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Does the NSA Need More Electricity? 324

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the paranoid-much-lately dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Baltimore sun (NSA watchers can't live without it) reports that the NSA worries about overloading the Baltimore energy grid if it were to install new computing capacity at it's Fort Meade HQ. This includes two multi million dollar supercomputers. Some systems are reportedly not getting the cooling they need. The temperature in NSA buildings is raised two degrees to conserve energy, according to the article. The NSA is Baltimore Gas and Electric`s (BGE) biggest customer the sun reports. Former NSA employees fear that a power outage at Fort Meade would have worse consequences than the 2000 "information overload" related outage. The NSA does apparently not have the backup power generation capacity to power the whole facility during power outages. Some point a finger at a new mall build in the area, but a BGE spokesman says the mall is "fairly easily accommodated". Some sources say the problem was identified in the late 90`s. But "keeping the lights on" wasn't a priority. A $4 million computer upgrade to the system that allocates power was postponed for budgetary reasons. (the NSA budged is estimated at $8 Billion) The article reports that the budget documents for listening posts around the world report similar infrastructural problems, in the budgets for 07 as well as previous years. It should be noted that the huge "groundbreaker" IT infrastructure upgrade program is reportedly over budget and late, but not yet fully operational."
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Does the NSA Need More Electricity?

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  • by portmapper (991533) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @08:31AM (#15855001)
    there is surplus electricity available from Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
  • waste (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @08:40AM (#15855013)
    I wonder how much of that electricity is simply wasted on old and inefficient equipment. Government agencies really don't have much incentive to conserve electricity since they know their "bill" will always be paid, regardless of how large it gets....time to upgrade to blades of Turion X2 and/or Core2Duo servers for all that immoral surveillance....

    • Re:waste (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      some of those old machines may be legacy tech kept on in case of EMP/nuclear blast. Tubes are less susceptible to EMP than microchips - so some of the wasted electricity may be due to the "necessity" of keeping those old tubes around.
      • by Grave (8234)
        I'm pretty sure the NSA facility has hardened facilities for all of its major sensative equipment. At this point, an EMP would do more damage to the electrical grid outside the NSA and thus result in power interuption or outage at the site.

        Hardening against EMP really isn't very hard.
      • Re:waste (Score:5, Funny)

        by jez9999 (618189) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @09:43AM (#15855168) Homepage Journal
        Tubes are less susceptible to EMP than microchips

        Excellent. That means the internets should keep flowing reliably in the case of a nuclear war!
        • Re:waste (Score:3, Funny)

          by Squalish (542159)
          That's just a side effect of the series of tubes' design [wikipedia.org], which dealt with very unreliable tubes. I mean, it's not a truck, which can be relied upon to run every day. Internets I send sometimes don't even reach people for a day or two, without the nukular war.
      • Re:waste (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JDevers (83155)
        You mean like how they keep around a stable of horses in case all the vehicles go down in an EMP? The funny thing is that horses and carriages are a lot more capable of filling the roles of vehicles than a tube powered computer is to filling the needs of a modern data center.
      • Re:waste (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Sunday August 06, 2006 @11:09AM (#15855501) Homepage Journal
        Pssh, any hard vibration alone will screw a vacuum tube over. It's far easier to hardwire against EMP (not to mention adding a few direct-to-ground shunts) than to leave older equipment running for the sake of EMP protection. A Faraday Cage should help against an EMP as well, and if you have any decent form of shielding against EM (Lead glass works) you shouldn't need to worry, except for the EMP that'll come surging through your power lines (which is why I mention direct-to-ground shunts to disperse the extra energy.)
      • I dunno; the internet is fairly susceptible to EMP and we all know that it is just a series of tubes.
    • Re:waste (Score:3, Interesting)

      by imsabbel (611519)
      Yeah, i remember seeing an OLD computer in a radar facility.
      It had the computing power of a pocket calculator, but used 10kW 3phase power. (not kidding. It was from the late 60s.)
      But nobody threw it out because it was directly communicating with some other equipment via propritary interfaces...
      • And it's power consumption was a rounding error of the radar power consumption at a 3rd decimal.
  • No way (Score:5, Funny)

