

       We found that some of Mr. Triplett's        charges had considerable
merit in that extensive      disk capability     had been acquired substan-
tially    in advance of Olney's ability      to use it, about $500,000 had
been invested     in computer system software which had not yet been put
into use, and a high-speed printer         costing about $100,000 had had
very little     use.


       In March 1967 a contract was awarded to Informatics,                  Inc., for
design and specificatiZXs‘~of         a new disk-resident       programming support
system designated     "OH-36."      This system was intended to provide
greater utilization      of computers than was possible with the existing
SCOPE system furnished       by the equipment manufacturer.              Olney offi-
cials explained that the original            SCOPE system, which utilizes          tape,
provided   no disk-processing       capability.      The essential       requirements
of the contract were analysis,           design, detailed      specifications      of the
system, and coding of a new compiler and certain other programs in
the system.      Plans called for coding the programs in-house on the
basis of the contract       specifications.       The officials       informed us that
they took this approach because funds for all the work were not avail-
able at the time.      Final contract        costs were $491,410.
      The initial   target date for contract completion was June 1968.
When additional   tasks were added in May 1968, the target date was
extended to January 1969.      By subsequent no-cost modifications. the
target date was extended to March 4 and then to June 3, 1969.

       Shortly after the award of the contract,                      Olney learned that 10
authorized    employee spaces could not be filled.                      At about the same
time, we were told that a number of employees, including     some of the
most capable in computer skills,   had left the facility.    The net
 effect of the reduced employee spaces and the employee loss had been
that employees having computer experience had to be shifted     to the
most essential   duties and that, as a result,  the in-house effort   in
 support of the contract  could not be sustained at the planned level.

       The contract work was completed in June 1969, or 1 year later
than the original    target date.    At the time of the contract award,
the target date for completion of the in-house work was January 1970
based on the projected      use of seven employees full time for about l-3
years beginning    about June 1967 and fewer employees thereafter.      The
actual level of effort      amounted to about 2-$ f&l-time   spaces, attrib-
utable, according to Olney officials,      to the employee losses and to
the reduction    in authorized   employee spaces.

        Olney officials       explained      that they allocated       experienced      em-
ployees to cover essential            duties having higher priorities             than the
DH-36 system development.             Our discussion      of priorities       indicated     that
the DH-36 program was considered to be about third or fourth in prior-
ity, following        the fallout     shelter programs, shielding-analyses,               and
shelter analysis and design work.                 These officials      pointed out that
the DH-36 system was first            priority     only for the 2-s employee spaces
directly     utilized    on that program.

        According to present plans, a preliminary   version of the DH-36
system was scheduled to be installed      sometime during June 1971, and
it is expected to be fully operational      about 3 months later.    Thus
it will be about 2 years after contract completion before Olney will
begin using the DH-36 system and be in a position       to move forward in
utilizing     the disk storage capacity for direct access to data in its
applications     work.

        We agree generally       with Mr. Triplett's    statement that it is
wasteful     to invest in computer software for a system that is not
implemented on a timely basis.            However, it is difficult      to estab-
lish a realistic         basis for measurement of progress in computer pro-
gramming work, and a certain amount of slippage appears to be the
rule rather than the exception.            Because design, progrmng,         and
installation      of a sophisticated      system, such as the DH-36, requires
experienced,      skillful     systems personnel,    we believe   that the sched-
uled target date for completion of coding with the number and skill
level of employees available          at Olney was optimistic.        The DH-36
system has not yet been implemented because of slippage in both the
contract and the in-house parts of the work.               Consequently the
investment     in the software effort       has not begun to pay off.

