from the Up-in-the-air!-Into-the-wi34dz.eea.3rdek))we$#21....-[A]BORT,-[R]ETRY,-[F]AIL dept
In an era where storage is insanely cheap and the warning to schedule regular backups has been ringing in the ears of computer users for more than four decades, there’s seemingly no explanation for the following:
The U.S. Air Force has lost records concerning 100,000 investigations into everything from workplace disputes to fraud.
A database that hosts files from the Air Force’s inspector general and legislative liaison divisions became corrupted last month, destroying data created between 2004 and now, service officials said. Neither the Air Force nor Lockheed Martin, the defense firm that runs the database, could say why it became corrupted or whether they’ll be able to recover the information.
The Air Force didn’t lose investigations dating back to the mid-60s and stored on archaic, oddball-sized “floppies.” It lost more than a decade’s-worth of investigatory work — from 2004 going forward, right up to the point that Lockheed discovered the “corruption” and spent two weeks trying to fix before informing its employer. At which point, the USAF kicked it up the ladder to its bosses, leaving them less than impressed.
In a letter to Secretary James on Monday, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said the lost database “was intended to help the Air Force efficiently process and make decisions about serious issues like violations of law and policy, allegations or reprisal against whistleblowers, Freedom of Information Act requests, and Congressional inquiries.”
“My personal interest in the [Inspector General’s] ability to make good decisions about the outcomes of cases, and to do so in a timely manner, stems from a case involving a Virginia constituent that took more than two years to be completed, flagrantly violating the 180-day statutory requirement for case disposition,” Warner wrote.
Some notification is better than no notification, even if the “some” notification is extremely minimal and arrives well after the fact. Senator Warner remains underwhelmed.
“The five-sentence notification to Congress did not contain information that appeared to have the benefit of five days of working the issue,” Warner wrote.
The Air Force says there’s no evidence of malicious intent, as far as it can tell. But there’s also no evidence of competence. Why is it that files related to oversight of a government agency have no apparent redundancy? It’s small details like these that show the government generally isn’t much interested in policing itself.
If anything’s going to be recovered, it’s going to be Lockheed’s job, and it’s already spent a few weeks trying with little success. There may be some files stored locally at bases where investigations originated, but they’re likely to be incomplete.
While I understand the inherent nature of bureaucracy makes it difficult to build fully-functioning systems that can handle digital migration with any sort of grace, it’s completely incomprehensible that a system containing files collected over the last decade would funnel into a single storage space with no backup. It’s one thing if this was just the Air Force’s fault.
But this is more Lockheed’s fault — and despite its position as a favored government contractor — it’s also known for its innovation and technical prowess. Neither of those qualities are on display in this public embarrassment. And if it can’t recover the data, it’s pretty much erasing more than a decade’s-worth of government mistakes, abuse, and misconduct. And while no one’s going to say anything remotely close to this out loud, there has to be more than a few people relieved to see black marks on their permanent records suddenly converted to a useless tangle of 1s and 0s.