The Road to a Billion Dollar Saving

A Team Effort Gao ID: 113269 January 1, 1980

This article appeared in the GAO Review, Vol. 15, Issue 3, Summer 1980. The Air Force Phase 4 project, to replace current computer systems at Air Force bases around the world at an estimated 20-year cost of $4 billion, is the largest single computer acquisition in government history. Most of the Air Force bases have two computer systems, one for processing supply applications and one for processing administrative applications. The replacement plan would exchange computers on a one-for-one basis. The House Committee on Government Operations asked GAO to review the project to determine why the Air Force needed to acquire two separate computer systems at each base, why few vendors participated in the competition, and how the Air Force handled unsolicited proposals made by an incumbent vendor before the request for proposals was issued. The audit was made difficult by Air Force opposition to the audit as unnecessary, delays in information, and the advance of the timetable for the committee hearings. GAO testified that it found little justification for two computer systems at most air bases. GAO found that the amount of classified processing was minimal, no Air Force requirement for onsite backup existed, work could be prioritized during increased workload, and conversion to two systems would provide no more flexibility than one. The reasons most vendors cited for not bidding on the project were the unnecessary technical restrictions specified in the request for proposals and the Air Force requirements for outdated technology. GAO recommended that the Air Force cancel the Phase 4 request for proposals and issue a new one to increase competition and more accurately reflect actual system user needs. Cost savings were estimated at between $663 million and $1 billion. The Air Force disputed the estimated cost savings as well as the GAO recommendations. The General Services Administration (GSA) suspended the Air Force's authority to acquire the Phase IV equipment pending the completion of a GSA review. The committee adopted all the GAO recommendations. The Secretary of the Air Force agreed to redirect the Phase IV project to satisfy the concerns of GAO and the congressional committee. It will amend the request for proposals, reduce the proposed number of computers, eliminate 250 staff positions, reduce construction, improve current systems processing, and better define its equipment requirements.

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