Sentinel project to replace FBI's abandoned Virtual Case File effort

The FBI is poised to launch what it calls the Sentinel project, a procurement that will build, among other things, a case management system to replace the defunct Virtual Case File project, officials said.

Bureau officials have been using the Sentinel moniker for the service-oriented architecture project since last month. They confirmed the details of the project on the condition that their names not be used. Sentinel is to be designed along the lines of the Federal Investigative Case Management Solution, which will provide a blueprint for federal law enforcement case management systems. Officials said they expect to issue an RFP this summer, or at the latest by Sept. 30.

Using the name Sentinel "helps remove any confusion about what FICMS is and what the actual solution for the FBI will be," said William Price Roe, senior policy advisor for Justice's CIO, Vance Hitch.

Roe added that Sentinel is "the first implementation of an FICMS framework. Because of the service oriented architecture, other agencies will be able to use the core solution.

As for Sentinel itself, "It's a new name," Roe said. 'We had to work with the appropriators and the Office of Management and the Budget to make sure they were on board with our general approach. The name is something after the fact.

"We have been briefing people on the Hill and in OMB about the plans for this project and will continue to do so. Most of the interest is on what the FBI is doing" to apply technology to its mission, Roe said.

Bureau director Robert Mueller III has not yet announced the beginning of Sentinel, though he outlined the technology direction of the project in testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, State and Justice in March. During that testimony, Mueller unobtrusively signaled that the FBI would abandon VCF.

Though he said in his written statement that, "We continue to work daily on the VCF issue," Mueller tolled the death knell for the project in his responses to questions from the panel.

Mueller cited a December 2004 consultant report on VCF that said it "was not scalable and that the engineering was not what it should be in order to make it the effective tool for the FBI, and it requires us now to go a different route." Later in the same response, Mueller said, "I am tremendously disappointed that we did not come through on Virtual Case File."

A VCF pilot project continued as planned until April 15, according to the bureau and Science Applications International Corp., the prime contractor for the effort. As late as last week, SAIC spokesman Jared Adams said the FBI had not officially informed the company that there is no chance that the bureau will choose to complete VCF.

Mueller admitted in Senate testimony in January before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that the bureau had squandered $104 million on VCF software that will not be reused.

FBI officials said Sentinel would provide the bureau's special agents and other employees with:

  • automated workflow tools

  • search capabilities

  • record and case management tools and

  • reporting protocols.


The bureau plans to run the Sentinel procurement through the National Institute of Health's Government Wide Acquisition Contract office, officials said. NIH and FBI officials currently are overseeing a technical feasibility study for Sentinel, officials said.

The bureau has not yet appointed a project manager for Sentinel. Officials said the FBI is conducting an executive search that would include looking at Senior Executive Service leaders in other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, as well as private sector executives.

'We have taken the lessons learned [from the VCF program] so we are better positioned to shape this next generation of electronic information management systems,' an official said.

'Sentinel will go beyond [the capabilities of] VCF,' the official added. 'It is part of a larger service-oriented architecture, to develop and deploy services and capabilities to FBI employees.' Bureau officials say they expect to be able to add, remove or modify the system's capabilities more easily because of its service-oriented architecture.

Each phase of the four-phase project will be a standalone capability, one official said. The phased rollout plan is intended to facilitate training, the transition from old to new systems, the systems' deployment and support.

FBI CIO Zal Azmi issued a memorandum to all FBI employees on May 10 describing some of the achievements of the CIO office, which he has led since May 6, 2004.

Senior bureau officials from across the country recently met in Washington to review the concept of operations for Sentinel.

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