    by dattaway (3088) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @08:42AM (#15855015) Homepage Journal
    No Such Agency needs that kind of power.
  • Obvious solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SnowZero (92219) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @08:43AM (#15855018)
    From the outside, we don't really know enough about their problems to suggest a solution. So, clearly the NSA should bring in an unbiased outside consultant, and brief him/her fully on every project that they need to accomodate. As an honest patriot, I am willing to volunteer.
    • You realize that they can tell you but then they'll have to kill you.
      • by Salgak1 (20136) <salgak@NOspam.speakeasy.net> on Sunday August 06, 2006 @09:35AM (#15855142) Homepage
        Do you have ANY idea of the paperwork we have to fill out when we kill someone ??

        Instead, the current preferred technique is to strap the. . .person in question. . into a chair, clamp their eyes open, and start playing episodes of "Barney and Friends". Even in the most resistant of cases, no more than 8-10 hours is required, and the subject is now a brainless, drooling, utterly mindless specimen perfectly suited for janitorial duties or corporate management. . .

  • Back it up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 06, 2006 @08:47AM (#15855025)
    "You've got an awfully big computer plant and a lot of precision equipment, and I don't think they would handle power surges and the like really well," -- WTF?

    I've worked on several jobs for credit card companies, as an example, an office with 4,000 workstations. The power was connected to the electric company's grid in two different places from two different substations; in case one of the substations went out, the whole building could be handled from the one still going. All of the servers and almost all of the workstations were connected to a UPS with 15 minutes of batteries AND an emergency generator with 24-hours of fuel. About half of the non-computer loads, including elevators, emergency lights, sump pumps, 1/3 of the occupants air-conditioning, all of the A/C for the server rooms, etc. were connected to the emergency generators. Even the refrigerators and freezers in the cafeteria were on emergency power. And this was for a call center. But a facility upon which our national security supposedly depends can't handle power surges?
    • I agree.

      Usually data center equipment is made more ruggedly to endure faulty power and high heat. I just shake my head at the data centers that operate at 60 to 70 degrees F when that kind of equipment can operate indefinitely at 80F.
      • Usually data center equipment is made more ruggedly to endure faulty power and high heat. I just shake my head at the data centers that operate at 60 to 70 degrees F when that kind of equipment can operate indefinitely at 80F.

        Actually, there *is* (sort of) a good reason for this. If the cooling fails, you have more time to get the A/C systems back on line before the temp. hits 90 or 100...

        Also, sadly, *most* offices in the US are cooled to 65 or 70F for the comfort of execudroids wearing suits and ties

    • Re:Back it up (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kestasjk (933987) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @10:37AM (#15855369) Homepage
      Apparently their electricity budget is 21 million dollars. I'll let you work back from the price of a kWh in Baltimore to find just how many UPS devices it would take to keep them running for any substantial length of time. If you can't be bothered to do the math; basically it would require a small power plant.

      NSA running a bunch of supercomputers != An office block
      • Apparently their electricity budget is 21 million dollars.

        I'd say about a dozen 3000KVA CAT generator trailers and large framed UPS units ought to do the trick. That's just a portable solution that a contractor of a large city can deliver within a few hours of a phone call. That and needing 2000 gallons of diesel per hour . . .
      • Its an order of mangnitude more, so still compareable.
        Just try to calculate how much electricity 4000 workstations need. You will easily enter the 1M$ range per year, too.

        So yes, you need a "power plant". And?
        Even my university, who isnt really that wealthy (and sure as hell doesnt have a billion $ budget) has one.

        And extending the bridging time isnt that hard. The only difference between 10 minutes and 10 days is just how many diesel tanks you have in the basement. (although for simple reasons of mechanica
      • Re:Back it up (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mrchaotica (681592) * on Sunday August 06, 2006 @12:09PM (#15855670)
        basically it would require a small power plant.

