Auditors: FBI on thin ice in Sentinel buy

The FBI faces special risks in developing the Sentinel case management system because it plans to do so at the same time that it is rolling out its new enterprise architecture, according to a letter issued today by Government Accountability Office auditors.

The bureau now is evaluating proposals for systems integration of the case management system, which would serve as a replacement to the defunct Virtual Case File project, which was scuttled earlier this year after costing more than $100 million.

'There were only two proposals submitted,' an FBI official said, referring to those from Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the FBI contracting team is getting advice from Aerospace Corp. of Columbia, Md., and Mitre Corp. of McLean, Va., and likely will award the contract in January. Industry sources echoed the official's statements.

'They are getting close [to an award,]' the bureau official said.. 'They had some clarification questions [for Northrop Grumman and Lockheed],' the official added.

The Sentinel contract could be worth up to $170 million, according to the consulting firm Input of Reston, Va.

The FBI earlier had planned to award the contract this month.

Another federal official familiar with the project said the bureau is facing close scrutiny from Congress in the purchasing decision.

The GAO letter describing the Sentinel risks responded to questions from Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, the departments of State, Justice and Commerce and related agencies.

The auditors noted in their letter that urgent and compelling mission needs could justify proceeding with a major IT project even if an agency does not have a complete EA. 'A key to dealing with this practical reality is recognizing that doing so increases the risk of deploying systems that are duplicative, not well integrated and unnecessarily costly to operate and interface,' according to GAO.

The auditors stated that the bureau had taken some steps to reduce the risk of proceeding with Sentinel. But they went on to criticize the bureau's poor oversight of its EA contractor, which is working without performance-based contracting controls.

The lack of performance-based controls 'has inhibited the bureau's ability to adequately define product quality expectations, which in turn increases the chances that delivered products will require rework,' according to the letter. The bureau plans to develop and fully implement the contract controls next year, GAO said.

The bureau faces additional risks because of problems with its human capital programs, according to GAO. For example, at one point recently, four out of five key architect positions were vacant, even though the FBI has special legal authority to pay employees as much as $175,000 or more to attract managers, according to the letter.

The bureau now is in the process of hiring a human capital contractor to pinpoint gaps between the bureau's need for employee training, pay and nonpay incentive plans as well as professional development practices and its existing practices, GAO said.

The GAO cited a study by the National Academy of Public Administration that reported problems with the bureau's personnel policies and called for improvements.

The bureau official defended the FBI's progress on personnel issues, saying that CIO Zalmai Azmi 'has put a significant amount of personal and organizational energy into improving personnel [practices].'

The FBI official, when told of the GAO letter, said, 'This is a whole new threshold. I am not accustomed to GAO audits before the start of a project.'

Lockheed Martin confirmed that it is bidding on the contract. Northrop Grumman did not comment on Sentinel. FBI public affairs officials were preparing an official response to the letter this afternoon.

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