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.
The Obamacare/ Affordable Care Web Site: 2013
COST : $600 million.
The flagship web site for the Affordable Care Act, healthcare.gov, 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.