        And the reason they don't just build a small power plant is...?

        • Money. (Score:4, Informative)

          by abb3w (696381) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @06:34PM (#15856748) Journal

          And the reason they don't just build a small power plant is...?

          Powerplants aren't cheap, and a well-designed UPS solution is a bit more complicated than just a spare power cord.

          Using ballpark numbers, $21M/yr and $0.07/kWh gives about 40MW(e) load for our "UPS". Since you always buy one with room for growth, and since this is even more of a PITA to swap out than your average lead brick, call it 100MW(e) design. But how do we make it uninterruptable? Remember, all powerplants have maintenance downtime, even without accidents. You ideally want three plants, any one of which can handle the full design load; this allows for one to be down for routine maintenance, one down for unexpected accident (say, a safety fault emergency shutdown), and one to keep the load going. You also want this as a "ready-swap" load, and a power plant does require a few minutes warm-up time (exact amount varying by type); so, you'll want to run them all regularly, and transfer surplus power to the grid, to offset (say) the Pentagon electric bill.

          So, what kind of plant? Since we're doing three, I'd suggest using different types, so as not to put all the eggs in one basket, and further reduce the chance of a single-point of failure. I'll presume the Bolognium reactor from Area 51 is unavailable for this purpose. Wind and solar are too unreliable for this. Hydroelectric doesn't have a convenient enough water source. Geothermal is laughable in this location... although it might be a factor to consider for the Fort Meade Mk II location. Fossil plants (oil, coal, NatGas) have some environmental considerations, but not unmanageable; if necessary, designing the plant to liquify the entire stack output shouldn't more than double the cost. Nukes are compact, but REALLY don't like fast startups; a nuke also will make for an even bigger target for terror attacks... but of course, adding any power plant is going to paint an even bigger target on Fort Meade than there already is. Since it's really only adding another ring or two to the existing target, and since I'm not even halfway familiar enough to address such security considerations, I'll just ignore them. Some other Slashdotter can comment on that design aspect.

          So, I'd pick a small nuke plant for the primary Meade power plant, with a liquid natural gas or oil-fired for one backup plant. IIR, it's not hard to convert between those two fossil fuel sources, which might be advisable if there are supply issues. The third plant might be either one; I'm not sure whether the higher simultaneous event/design failure risk of the nuke plants would be better than the additional fuel transport and security headaches for steady fossil fuel supplies. For argument, call it one nuke, one oil, and one gas, with the latter two designed with convertability in mind. I think the coal transport/storage would be the worst of the fossil fuels, so we won't use that at all.

          So, we need three plants, each around 100MWe. My Googling suggests a pricetag of 100-200 M$ apiece for those; if you can find better numbers, feel free to note them. We need to arrange for steady suppies of fuel. We need to arrange for additional physical security. We need to find plant operators for all of them... every one of whom will probably need at least a Secret level clearance, to be confident a background check turns up anything nasty. We need to do some environmental work-up, since it's an urban area; "National Security" gets you only so far in Baltimore — although it might be enough to put a gag on the inevitable NIMBY idiots who'll turn out against anything.

          So, we're probably talking half a billion dollars for the building of it, plus additional annual expenses including higher than average salaries for plant workers due to the need for a clearance. This isn't peanuts, even with the NSA budget. It's not a bad idea... but it's not the no-brainer it looks at first pass.

