FBI site boosts background checks

FBI site boosts background checks


The FBI is developing a Web application that will provide firearms dealers with another way to perform background checks on prospective gun buyers.

"This is the first time that a gun dealer will be able to use the Internet to perform search-and-retrieve functions for a firearm background check," said Lisa Vincent, assistant operations manager, National Instant Criminal Background System (NICS) Program Office.

Who's In Charge

Stephen R. Colgate

Chief Information Officer and Assistant Attorney General for Administration

Linda D. Burek

Deputy CIO and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for IRM

Dennis McCrary

Deputy Assistant Director for Information Systems, Drug Enforcement Agency

Bob Dies

Assistant Director, