Here's another item for the (long) list of spectacular waste in the Pentagon's budget: a $2.7-billion intelligence program that's supposed to help Army troops on the ground collect and use intelligence on enemy fighters. It sounds like a good idea, but the thing is, the Army's Distributed Common Ground System doesn't actually do that, according to report from Foreign Policy. The article cites an internal assessment of the DCGS's effectiveness, long requested by Congress but kept under wraps by the Pentagon for eight months. Probably because they didn't feel like talking about such a spectacular failure.
The existence of DCGS is hardly a secret. Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics — all the major defense contractors — were all involved in creating it, and it's featured on the Army's website as "an enterprise system that will replace the Army’s multiple intelligence ground processing systems currently in the field." The Army even has promotional videos showing DCGS in action. But according to some troops, the DCGS is very difficult to use and too slow to be practical for the on-the-ground situations for which it was designed.
That assessment backs up public accusations from the system's critics, who have long noted that there's already a much cheaper option in use by other intelligence-based U.S. agencies — an off-the-shelf product from Palantir Technologies. If it replaced DCGS, the program would run the Army a bill in the millions. That's thrifty by comparison, as DCGS is expected to cost the Pentagon $11 billion over 30 years. Here's Foreign Policy on the alternative, which is used by the CIA, Marine Corps, and Special Ops:
Army officials, though, said Palantir wasn't up to the job. Now, a 57-page report by the Pentagon's acquisitions arm basically says the Army was wrong to dismiss the Palantir system. The study instead gives Palantir high marks on most of the Army's 20 key requirements for the intelligence system, including the ability to analyze large amounts of information, including critical data about terrorist networks and the locations of explosive devices, and synchronize it in a way that helps troops on the ground combat their enemies more effectively.
Foreign Policy notes that the assessment won't kill DCGS in its tracks, in part because Palantir's capabilities wouldn't meet all of the requirements outlined by the Army for DCGS's development. But by the sound of things, neither is DCGS.
There are two major contextual issues making the DCGS story interesting, however: first, there's the politically sticky issue of military spending cuts which, in theory, could make spending decision like the DCGS vs. Palantir decision even more important. Second, there's the fact that wasteful spending is routine (almost legendary) at the Pentagon. In the fall, Reuters did a series of in-depth reports on Pentagon spending, noting that the military suffers from a "chronic failure to keep track of its money; how much it has, how much it pays out and how much is wasted or stolen." The Pentagon has not been audited, despite a 1996 federal law that requires an annual audit for every government agency. Since that date, taxpayers have given the Pentagon over $8.5 trillion. Although the Pentagon has tried a number of things to clean up its act and get audit-ready, Reuters reported, many of those efforts haven't worked either.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.