  • Why Baltimore? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 06, 2006 @08:51AM (#15855033)
    With modern networking technology you could put new computers anywhere. So, what's so special about Baltimore? Why not take that shiny new Cray and put it in Cheyenne Mountain, I hear they have room now.
    • Re:Why Baltimore? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bwd (936324)
      I would assume because of the high security needed at the NSA, placing a cluster physically far from Ft. Meade would mean extra money and people to ensure its security. They would have to build another facility to meet the NSA security specs. It doesn't make sense. They are running a state security and intelligence service, not a distributed research network.
    • The most likely answer IMHO is that the security structure required for the projects that the NSA is working on is more difficult to distribute than the computing infrastructure. Sure, you can stick a computer anywhere but it's easier to have the associated personnel, documents, command structure etc. in a single place.
    • And what happens to the NSA when some kook with a backhoe takes out the linke from Cheyenne Mountain to Baltimore?
      Or when some terrorist disguised as a phone company worker or someone else innocent plugs a splice into the line somehow and eavesdrops on the NSAs traffic?

      Sattelite links are no better, they can still be taken down or eavesdropped on if you are determined (plus the latency over a sattelite is huge)
  • Free cooling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by debrain (29228) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @08:51AM (#15855034) Journal
    Maybe they should have built their systems near a deep lake, and instead of paying ridiculous prices for AC, they could just pump water from the lake and circulate it. The water at the bottom of lakes is always around 4C, and the cost of pumping it through a radiator type system is relatively very-cheap, reliable, and consistent. It's quite a popular method of cooling near the great-lakes region, I do believe.
    • and instead of paying ridiculous prices for AC, they could just pump water from the lake and circulate it.

      Or go half way up a mountain in Alaska or Yukon, build a dam near by and A/C would be free for most of the year. We need a little more global warming up here. Easy to police two, just the bear population. Unless they are considered terrorists too?

      • Easy to police two, just the bear population. Unless they are considered terrorists too?

        That depends on your level of paranoia...
        for example: " What do we got here [cafepress.com]?"

        Should we buy the Teddy bear in order to stop terrorism? Or Should we stop funding those terrorists bears?

        Not to mention the opinion of one of america's top minds: Colbert on Bears [youtube.com]
      • Re:Free cooling (Score:2, Insightful)

        by dattaway (3088)
        Or go half way up a mountain in Alaska or Yukon,

        Because this isn't about being practical. This is about jobs for the families of our elite. Do you really think they want to live in an icebox? Follow the money and you will see where the money goes. It isn't from Alaska and if it was, it sure isn't going back there.
        • Re:Free cooling (Score:5, Interesting)

          by bhiestand (157373) * on Sunday August 06, 2006 @07:02PM (#15856829) Journal
          Because this isn't about being practical. This is about jobs for the families of our elite. Do you really think they want to live in an icebox? Follow the money and you will see where the money goes. It isn't from Alaska and if it was, it sure isn't going back there.

          I can't believe you got modded insightful. I'll be looking out for it while metamodding. You're either a damned good troll that's managed to stick it out in this place for a long time, or you really, honestly believe that load of rubbish. There are millions of government jobs for the families of our elite. There are millions more in various utility and semi-government corporations throughout the country. You really wouldn't believe all the places they manage to hide and get paid more than their lives will ever be worth.

          All of that being said, the NSA is not one of those places. While you may argue about the morality of their participation in supposed spying on citizens or about the morality of current or past military, political, and diplomatic conquests they've aided, you can't argue that they aren't absolutely the top tier of their profession in the world. I don't know of a single more experienced, qualified, or intelligent collection of mathemiticians and computer pros in the world, and that's not an appeal to ignorance. They've found and fixed mistakes in common products such as linux and PGP that have gone undetected by the rest of the population for decades, and they've done it in their free time as a hobby.

          Bitch and moan about the politics all you want, but have the professional courtesy and respect to acknowledge skilled professionals wherever they are. The CIA and KGB never got along well, but you'll find they both speak highly of each other. That's the mark of a professional, my friend.
    • Maybe they should have built their systems near a deep lake, and instead of paying ridiculous prices for AC, they could just pump water from the lake and circulate it.

      Right, I mean who cares about the environmental implications of trashing lakes for our fickle cooling purposes, after all!

      The water at the bottom of lakes is always around 4C

      ...for presumptuously optimistic values of "always".

