Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government Android United States Your Rights Online

OSHA App Costs Gov't $200k 234

Posted by samzenpus
from the money-well-spent dept.
itwbennett writes "How much does it cost to make a phone app to tell local temperature and suggest how not to get heatstroke, such as drink water and avoid alcohol? If you're the U.S. Government, it'll cost you a pretty penny. Using MuckRock to file a Freedom of Information Act, Rich Jones of GUN.IO discovered the Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration paid $106,467 for the Android version; $96,000 for the iPhone version, and an additional $40,000 for a BlackBerry app that never got distributed."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

OSHA App Costs Gov't $200k

Comments Filter:
  • by ShavedOrangutan (1930630) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:55PM (#38152930)
    ... plus $106,000 for change management.
    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:11PM (#38153116) Homepage

      You know as well as I do that you can't function as a developer unless you spend atleast half your day reporting progress to management.
      If the six layers of management above you don't know what you're doing, how could you?

      • by oakgrove (845019)
        Oh, God, sing it on the freaking mountain. My elocutory skills have increased 10 fold since getting a job developing software with all of the play by play ridiculous detail I have to go into with management.
        • by tehcyder (746570) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:18AM (#38156828) Journal

          Oh, God, sing it on the freaking mountain. My elocutory skills have increased 10 fold since getting a job developing software with all of the play by play ridiculous detail I have to go into with management.

          Well why don't you start your own company and organise the management structure in what you consider a more sensible way?

          The idea that companies employ layer upon layer of management for the sake of it is ludicrous. Do you really not think that if they could do it, any profit-driven organisation wouldn't sack all the administrative staff they could?

      • by Seakip18 (1106315)

        I'm going to etch your comment onto something at my desk so that I will always remember it.

        We were at the end a release and the two dev directors start hounding you "When will it be done? How much longer?", etc.

        It gets to a point when you just want to say "It'll be done when it's checked in and code reviewed."

        • by Doc Ruby (173196)

          You do realize that people other than you need to do something when your code finally works, or something different when it still doesn't work - right?

          Sure, it probably doesn't take more than one person to stay on top of your work to keep what follows coordinated. But if you can't even answer one of them, you're not doing it right. Even if doing it right means telling the manager who gave you the task to specify and/or design it better, so it can be estimated by you, or by someone else better at the plannin

          • by Seakip18 (1106315)

            When you have monthly deliverables, you get a pretty fast feedback loop. The code I write gets put in use pretty darn quick.

            I'm not saying a manager keeping updated is a bad thing. I'm just saying that the frequent pings and requests for information can cause more harm than good, especially if a manager thinks they can get highly accurate and highly precise data every time.

  • Summary can't add (Score:5, Informative)

    by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:58PM (#38152968) Homepage Journal
    The iPhone version was $56,000. The Blackberry version was $40,000. Together, they were $96,000. It says this very clearly in the original scan.
    • by dredwerker (757816) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:01PM (#38152994)

      The iPhone version was $56,000. The Blackberry version was $40,000. Together, they were $96,000. It says this very clearly in the original scan.

      It doesn't sound that much once you have dealt with specs and tenders with govt orgs.

      • The real question isn't whether they paid too much, but whether they should've made the app in the first place....

        • I thought this was the real question. I just downloaded the app and it is apparently a half dozen rich text help pages and a simple calculator. The most complicated thing (for me, maybe there's an api that does it easily...) is that it can use the location data to maybe get the current temperature.

          So, yeah, they probably shouldn't have bothered, AND they paid way too much for what they got. The iPhone app, at least, did not have any noticeable performance issue on my fourth-gen iPod Touch, and looks a li

          • by rtb61 (674572)

            So the drive for privatisation and contract out all government task, as driven and controlled by lobbyists is working well for the US. One wonders how much it would have cost if done internally by full time employees with lobbyist interaction.

            So is this government waste or typical corrupt private corporation manipulation of government spending ie the privatisation campaign dollar at work. So who drove the project, who employed that individual, were they a 'political' appointee.

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Government program manager here. 2 sources of this problem. It probably cost the contractor that much to meet the requirements; in this case I'd not jump all oevr the desire to blame the dirty contractors, unless they are NG.

