Forces pay mess blamed on human error
£250m EDS system or MoD bureaucrats - who to trust?
Reports of problems with the British forces' new pay and personnel computers continue to rumble on, with some personnel saying that pay has been withheld for months. The Joint Personnel Administration (JPA) system was provided for £250m by EDS, everyone's favourite gov-IT provider.
“I haven’t been paid properly for months and two-thirds of the officers I graduated with from Sandhurst are in the same boat,” one army officer freshly back from Iraq told the Times today.
“I can’t tell you the full scale of it but from my experience it is chaos," the disgruntled soldier added. He said that many units were having to use hardship funds to help with family gas bills.
JPA was introduced for the Navy - smallest of the armed services - in March '06. The RAF, substantially larger, joined in the following October. There were numerous complaints and teething problems, with some apparently persisting to this day. It was recently reported that members of the Special Boat Service (SBS) - who are mostly Royal Marines, and so have been on JPA for 20 months - are still suffering problems with their pay.
Nonetheless, the Army switched over in April this year. The MoD has admitted that as of August - the latest period for which figures are available - 16,000 service members were underpaid. Substantial numbers, too, have been overpaid in error.
Contacted by the Reg, the MoD said that the system itself was working fine. However, it was admitted that a lot of wrong information had been entered and that problems with operating staff were ongoing.
“Input errors based on a degree of unfamiliarity with the new scheme have resulted in a small number of pay inaccuracies," according to the MoD.
"Thorough investigation of these errors has shown that the JPA system is working extremely well... JPA... requires accurate and timely input from... HR administrators."
"Measures have been taken to provide additional training for HR.”
The MoD spokesman also said today that JPA is expected to yield savings of approximately £100m per year. When asked where the savings were to come from, the spokesman said:
"Partly staff... fewer man-hours required to achieve tasks... fewer systems to be kept up."
That sounds like fewer back-office MoD civil servants and contractors, to us. Or job cuts and outsourcing among the MoD pay, admin and IT bureaucracy, to put it another way.
It may take more than training to convince those people that it's in their interests for JPA to work efficiently. ®
"As for those who say no-one cares about what pay Soldier A is getting, come off it - if I could identify an operation in which the SBS (for example) was involved, then check the pay of Royal Marines and find out who's getting all the various combat allowances, I could identify say 100 Royal Marines, their families, and then we'll see how efficient the Special Forces are when their friends and family are getting bumped off at home."
So, lets get this straight... We're spending a quarter of a billion quid in order to protect the names of some (but not all) military people from vaguely defined person or persons unknown for personal, rather than collective vengeance? At a time when military units are in real danger in real daily fire-fights and need more effective kit urgently? I repeat: are the MOD quite mad? Its like having a million pound lock on a ten pound bike. I blame too many bad movies and books where the villains hunt down a specific individual.
I note that you can't provide a reality based example of this kind of operation. On planet Earth if the bad people don't like a group - if we're going to have to use an example we'll use Royal Marines or even a group of British special forces (Such as the SBS) - they'll simply park a car bomb at the MacDonalds nearest the unit base on a Saturday morning and maybe whack the dads, but certainly hit the wife and kids. Or pick a pub near the barracks and blow it shreds,. Or they'll wait at the station to see if a few physically fit lads, walking together, and with short haircuts turn up then spray them with automatic weapons fire on the flat, cover less, platform. Or they'll wait for something like a reunion or march or band event and bomb it. These methods all worked for the IRA, anyway. Hunting individuals is what people do with war criminals, and it usually goes through the courts. Actually that might be the most effective use for this system, as it'll prove who was where on the day - its not worth the money.
So what do we lose for the costs of dealing with this fairy-land threat? In 2000 Britain spend around £222 million on all its armoured fighting vehicles and only £90million on guided weapons (Heyman, 2002:17-18). We're talking £250m on a pay system. This is a massive sum of money and, as I've already noted, enough to form an entire infantry battalion.
Alternatively if we're going to insist on treating every special forces person as a potential hostage to future enemy operations, like a cabinet minister, then we could simply pay them a lot better basic salary and give no penny-pinching operational bonuses to give away their identity; an SAS trooper gets around £25k a year - paying the entire SAS an additional £25k a year each on top of their basic would cost around (assume 2 full regiments, at full strength - which the SAS aren' - 1200 troops) £30 million a year... Tahdaaah, we've already saved enough to buy a whole swarm of cruise missiles, or a big chunk of an infantry battalion. See? A far more reality based method of handling the issue that seemingly motivates this particular fiasco.
I submit that this cash is simply wasted and that there are far better things to spend the money on, rather than sub-James Bond plots, I would suggest that its clear that British troops clearly need body armour (in fact better kit in general), a decent weapon or three, some proper air support, and probably some creature comforts; that's reality based spending, a massively expensive pay system isn't.
"So cop on."
Whatever that means. I assume its an insult. Nice, but lets face it, irrelevant.
Training What Trg
Whilst saving 250m a year in costs the MOD decided not to spend much more than a couple of pennies on trg, 2 and a half days to understand a radically different system to those that went before it.
Human error is probably the problem, made worse by no funds being made available for worthwhile training.
EDS tendered for it knowing how complex Army/Navy/RAF pay was if they couln't do it with COTS software it should say so in the tender. Here is a short list of some other EDS contracts that they have cocked up lost:
2. Child Support Agency
3. Department of Justice
4. Offender Management
5. Inland Revenue
6. United Stated Navy and Marine Corps Intranet
8. Sky Television
10. Job Centre Plus
11. Abbey National
12. Liverpool Victoria Insurance
13. Department of Work and Pensions
Here is what they have won recently:
1. Contract to setup Michael Jordan's grandchildren's Playstation III (Contract Value: 2 pints)
2. Er, nothing!
It's pretty clear then that EDS has a clear and established track record in failing to deliver complex pieces of custom software on time and on budget and ultimately having their contracts cancelled. This is because EDS encourages and rewards failures. They have a few good staff but most of them are overshadowed by quitters who leave their assigned projects when the going gets a little bit too tough for them. 90% of their project managers are "Yes" men who'll say what they think the customer wants to hear. Most of them think Fred Brooks is a sportswear retailer. Their technical architects seem to base most of what they design on a quick trip down to PC world at lunch time. Their sales/client care teams are the worst of the lot who can give it the big "I am" for everyone but they will generally blink first when the customer gets stroppy! Some of the EDS'ers sitting comfy at Worthy Down should be shipped out to Helmand for a month or six to see the fruits of their execrable labour in the field!