      -b

      • Re:Free cooling (Score:3, Insightful)

        by evilviper (135110)

        Right, I mean who cares about the environmental implications of trashing lakes for our fickle cooling purposes, after all!

        Completely wrong.

        The question is the environmental impact of slightly warming the lake...

        vs. ...the (much, much larger) impact of burning tons and tons of coal to power the expensive AC units.

        Which do you think is going to have the biggest impact, and end up costing far, far more in both the short and long-terms?

        And that's assuming year-round cooling. Once you have such a system in-plac

    • Re:Free cooling (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Acid-Duck (228035) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @09:52AM (#15855195) Homepage Journal
      The City of Toronto is already using such a system. Here is the link:

      http://www.toronto.ca/environment/initiatives/cool ing.htm [toronto.ca]

      Just to quote a snippet from the page:
      "Enwave Energy Corporation, through partial financial backing from the City of Toronto as one of the two shareholders of Enwave, developed the Deep Lake Water Cooling system that uses the cool energy in cold water to air-condition high-rise buildings in downtown Toronto. The system benefits the City by:

              * reducing energy consumption by up to 90 per cent (compared to conventional chillers)
              * reducing carbon dioxide emissions
              * improving the water supply by using new intake pipes that are deeper
              * investing in a corporation in which the City is a shareholder

      Enwave's three intake pipes draw water (4 degrees Celsius) from 5 kilometres off the shore of Lake Ontario at a depth of 83 metres below the surface. Naturally cold water makes its way to the City's John Street Pumping Station. There, heat exchangers facilitate the energy transfer between the icy cold lake water and the Enwave closed chilled water supply loop.

      The water drawn from the lake continues on its regular route through the John Street Pumping Station for normal distribution into the City water supply. Enwave uses only the coldness from the lake water, not the actual water, to provide the alternative to conventional air-conditioning.


      Additional data found on the page (such as savings in energy (precise figures for Metro Hall in toronto) and other stuff. Enjoy.

      Erik
    • Geo-thermal heating and cooling [geoexchange.org], also is the same idea. Just not using lakes as the source. I read about this in a magazine, and seem excited. The cost seems a little steep, however, it is an investment. It will pay for itself over time. It will reduce your heating/cooling costs by 2 thirds. Others have commented on the fact that the lakes will eventually heat up, which is a bad thing. I don't see a way to prevent this. Unless you can dump cold back in the winter. However, on a small scale this would be neg
  • So they allocate the budget for the new super ultra-modern computer system (which of course exceeds that budget), and now they need even more money because they "didn't knew" about the energy problem. And next year? They get at least the same budget. So whoever is responsible for that mess is even proud of what he's done.
  • Budged? (Score:4, Funny)

    by The_Shadows (255371) <thelureofshadowsNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Sunday August 06, 2006 @08:57AM (#15855050) Homepage
    "the NSA budged is estimated at $8 Billion"

    It costs $8 billion dollars to get the NSA to budge? Give me half that and I'll poke them with a stick until they move.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 06, 2006 @09:07AM (#15855070)
    There wouldn't be a power problem if we'd been allowed to build new plants over the last 20 years.

    I live in BGE's service area. Never had a problem, but they've been stressing for years they wanted to build a new power plant and the environmentalists won't let 'em.
    • by aonic (878715) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @11:07AM (#15855495) Homepage
      You seem to have a problem of clumping all of your dissenters into one category. There are many kinds of environmentalists, all of which dislike a certain kind of power generation. For example, in California, we've been trying to build new power plants for ages. Too bad coal/natural gas generate CO2, wind power kills birds, solar panels generate more waste being manufactured than they can ever make back in their lifetime, and nuclear energy is OOOOH SO EVIL. Actually, the only power generation facility I've heard of being built in the past 20 years was SoCal Ed's new parabolic-reflector-stirling-engine solar plant, which I think is the only kind of power all the hippies here can agree on.