              1) Acquisition law is so fucking complex that everything they write has to be internally audited and vetted by a contractor.
              2) IT acquisition regulations are built to prevent bad program managers from letting a contract for a bad system. Therefore, they are so complex that you can not b

            • by Danga (307709)

              So the drive for privatisation and contract out all government task, as driven and controlled by lobbyists is working well for the US. One wonders how much it would have cost if done internally by full time employees with lobbyist interaction.

              So is this government waste or typical corrupt private corporation manipulation of government spending ie the privatisation campaign dollar at work. So who drove the project, who employed that individual, were they a 'political' appointee.

              This is most certainly government waste, I can't blame the private companies for taking a chance to get way overpaid. I would say this is either one of two things, the first being the person in charge of awarding the contract(s) to a company they got along with the best and also had a cost closest to what was budgeted. I have heard so many first hand stories of those in the government making sure to spend all money in a budget for fear of the budget being cut, there is no benefit to cutting costs apparent

    • 50k to develop an app? How is that high, again?

      Sounds like someone is unfamiliar with developing real budgets for real companies.

  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:03PM (#38153020)
    By someone that's never written anything more complex than an Excel Macro. Programming is hard. I mean that. I've written some applications myself, and making it reliable (which is kinda the point for something like this) and useful is not that simple. $200k for a professionally built application that runs on reliable on 3 platforms isn't that much. In programming, everything is always harder than you thought it was going to be.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:12PM (#38153130)

      I don't know about that... Android and iOS offer very easy to work with developer APIs, I have personal experience. In 5 lines of code on iOS you can request the GPS location of the phone, then you just query the weather data from a public source... never done this personally, but I am sure there are weather data providers available for cheap or free....

      If all this app does is display the weather, and display hardcoded recommendations based on that weather, any competent developer could have this done in a day... of course since this was a more professional job there is far more people involved, so with all the beurocratic nonsense that goes into your average disfunctional R&D unit I would be surprised if this took more than 2 weeks.

    • Except in this case, it apparently cost $200k and it *still* wasn't professionally written. According to the author it was unstable and inaccurate.

    • I really wish we could see the app, a screenshot or anything. The story here hinges on how useful / trivial / pointless it is.
    • by stanlyb (1839382)
      $200k for one month worth development??? Sounds good, please, don't hesitate to send the contract to me, and i will make it for half the price, and then have 11 months rest on some sunny beach, with cocktail, and, you know, the usual suspects around...
      • by geekoid (135745)

        oh? You'll need to pay for clearance..and pay the person who submit the bid, and then time doing specs, and servers, and connection, and testing, and rent, and documentation, and taxes.

        Have you ever ran a business?

        They should have developed it in house.

    • Not really. Not saying its trivial, but with 99% of the applications out there, the actual coding isn't all that hard for someone who does it professionally, but it *is* time consuming to do it right.

      What *is* hard is getting the requirements from your client, getting them to stick with it long enough to finish the project, and then supporting them afterward.

    • Not to mention the government requires all contractors be CMMI level 3 certified which ups the costs a lot..... you pay for the quality of the code... not to mention I am sure the contract includes ownership of the code and IP involved

      • by anonymov (1768712)

        The "quality of the code" was one of the things that started it all. It couldn't even correctly report the temperature.

        Anyways, here's the source code [muckrock.com] of the app in question disclosed per FoIA.

        Didn't yet really look in it, but it's 2k SLoC of what seems to be moderately shitty Java for Android version, for example.

  • I'll bet most of that cash went into the rounds and rounds of planning and back-and-forth that come with ANY government project planning process, followed by user testing and compliance analysis. The actual coding process was probably less than 10% of the cost. That's still high, but gov't contractors are very well compensated.

    • by _Sharp'r_ (649297)

      The app doesn't actually work. An example was it giving 140 degrees outside during winter in Philly.

      How much user testing could they possibly have done?

    • by Hatta (162192)

      That's still high, but gov't contractors are very well compensated.

      You say that like it's something we should accept. You and I pay for the government, so we're paying for those very well compensated contractors. Why can't we find some reasonably priced contractors? Or hell, why doesn't the government have an in house software development team?

