The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Presumptive Nominee Faces Scrutiny

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


The leading candidate to replace Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the outgoing Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Deputy Chief of Staff for U.S. Army Intelligence Lt. Gen. Mary Legere.  However, she may have a tough confirmation battle on her hands, thanks to longstanding support for a troubled Army intelligence platform, the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS-A).  The system has been under development for more than a decade, has cost taxpayers approximately $6 billion, and is failing in its primary functions. 

On May 1, 2014, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) wrote a scathing letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, criticizing Legere for her role in mismanaging the Army’s attempts to supply a functional cloud computing capacity for the DCGS-A program.  Rep. Hunter wrote that Legere accountable is for “…poor technical execution, a lack of response to urgent operational needs, unwarranted influence over official assessments, serious breaches of federal funding requirements, and misleading statements to Congress.”

Over the years, numerous reports have documented the failings of the system.  An April 2012 report by the Army Testing and Evaluation Command (ATEC) stated that DCGS-A is “overcomplicated, requires lengthy classroom instruction,” and requires an “easily perishable skill set if not used constantly.”  According to a May 1, 2014 Washington Times article, “An internal Army ‘lessons learned’ document obtained by The Washington Times shows that the Distributed Common Ground System could not print documents, locate files, maintain a functioning server or browse consistently, as 82nd Airborne Division analysts tried to make it work.  In one case, intelligence officers worked 10 hours on a targeting analysis, only to see the entire product disappear permanently.”

A June 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) underscored the many difficulties avowed by the users of DCGS-A.  The report found that the system was “difficult to operate,” frequently suffered “workstation system failures,” and “impeded the flow of intelligence information,” which is ironic, considering its purpose.

As suggested by the GAO report, soldiers who have used DCGS-A while deployed have been highly critical of the system.  For example, a July 22, 2012 Washington Times article quoted an 82nd Airborne intelligence officer as saying, “Bottom line from our perspective is that [DCGS] has continuously overpromised and failed to deliver on capability that will meet the needs of the warfighter.  All the bullet points they can list on a slide sitting back in the Pentagon don’t change the reality on the ground that their system doesn’t do what they say it does, and is more of a frustration to deal with than a capability to leverage.” 

The complaints about DCGS-A become even starker when contrasted with Palantir, a private sector alternative.  According to the June 2013 GAO report, users of Palantir deployed in Afghanistan claimed that the system saved them time and was easy to use.  The report stated, “Users indicated [Palantir] was a highly effective system for conducting intelligence information analysis and supporting operations.”  This view has been confirmed by soldiers who have used both systems in a combat environment.  Unfortunately, the Army has a pattern of denying requests for Palantir by soldiers operating in the field.

The Army has also expended an incredible amount of energy defending DCGS-A from criticism.  Not only did the April 2012 ATEC report call the system overcomplicated, it also suggested that the Army should “install more Palantir servers in Afghanistan.”  Less than a month after this report was released, an Army email requested that the original report be destroyed.  It was replaced with a very similar report, without the section recommending the increased purchase of Palantir. 

Following this retraction, Lt. Gen. William Grisoli was appointed to investigate the chain of events that led to the new report.  While he concluded that Lt. Gen. Legere acted properly, Grisoli’s report included an email from Legere in which she urged the Army’s independent operational tester to retract a section that was favorable to Palantir.  A May 5, 2014 Washington Times article carried the quote from Lt. Gen. Legere: “did you guys ever revoke the ATEC report that encouraged Palantier [sic] training in [intelligence school]?  I know you published an updated one, but it would have helped if you also published a revocation of the last.  Apparently, we have a few members of Congressional staffers now waiving that in front of the CSA now as an Army endorsement of Palantier [sic] which his [adviser] is now getting him stirred up about.”  The following day, the original report was ordered destroyed. 

Members of Congress have several opportunities to address the failing intelligence platform’s problems in the coming months.  First, the authorization and appropriations process taking place this summer will allow Congress to make structural changes to the troubled program and further reduce funding.  In fiscal year (FY) 2014, the budget for DCGS-A was slashed by 58.5 percent, from $267.2 million to $110.9 million.  Additional reductions could be in the offing for FY 2015.  Second, the potential nomination of Lt. Gen. Legere as DIA Director would allow members of Congress to pose difficult questions to one of the main advocates of the program.  Indeed, Lt. Gen. Legere’s mishandling of the DCGS-A program is sufficient to raise serious questions about her ability to fulfill her new duties.

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