FBI will upgrade NICS for better efficiency, uptime

FBI will upgrade NICS for better efficiency, uptime

NICS' processing delays are not acceptable, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch says.

Bureau says addition of interfaces to other systems caused a hiccup in the background check system

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

Concerns about gun safety, congressional pressure and heat from firearms vendors are pushing the FBI to improve its National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The year, the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, W.Va., will make $6.5 million worth of upgrades to the system.

CJIS plans to improve backup for NICS, which went online in December 1998, by upgrading from an Oracle7 Release to an Oracle8 database, and from Tuxedo 6.4 to Tuxedo 6.5, a middleware transaction tool from BEA Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

Later this year, CJIS expects to complete a bypass that will allow NICS to continue running even if the Identification, Tasking and Networking segment of the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System is down.

Currently, NICS traffic passes through the ITN interface server to tap criminal history data stored in IAFIS' Interstate Identification Index.

The III database contains 36 million active criminal history records'95 percent of the records NICS checks.

Bad timing

The FBI found itself in the hot seat when III outages in May caused a loss of NICS service to federally licensed firearms dealers nationwide during the weekend of a large pro-gun-control demonstration in Washington.

'Numerous outages'such as the four-day outage that coincided with the Million Mom March for gun control'have shut down NICS for hours, or even days at a time,' said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, at a hearing in June.

He said that FBI data shows NICS experienced more than 215.5 hours of downtime last year. The system provided 30-second responses 72 percent of the time.

'Over 26 percent of transactions are delayed not due to problems in the purchaser's background, but rather because the process is not efficient,' Hatch said. 'This is not acceptable.'

The FBI, however, said that for its first six months, NICS availability stood above 99 percent'until the FBI built an interface with two other major systems.

From July 1999, when IAFIS and the National Crime Information Center 2000 went online, to May 2000 availability averaged 96 percent, David R. Loesch, assistant director of CJIS, testified at the Judiciary Committee hearing.

NICS checks its own index of more than 1 million records of people prohibited from owning firearms and 500,000 records from NCIC 2000.

Loesch said the cause of the May outage is still under review, but all indications point to a defect in the proprietary database management software, which led to an incorrect and corrupt calculation of table spaces within III.

CJIS plans to make NICS more robust so problems in the other systems do not stop its operations.

'The NICS reliance on other CJIS systems has been problematic in that one system being offline causes the whole process to stop,' said Capt. Stu Smith, bureau chief of the Utah Department of Public Safety.

The ITN development contractor, Litton PRC Inc., will create a bypass to directly connect NICS and III by fall. The bypass will consist of two dual servers that will act as backups to each other.

By October, CJIS will install two SGI Origin2000 servers with eight CPUs each in Clarksburg.

CJIS also is considering 60 other upgrades: RAID storage technology upgrades; graphical user interface modifications; online and near-line reporting capabilities expansion; duplicate data elimination; an increase in online access to state statutory information; data table expansion; system security enhancements and around-the-clock operation.

Crime dot com

CJIS also plans to provide federally licensed firearms dealers electronic access to NICS via Web browser using interface capabilities within the system.

The FBI will work with Lockheed Martin Corp. and Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego on the $2.5 million project.

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