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:06PM (#38153066) Homepage

    This is what happens when you rely on a a complex bureaucracy to screen even minimally difficult acquisitions. All of the bureaucratic red tape exists to be able to say "we can account for your money" to the tax payer, but what the tax payer really wants is just to get the damn job done cost-effectively. For a lot of federal projects, projects a few million dollars or less, the simplest route is to give a federal PM a budget, give them the freedom to hire contractors off monster.com and get the work done.

    But that would require throwing out the whole feel-good kabuki that lets them employ thousands of paper-pushers whose job is to make sure every i is dotted and every t is crossed, but are significantly less useful than tits on a bull when it comes to actually preventing serious wastes of money.

    • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:26PM (#38153300) Journal

      All of the bureaucratic red tape exists to be able to say "we can account for your money" to the tax payer, but what the tax payer really wants is just to get the damn job done cost-effectively.

      At least until there's some scandal. Then those same taxpayers start yelling about "why wasn't there anybody to check this stuff out?"

      Keep in mind that the bureaucracy didn't just appear out of thin air. It came about because of scandals. We taxpayers want our tax dollars to not end up in some political crony's pocket, so there has to be lawyers to make sure this doesn't happen. There have to be accountants who track the money and make sure that it goes where it's supposed to go. There have to be auditors who make sure that the government is getting what it paid for.

      It's really easy to have the knee-jerk reaction--"WHAT!? $100,000 to develop an app that I could probably write in a weekend?!" And I agree wholeheartedly with that reaction. The question is, would you rather pay $100,000 to make sure that the app appears on the other side or would you rather just write a check for x dollars and not have any idea what happened to that money? Nope, sorry, you can't have both.

      • It isn't just government overhead either.

        The cost to bidders of responding to government tenders is generally high - as, paradoxically, is the number of bidders. Organisations that habitually work on government contracts have somehow to recoup the amount of money they've spent on unsuccessful bids. Add that to the cost of writing the original call for tenders and evaluating all the bids that come in and the process is horrendously inefficient.

        Knowing the limitations of the procurement process, you'd think g

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Well knucklehead, maybe you should have put in a bid for less money.

      Of course, you can't because it's a lot more expensive to make an app then people think. Coding is the cheapest part.

    • by Forbman (794277)

      Depends on the tax payer. Some tax payers don't like the current administration, so it really comes down to them wishing they were CSI, detective and forensic accountant all in one. Or, at least asking their representatives to be like this (along with some freespeech encouragement, e.g., $$$ to their election fund).

  • by jfengel (409917) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:08PM (#38153084) Homepage Journal

    The project wasn't completed by a government developer. It was done by a contractor, because everybody knows that the government is inefficient and costs a lot of money.

    So they demand that they outsource it to the private sector, which means all kinds of extra overhead. Private contractors, being driven by the profit motive, will turn in crappy work unless you spend huge amounts of effort clarifying precisely what's required, followed by meetings to ensure that they have done it. Just the product spec meeting cost more than the time spent actually doing it. All because the Government is Bad.

    So the next time, they're going to install even more extra levels of control, thus raising the costs. The alternative, decreasing the right-wing screech machine so that the government could just let some in-house developer bang out an app for a request that somebody needs, won't even be considered as an option.

    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      It doesn't get better if they do it inhouse. When was the last time you heard "oh, I'm so glad the TSA are government employees and not private security firms!" Never, that's when.

      Different situations call for different things. In theory, application development like this should be outsourced. Are you seriously proposing OSHA should hire a team of programmers to produce a single one-off app? Who wouldn't have anything further to do afterwards? Of course not. The problem is that the market of government con

    • by sco08y (615665)

      The project wasn't completed by a government developer. It was done by a contractor, because everybody knows that the government is inefficient and costs a lot of money.

      So they demand that they outsource it to the private sector, which means all kinds of extra overhead. Private contractors, being driven by the profit motive, will turn in crappy work unless you spend huge amounts of effort clarifying precisely what's required, followed by meetings to ensure that they have done it. Just the product spec meeting cost more than the time spent actually doing it. All because the Government is Bad.

