More how it gets done. Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) is the 9th largest defense contractor and is an integral part of the military-industrial complex. Its board and upper ranks are filled with heavy hitters from the military and intelligence communities who use the revolving door to cycle back and forth between the company and government. It is a convenient arrangement. Not only does the company have easy access to contracts with either little or no bidding but it has inbuilt protection against its failures and misdeeds. The result is no matter how badly a job is bungled penalties vary from minimal to non-existent. The costs to the nation’s security as a result of such boondoggles are large but unquantifiable. A few examples:
- The NSA needed a computer system to process and manage the huge number of communications it monitors. SAIC got a $280 million contract and 26 months to develop the system called Trailblazer. 4 years and a billion dollars later with no program in sight, the NSA finally pulled the plug it. But since it still needed the system, the NSA relet the contract which was again won by SAIC this time for $361 million.
- SAIC was also behind the FBI’s disastrous program to computerize its case and filing system into a single integrated database. The contract was worth $124 million. After 3 years the Virtual Case File as it was called didn’t work and was abandoned. It’s final cost was $170 million. (Note: This system was replaced by Sentinel built by Lockheed Martin. It was even more expensive but also has had significant problems. It was to cost $425 million and be finished December 2009. As of December 2008, it was scheduled to cost $451 million and be completed in June 2010.)
- From 1993 to 2002, David Kay was at SAIC where he became director of its Center for Counterterrorism Technology and Analysis. He was a major promoter of the idea that Iraq had large WMD programs and championed the case for the Second Gulf War. In 2003-2004, he ran the hunt for WMD in Iraq. When none were found, he said on January 28, 2004 that "it turns out that we were all wrong." But it really wasn’t "we", but those like Kay who had pressed the case so hard by ignoring what evidence there was and relying instead on highly dubious sources produced by the likes of Ahmed Chalabi. When Bush appointed a commission to investigate what had happened, three of those on the commission had ties to SAIC. Naturally no fingers were pointed SAIC’s or Kay’s way and no conflict of interest concerns were raised.
The SAIC story emblematic of so many companies represents the problems and dangers of outsourcing essential services to private contractors. The results are sweetheart deals, cost overruns, delays, systems that don’t work, and very, very little accountability. Companies that do this kind of work and those that run them wrap themselves in a patriotic flag even as they loot the nation’s treasury and weaken its security with shoddy products that don’t work.