      I would consider myself an environmentalist, but I am in favor of a.) reducing emissions, and b.) reducing pollution. So coal/gas and solar panels are out. That leaves wind power, nuclear, and stirling engines. A different kind of environmentalist might be for a.) saving wildlife (no wind power), and b.) nuclear disarmnament/60s hippie peace whore... and c.) thinks mirrors are evil cause they channel the devil or something. As you can see, between the two of us, we are out of power generation options. and therefore we can "thank the environmentalists" for their completely unreasonable dedication to some vague concept which is preventing humanity from accessing the power it needs.
      • by evilviper (135110) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @04:20PM (#15856378) Journal
        For example, in California, we've been trying to build new power plants for ages. Too bad coal/natural gas generate CO2, wind power kills birds, solar panels generate more waste being manufactured than they can ever make back in their lifetime, and nuclear energy is OOOOH SO EVIL.

        Coal is an absolute no-go, but natural gas is a big green-light. Private companies all around the state have put up their own private natural-gas power plants to get off of the ridiculously expensive grid electricity, and related problems.

        The power companies (like Edison), however, are happy making lots of money on the inflated electricity costs, and building new power plants is like cutting open the goose that lays the golden eggs.

        Actually, the only power generation facility I've heard of being built in the past 20 years was SoCal Ed's new parabolic-reflector-stirling-engine solar plant,

        That says a lot about you, and the sources you read, and very little about the facilities themselves. The location for the Stirling-SCE solar facility (which is scheduled to start construction in 2008) happens to be dammed-near to a brand-new 30 Megawatt (IIRC) natural gas facility.

        which I think is the only kind of power all the hippies here can agree on.

        Lots of coyotes, jackrabbits, lizards, tortises, hawks, ravens, doves, etc., will be harmed by 6 square miles of open desert land being bulldozed. There are a lot of Joshua Trees (protected species) on 6 square miles, so I have to wonder what their plans are for relocating them.

        No, I really don't care, but the point remains, this solar facility will have just as many serious environmental consequences as windmills, and other solar. This time, though, it looks like it will be profitable enough for Edison that they actually want to build it, instead of continuing to scapegoat a tiny minority of "environmentalists".
  • ...then they must be very good at their job...
  • to the Intel Core platform :-)
  • Government (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ltbarcly (398259) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @09:34AM (#15855141)
    Let me fill you suckers in on a little secret. The NSA is run by the Government. The Government doesn't know the meaning of the words efficient or effective. The only government operations which SEEM efficient are the ones they refuse to tell you anything about.

    Realize that much of what is classified is classified to cover someone's ass, and not due to national security concerns. Imagine if your company could classify information it didn't want people to know about, what would they classify? All the bad news, that's what. Notice that any and all bad news coming out of the government is directly from employees to the press, and never EVER from officials or press relations offices.

    Now you know that the NSA can't even figure out how to get electricity set up so that they can power their billion dollar computers, meanwhile your company, which you consider to be run by dopes probably, has multiple plans to deal with such issues. The reason for this is simple:

    The NSA does not design computers, they just buy them on contract from big companies like IBM or whoever. All they have to do is write a check.
    This leaves the NSA with the responsibility to plug that computer in, and they have failed at it. And you can take it as a fact that this is the case with almost all government projects. They write a check to a contractor, and then don't have the competence to use what they bought.
    • by bwd (936324)
      So what is your solution? Outsource our state security to the private sector? Sounds like a plan.
      • What do you think we are doing now? The NSA is just a hodpodge of Northrup, Lockheed, and Boeing, SAIC, and CSC. Oh, wait, you can't check up on this. If you ask they won't tell you, not that it's secret. I would look up the above companies if you don't believe me.
    • by ChePibe (882378) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @10:22AM (#15855300)
      "We" want a corruption free, fair government.

      No, seriously. As someone who has worked in government procurement before, you would be absolutely amazed to see all of the nonsense the USG must go through - according to law - to purchase anything beyond small office supplies (and heaven help you if you need to purchase those in bulk).