      So the next time, they're going to install even more extra levels of control, thus raising the costs. The alternative, decreasing the right-wing screech machine so that the government could just let some in-house developer bang out an app for a request that somebody needs, won't even be considered as an option.

      Speaking as someone who works at a contracting firm: It's not simply that the government is inefficient. It's that they don't have the expertise and can't recruit or retain the expertise.

      They're actually acutely aware that they're spending other people's money, and as such they have tons of controls to prevent wasting money, which usually means they that are highly risk-averse. So if you're a professional looking to do cutting edge stuff, you simply don't go into the government. Further, everything is based

  • I have no idea how this made front page...
  • Sounds reasonable. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pclminion (145572) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:13PM (#38153136)
    $96000 / $150 per hour = 640 hours, 640 hours = 16 man-weeks. You have a team of four people working on it for four weeks, you rack up about that much cost. And $150 an hour billed to the government is cheap.
    • by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:32PM (#38153346) Homepage

      Check out How much does it cost to develop an iPhone application? [stackoverflow.com] for a few numbers that are in line with what you roughed out here. There seems cause to complain about the quality of the result, but the price tag itself isn't surprising at all. $150 an hour is also cheap for a good mobile phone developer, given the rampant gold rush speculation driving up salaries in that section of the market right now.

      • by Paul Slocum (598127) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @08:58PM (#38154524) Homepage Journal
        I'm an iPhone developer and I've had to do a lot of research on pricing lately. I installed the app, and it has one simple form that does a simple calculation, a few static HTML screens, and it gets weather info based on your location. I think most experienced devs could do this in a few days including testing. You could probably get some kid to do it for a few hundred on the iOS developer forums I use, but if you want a tried and true developer with credentials, probably a few thousand.

        That said, it's easy these days to spend more than you need to on iOS development. And in the grand scheme of things I don't think the amount they overspent is that crazy, especially considering there's probably some overhead just because it's the government. I'm sure a lot of companies are overspending when getting apps made.
    • by DynamiteNeon (623949) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:46PM (#38153466)

      Also factor in that a lot of people just look at the time it would take to write code, but ignore all the time it takes to sit down with a client, find out what they need, do design, possibly do some prototypes, jump through whatever other hoops the client expects from you, write documentation....coding is only one step in the process. Many contractors screw themselves over by estimating TOO LOW because they ignore all the mundane stuff and end up losing money on projects.

      I'm not saying all that had to go into this project, but don't assume that just because you can copy and paste some code from the internet in a few hours to do something similar that that was all that went into the work.

    • by jon3k (691256)
      You think this [imgur.com] required four $150/hour developers working for four weeks? I could have 1 indian guy write it in an afternoon for $500 and he'd be so happy I'd probably be on his christmas card list.
  • You're just a bunch of losers! We (Austrian) got a whole new government-website for just € 500,000 ... with full-text-search (yes, that was the argument why it's so expensive)! Not just a lousy app...bah...
  • by wjcofkc (964165) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:19PM (#38153234)
    So I just installed the Android version of OSHA Heat Safety Tool to take a first hand look and it really is total crap. This is like something a kid would write in python for an intro to programming class. This "app" could have been written in a day by any one of half the people on Slashdot. In fact, I would be surprised if it did take more than a day to develop.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Looks fine to me.
      Writing an app is the cheap part

      Of course, I wouldn't expect someone like you to understand business.

      • by wjcofkc (964165)
        By all means, enlighten me. There's no need to be a dick. Perhaps I'm just new around here : p
      • by wjcofkc (964165)
        I would also like to know what "business sense" there is in releasing an app like this at the beginning of winter in North America that doesn't offer any real usefulness under 80 degrees is. It seems you would want to release an app like that during a season that would apply as many people a possible to encourage uptake rather than letting it fall away and be forgotten. I am not trying to come off as a jerk. I genuinely hope you have some good solid reasoning. I like to learn.
  • by drstevep (2498222) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:33PM (#38153354)
    The only way to describe most of the comments here is "industrial strength cluelessness." As in, the coments' authors don't have a clue about product development. They would have made the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie in the 40s, "Hey, I have a keyboard and Jimmy's dad has a monitor, let's write an app!"

