As the Obamacare computer system malfunction readily demonstrates, the federal government has a hard time getting value for the $80 billion it reportedly spends annually on information services.
The National Security Agency’s recent troubles in bringing a new data center in Utah on line are an excellent example. Costly electrical shorts are destroying equipment, and no clear solution is known, according to an Army Corps of Engineers study that is highly critical of solutions proposed by the prime contractor.
The spy agency is building three new computer centers to handle the vast amounts of communications data it collects daily, including the telephone records of every resident of the United States. These massive structures and their equipment will cost as much as a major warship.
The Wall Street Journal reports that 10 meltdowns in the past 13 months have prevented NSA from opening the largest of these new data centers, located in remote Bluffdale, Utah, to take advantage of low electrical power costs.
The facility has already cost $1.4 billion, not counting Cray supercomputers that have yet to be set up. The amount of data it will store is secret, but the Journal cites expert estimates that it will be in a range between an exabyte, equal to one billion gigabytes, and a zettabyte, equal to one trillion gigabytes. Cisco estimates that current email and voice traffic on the Internet equals about four exabytes a year.
One study of the wiring problems that appear to be causing destructive short-circuits and are holding up the project estimated that correcting them could cost hundreds of millions.
A spokeswoman for the NSA told the Journal that the electrical problems have been “mitigated” by the prime contractor, who is also responsible for a $900 million data center at NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. But a recent investigation by a Corps of Engineers “Tiger Team” disagreed, saying, “We did not find any indication that the proposed equipment modification measures will be effective in preventing future indictments.”
But perhaps there is a silver lining to this all-too-typical tale of costly government procurement malfunction. If the government can’t store the information it outrageously collects on Americans, it can’t use it to violate their right to privacy.