                      814 DISK FILES
      Two Control Data Corporation    (CDC) 814 disk files were installed
in June 1967 and early in 1968 for about $508,000.        Plans were for
the National   Fallout  Shelter Survey program to be put on disk storage
to permit random access to shelter data.      The DH-36 operating    system
was intended to provide    for use of the disks by the existing     CDC 3200
and 3600 computers and to e-and the capabilities        of the computer

      To date, the storage capacity and direct-accessing    capability of
these disks scarcely have been used. Future use of the disks will
depend upon the installation   of the DH-36 system, the planning for
use of the disks during the systems design phase of current applica-
tions work, and the training   of the systems and programming employees
in disk use and capability.  '

       Disk capability    was necessary for use with the DH-36 system, but
the requirement      could have been met without buying both files at the
outset.    One unit-could    have been obtained,   either by lease or by pur-
chase, and the other unit could have been deferred         until the DH-36
system became usable.       Alternatively,   a CDC 854 disk pack could have
been leased to develop the DH-36 system. The disk pack is a smaller
unit which Olney officials        agree would have been sufficient  for de-
velopment of the DH-36 system, and it could have been leased for
about $500 a month.

       An official       of the Office of Civil Defense explained that no
additional     justification      was required     for purchasing      the second disk,
because both units had been approved in the original                   authorization.
Olney officials        have stated that the DH-36 system will be operational
 sometime after mid-1971 and that work can then be started on using
the mass disk storage capacity.               It should be noted that further           delay
may occur during the initial            phase of installing      the DH-36 system. It
will take much planning,           systems, and programming work to use the disk
 storage capacity and direct access capability              effectively.        Officials
at Olney recognize          this fact and have indicated       that they will develop
 a file management/irformation           retrieval    system to take full advantage
 of information       stored on mass storage files.

     In our opinion,  it would have been more prudent to acquire only
one disk unit, at least until the DH-36 system was operational   and
it was proven that the disks could be used to good advantage.

        Four Digitronics  521 data communications terminals   were acquired
at a contract cost of about $516,000.       They were ordered in June 1964,
delivered    in September 1966, and accepted in April 1967.

      We were told that this purchase had been directed by the Office
of civil    Defense as a backup for a similar    system related to a classi-
fied activity.     The purpose of this equipment is to provide     an emer-
gency data communication system which will allow receiving        and send-
ing magnetic tape information     vital to civil   defense should a national
emergency arise.     There has been no emergency to date requiring     the
use of this system.
      We were told that the system was being tested every day to ensure
that it was functional.       Operating employees also were using the
system to certify     magnetic tape for usability     and, on occasion, were
converting   tape character    representation   from a given bit-structure
to another bit-structure      as a service to another installation.        These
are not optimum applications       for the equipment,-but   they do serve to
keep it functional.


      An A. B. Dick 9041 printer     was acquired in 1965 at a cost of
$98,500.    This  machine had  had limited  use and was declared surplus
in the latter    part of 1970.

        The requirements     for recording      data at the designed speed of
this printer      never materialized,       and its use for other purposes was
limited    by the fact that the maximum number of characters                  a line was
120, whereas all data files         in use at Olney were structured              to 136
characters     a line consistent      with the Control Data Corporation              equip-
ment.' In addition,      the recommendation to declare this printer                  sur-
plus stated that its principal           disadvantage      was poor print quality
and that a series of visits         by the vendor's         representatives      through
February 1968 failed       to improve quality        sufficiently        to permit its

       Officials  explained to us that action to, declare the printer
surplus had not been taken earlier    because they knew of no prospec-
tive users and that the decision came when plans were made to move
to a new building.
      Our inquiry  into the maintenance contract with Control Data
Corporation   showed that the contractor   was billed   on January 22,
1971, for the $4,395 applicable    to the period March through December
1970, that was questioned by Mr. Triplett.       On February 10, 1971, a
claim for $641 additional    for January was submitted.

      In the process of obtaining  this information,     we met with knowl-
edgeable officials   and employees at Olney.    We reviewed documentation

related    to the software contract and discussed certain matters with
appropriate      officials   of the Office of Civil Defense.   We also con-
sulted the Office of the Engineer Inspector         General concerning its
previous     investigations.

      We plan to make no further    distribution  of this report unless
copies are specifically  requested,      and&hen we shall make distribu-
tion only after your agreement has been obtained.        We shall be glad
to discuss these matters with you or your staff if you so desire.
                                       Sincerely   yours,

                                        of the United   States

The Honorable   Marlow W. Cook
United States   Senate