    Yes, the government holds contractors on tight leashes. Contract assignment is being done more and more heavily based upon past performance -- your last few contracts were duds, you're less likely to get the next one.

    And yes, there is a lot of time spent on product specs. Full life cycle SDLC. Agile development where is is appropriate. Understanding the target before you write a line of code.

    Exactly the opposite of what most of the code monkeys making comments above are used to.

    So yes, there will be specs written before the product is architected. And it will be written for maintainability. And it will be tested before release. And yes, during the initial development period, this costs money. Because, and remember this, there isn't revenue built into the back end (it isn't "sold" or "advertising supported") to pay for fixes, rewrites, and handling customer complaints.

    Disclaimer: I'm a government contractor. I don't code. I'm part of the analysis, review, and verification process. And I've seen a lot of extremely complex systems go out on time and work well when released.
  • Code is posted (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ukab the Great (87152) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:41PM (#38153426)

    Here is a link to the code [osha.gov]

    - (float)getHeatIndex:(float)temp:(float)humidity {

            NSLog(@"[getHeatIndex] temp: %f, humidity: %f", temp, humidity);

            float hIndex =
            -42.379 + 2.04901523 * temp
            + 10.14333127 * humidity
            - 0.22475541 * temp * humidity
            - 6.83783 * pow(10, -3) * temp * temp
            - 5.481717 * pow(10, -2) * humidity * humidity
            + 1.22874 * pow(10, -3) * temp * temp * humidity
            + 8.5282 * pow(10, -4) * temp * humidity * humidity
            - 1.99 * pow(10, -6) * temp * temp * humidity * humidity; //hIndex = round(hIndex);
            NSLog(@"-Heat Index: %f", hIndex);
            return hIndex;
    }

    There's probably a reason it's calculating 140F in boston.

  • When I worked for the uni I had a group of part time students who spent their time developing in-house apps of different kinds. If you consider that each student costs $20k a year, over a couple of years working on an app and its iterations and versions, that adds up in a hurry. Even free software if you count the time that goes into it, really adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Open Source an free software is just a different way of covering the costs.

    Maybe the age of quick one-off apps (many

    • by F.Ultra (1673484)
      Exactly and one also has to consider that the contractor who build this app knew that the Gov would give away this app for free to x million users. If they had licensed it like say $1 per download, it would probably been far more expensive. But so many people doesn't understand that.
  • Only 74999999 more scandalous wastes of money like this to go, and you can pay off the U.S.A. national debt!
    (15 trillion / 200 thousand)
    Better work fast though.. if you save 20 000 [brillig.com] times as much money per day (4 giga U.S. $), you may actually stay ahead of getting into more debt.

    P.S. my joke was going to be 14 trillion, but I saw that in the mean time it has become 15 trillion.

    Douglas Hofstadter once wrote something about "innumeracy" I believe.
  • The government will probably react to this like they always do, add more bureaucracy to help "prevent" waste but in actuality simply causes more of it. The pains you have to go through to get the government to approve anything is insane. Ostensibly the entire program exists to prevent waste, not cause it, but thats the end result. For example an iOS enterprise license costs $399/year, however the labor necessary to get the purchase approved probably cost at least that much, if not more. But thats not ho
    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      You mean like the paper reduction programmes at work that are promoted on printed paper documents?.

      The government is no more wasteful than private businesses. The government's excesses are just a lot more visible, and Americans have been trained to hate government while fetishizing business.

  • by Above (100351) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @09:54PM (#38154780)

    I see plenty of comments on how reasonable or unreasonable the price is, and they are interesting. I generally agree it doesn't seem that out of whack price wise for a working application supported for some time period.

    What I find more interesting is this story is being posted all over the web all of the sudden:

    And of course here on /.

    Hitting that range of sites (and more) with this sort of non-story story trying to push a narrative of the government is wasting your money? Someone behind the scenes is pushing this narrative, I suspect. Not news for nerds, but manufactured political outrage.

When Dexter's on the Internet, can Hell be far behind?"

Working...