Sunday, October 02, 2011

The mythical $800 hammer

I'm currently at the cusp of a major job transition.  For many years, my career has revolved around the world of Gov't contracts.  This began with a brief but meaningful stint as a federal employee, and has continued as a long journey through the world of Gov't contracting.  I've had a lot of personal reservations about this world, mainly in terms of the dynamics of the business models it supports.  With all the doom and gloom currently overshadowing the federal budget, and the industry downsizing and reorganization that is likely to follow, I think its time for me to move on.

For the last few years, I've spent a lot of my personal time on a major BlackBerry software project.  At many points, this personal project has provided far more interesting technical challenges and professional growth opportunities than what I was actually being paid to work on.  Soon I'll be flipping it all around, and doing mobile software development as my actual day job.  I'm curious to see how it will go, and especially how I'll sink or swim in the faster-paced world of non-gov't software development.

That all being said, I'd like to offer some slightly tongue-in-cheek commentary on why everything the Gov't buys is so expensive:

Where does the $800 Hammer come from?
  • First you need to have a DARPA program to fund research into advanced nail insertion technology (ANIT)
  • Then you have some Federally-Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) do an involved trade study that concludes that a simple hammer is preferable to the DARPA-developed ANIT prototype.
  • A program executive office (PEO) now hosts an industry day presentation on the US Army's Tactical Hammer Needs to the tool-making industries
  • The PEO now publishes a Request For Information (RFI) to solicit information from industry on steel hardening and handle-forming capabilities that could be used for the hammers
  • Finally a Request for Proposal (RFP) is published, along with a detailed performance spec, requirements list, and statement of work
    • There are a limited number of hammers desired, with options for buying more later
    • They also have to conform to various Military standards that no tool you'd buy at Home Depot would ever have to conform to
    • They need to be made in the US in a facility that holds the proper security clearances
  • The PEO finally selects one of the submitted proposals, awarding the contract
    • One of the loosing contractors decides to file a formal protest, and drags the process out longer
    • Eventually a settlement is made, and the selected prime contractor takes them on as a subcontractor for handle-to-head integration tasks
  • After several rounds of requirements engineering, systems engineering, and product R&D, along with approvals at preliminary and critical design reviews (PDR/CDR), the government gives the go-ahead to enter Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP)
  • Testing eventually finds issues in the initial batch. Some design changes are made, costs are passed along, and eventually the hammer enters full-rate production (FRP)
  • Following training and deployment, the MK42 Tactical Nail Insertion Device (code-name "Hammer") is deployed into the field
  • Meanwhile, nails are getting tougher, and follow-on program for the MK49 Objective Nail Banger is announced

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