      A few examples:
      - It took one month to have a lock changed. Not a lock at a secure facility or anything of the sort, mind you, and preparing the paperwork to create the order form and see that it had all the necessary approvals cost more than changing the stupid lock. But don't worry - that lock was changed without any corruption at all.

      - Time to wait for a request for most small items (purchases below $2,500) is at least a month, usually 6 weeks. If it is above $2,500 (and, no, you cannot purchase items individually if it's above that amount - they all have to be on the same PO), at least three bids must be made from different companies and if it is a piece of technical equipment, committees must be formed so that everyone can sit around and argue about what their requirements are for a few months rather than making the process quick. If you're buying a lot of new computers, expect a lag of several months - or a year.

      - Let's not even get into the various acts that, on top of that, prevent the government from buying from certain entities, encourage it to purchase from others (minorities, women owned businesses, etc.), and the other groups the government creates to "streamline" ordering that do nothing more than add an additional step to the process.

      (Above was with the State dept. - your mileage may vary)

      The simple fact is that the government cannot act like an efficient, effective corporation and simply purchase stuff because it has been buried in red tape. Why is it buried? "We" buried it. By "we", I mean American citizens, but especially their elected officials.

      Americans taxpayers, reasonably, don't want to pay taxes into a government that is corrupt and practices cronyism. This makes sense and, in spite of all the cynical things you hear on Slashdot, it must be noted that the U.S. government has very low corruption levels when compared to others, and we generally do hold those who break the law accountable for it. However, this (very) relatively corruption-free government comes at a high price - efficiency. An honest employee who needs to get his or her hands on equipment quickly simply can't do it - it must be passed through miles and miles of red tape first. Legislators always love to jump on these little matters when they com up, pound their desks, and demand something be done to stop it, which leads to yet more red tape.

      It's a sad, sad day when a purchase must pass through the hands of at least 5 very busy people (and often pass through their hands more than once) to get approval. But that's what I saw.

      I left asking myself - is it worth allowing a little corruption to avoid wasting billions a year in administrative fees? I'm not sure I could give that question a qualified "yes", but sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease.

      **** NOT opening a can of beans here, so don't even start ****
      After seeing how the government does things with purchasing as an intern, I can almost understand the no-bid contracts with Haliburton. Just the bidding process on these contracts would've taken YEARS, and not met the policymakers' desired timeline (which you can see as right or wrong).
      **** NOT opening a can of beans here, so don't even start ****
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 06, 2006 @10:42AM (#15855389)
        - Time to wait for a request for most small items (purchases below $2,500) is at least a month, usually 6 weeks. If it is above $2,500 (and, no, you cannot purchase items individually if it's above that amount - they all have to be on the same PO),
        We never had any problems purchasing stuff below $2500. Just find a guy with a government credit card, have them fill out a purchase order in the account system, and have them use the card to buy whatever you want online.
        at least three bids must be made from different companies and if it is a piece of technical equipment, committees must be formed so that everyone can sit around and argue about what their requirements are for a few months rather than making the process quick. If you're buying a lot of new computers, expect a lag of several months - or a year.
        Or you could just buy them off a pre-competed contract. If you were bidding out all your requests for computer equipment you had some pretty incompetent people in your purchasing department. If you're just looking for computer equipment you can just go to CDWG or GTSI or a similar company and order it via various government contracts.. even GSA schedule.
        • by ChePibe (882378) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @12:56PM (#15855801)
          In that it corrects some of my mistakes, and I appreciate your comments.

          I neglected to mention that my particular experience was in an embassy. Most of the administrative personnel are not American citizens, which means the USG is a bit leary about handing out cards to them. There were only a handful of American personnel running the Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs), and these Americans were very busy in other areas and weren't the type of personnel you ask to make small purchases.

          Regarding GSA - we made big orders through them, but only once every quarter/six months or so (don't recall specifics). Shipping big pallets like that from the U.S. can get expensive, and between time it takes to make the purchase order, assemble the pallet, ship it to post, clear customs, etc. it can take months.

