failed government projects

Colossal Failed Government Projects And What Happened

Government projects can help modernize countries and  improve lives, but just like large corporate projects they can fail miserably. Here are a few examples of failed government projects, with estimated costs and causes:

FBI’s Virtual Case File System

COST: $170 million.

The FBI system was designed to modernize tech systems and enable easier access across diverse FBI information assets. The project was abandoned in 2005.

CAUSE: Repeated requirements changes, planning and management issues were cited.

failed government projects
Image courtesy Wikimedia, modified by Curiousmatic.

The Obamacare/ Affordable Care Web Site: 2013

COST : $600 million.

The flagship web site for the Affordable Care Act,, was supposed to give Americans a fast, easy way to enroll for health plans. Instead, major technical flaws hounded the effort, which during launch failed to meet enrollment expectations.

CAUSE: Changing requirements, insufficient testing, and the monolithic nature of the project contributed to this failed government project for the failure.

failed government projects
Courtesy Wikimedia, modified by Curiousmatic

New York City’s Citi Time Project

COST: $700 million.

Abandoned in 2011, the Citi Time project was supposed to automate payroll operations. Projected to cost $68 million, the projects costs skyrocketed to $700 million before being abandoned. 

CAUSE: Critics say the project had poor oversight by the Bloomberg administration and that contractors engaged in a massive, $40 million fraud to overbill the city.

failed government projects

The U.S. Air Force ERP Project

COST: $1 billion.

ERP – an acronym for Enterprise Resource Planning – was seen as a solution for the Air Force to get their diverse tech systems to play together nicely. Instead – after five years and $1 billion – the project was abandoned in late 2012.

CAUSE: Excessive complexity, vendor weaknesses and technical glitches were cited for the failure in an article in the Air Force Times. In addition, the project lacked of a single, accountable leader, according to a report from the Institute for Defense Analyses (download report here).

failed government projects

The U.K. Electronic Health Records Project: 2002-2011  

 COST: $16 billion (2013 estimate).

In 2011, U.K. government officials scrapped a massive 9-year, $16 billion project to create a unified electronic health records system for British citizens.  

CAUSE: The project – perhaps the biggest civilian tech project in the world – was variously criticized for being too large, too ambitious, too monolithic, and for having too many changing requirements. It ranks as the biggest failed government project in history- so far.

failed government projects
F-35, courtesy Wikimedia, modified by Curiousmatic

More About Failed Government Projects

Bookings Institute researcher Paul C. Light published a study about failed government projects and their causes. His research found that improper oversight and/or poor leadership  were often to blame.

 Researchers who studied thousands of government IT projects worth $10 million found that only a small percentage- as little as 6.4% – could be classified as successful. The rest were classified as “challenged” (52%), or failures (41.4%).

Though not strictly an IT project, the US Air Force’s F-35 fighter jet program has been plagued by complex software problems that have led some to question its viability.  If the critics are proved right, the $400 billion F-35 program might one day earn the top spot as the most expensive failed government project in modern times.


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