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Government Programming The Military

The Pentagon's Seven Million Lines of Cobol 345 345

MrMetlHed writes "A portion of this Reuters article about the Pentagon's inability to manage paying soldiers properly mentions that their payroll program has 'seven million lines of Cobol code that hasn't been updated.' It goes on to mention that the documentation has been lost, and no one really knows how to update it well. In trying to replace the program, the Pentagon spent a billion dollars and wasn't successful."
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The Pentagon's Seven Million Lines of Cobol

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  • by intermodal (534361) on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @05:27PM (#44243975) Homepage Journal

    a billion dollars to replace an antiquated program and the project fails. This is why our military is the most expensive in the world, and why I've argued for years that comparing military spending between nations is only apples to apples if each nation is competently spending what they are given.

  • by TheCaptain (17554) on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @06:01PM (#44244367)

    Eh...there probably was some half baked documentation at some point, but I doubt it was maintained very well by the people who edited that codebase over the decades.

    I also doubt they fired any of them unless they were contractors...you have no idea how ugly the federal workers union is about things like this. They almost can't lose their jobs through incompetence or anything else. Which brings me to the problem...the people who wrote it probably wrote half-assed spaghetti code, didn't document it well, and then died off or retired. No one is learning cobol anymore, so you get what we've got right here.

    Plus...trying to replace any system in the government or military is an extremely painful exercise that probably fails more often than it succeeds. Between the people you need to deal with, and the policies you need to dance around...it's almost impossible to stand a new system up. (Unless you have someone in a high place that really gets it, and champions the hell out of it...and even then, it's iffy.)

    I was a defense contractor for 4 or 5 years. It was quite a few years ago now. Left that behind, and I don't miss it.

  • 4.8 LOC per person (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @06:02PM (#44244377)

    The code base is so large that its ~4.8 lines per active duty US military person. The code would be shorter if it was nothing but one line per person that prints how much to pay. You might argue that this would have maintenance issues, but automated porting of it would be trivial, and for the $billion they spent try to replace it, you could pay almost $1000 per print statement to keep it updated.

  • by budgenator (254554) on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @10:17PM (#44246299) Journal

    We did flowcharts in Basic and Fortran, but COBOL was IPO charts (Input, Process, Output) and module diagrams for us; oh we did psudeocode of the modules, psuedocoding COBOL is really tough because cobol is so wordy.

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