          My experience will obviously vary from that of many federal employees.
    • IBM? We're not talking about ThinkPads here, we're talking about supercomputers. Judging by the apparently useless undocumented instructions which appear in Cray supercomputer manuals, the NSA works with Cray to get supercomputers which are optimized for breaking specific crypto. Something tells me they can plug them in..
    • "Now you know that the NSA can't even figure out how to get electricity set up so that they can power their billion dollar computers, meanwhile your company, which you consider to be run by dopes probably, has multiple plans to deal with such issues. The reason for this is simple:

      The NSA does not design computers, they just buy them on contract from big companies like IBM or whoever. All they have to do is write a check."
      The NSA have a chip fabrication facility at Ft. Meade, presumeably to make chips wh
  • by tcgroat (666085) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @09:38AM (#15855153)
    " "It's a temporary fix," one former senior NSA official said."


    All computer room updates are temporary! When you continually upgrade and expand your installation, you continually change your power, cooling, and wiring needs. Facilties engineering and plant upgrades are an ongoing project, not a one-time quick fix. It isn't glamorous, it often isn't pretty, but it is essential. If management waits for a crisis like this before acting, you can bet on three things: the correction will take too long, cost too much, and after the too-late, too-expensive quick-fix they'll ignore it, assuring that the same thing happens again.

  • All businesses try and keep the buildings as warm as possible in the summer, and as cool as possible in the winter. Its simple thermodynamics. All datacenters do things like remove CRTs in place of LCDs, SHUT THE DAMN LIGHTS OFF, and virtualize/consolidate whenever possible. This whole article could be summed up as:
    "Economic reality catches up to NSA, NSA adapts, film at 11"

    Or are we all excited because its something to do with both the Gubmint and computers?
    • All businesses try and keep the buildings as warm as possible in the summer, and as cool as possible in the winter.

      Not many of the offices that I've seen. 65/75F summer/winter all the way! You actually have to dress warmer in summer inside in some cases!

      -b.

  • Star Wars! (Score:3, Funny)

    by glass_window (207262) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @10:30AM (#15855337)

    . . . not yet fully operational.

    And we all know what the fate of the Death Star was! They outsourced the power used to defend it to the nearby moon of Endor and entrusted it with its least capable troops. To its credit, it did manage to take out a few large starships on its way out.

  • Smarter energy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @10:49AM (#15855417)
    Most of the electricity generated is used to produce or move heat. Frankly there are smarter ways of doing it.
    The solution is to make energy expensive, we'll then start to see more use of heat pumps, district heating, district cooling systems etc. Efficiency levels will go from thirty something percent up to eighty something percent.

     
  • Clearly, this is a job for congress. The NSA is having oversight problems and is out of date. They need to start having planning planning planning planning planning meeting planning meetings to make sure the proper oversight is in place. Furthermore, all systems MUST be upgraded to MS Vista immediatly as part of the 'modernizing the NSA and funding Bill Gates bill'. Yes, ALL computers, I'm sure they can port Vista to whatever they're running. We wouldn't want all of those pipes to get clogged with penguins

  • by ArghBlarg (79067) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @12:01PM (#15855644) Homepage
    Just like the US did to the USSR in the late 80s, perhaps the nations of the world could bankrupt the USA by flooding the world communication channels with heavily encrypted traffic. The NSA would keep demanding more and more computers and power, draining the nation of its resources.
  • by DumbSwede (521261) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Sunday August 06, 2006 @01:16PM (#15855855) Homepage Journal
    the NSA is proposing the new NSA@home project.
    I'm sure every Slashdot reader will be volunteering CPU cycles. ;-)
  • by gelfling (6534) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @05:40PM (#15856590) Homepage Journal
    I thought the gubmint got all the power it needed from those alien black hole gravitational generators they have stashed under area 51? You know, the ones that power their secret time-space bending stealth saucers to the secret moonbase where not-dead JFK rules the earth.

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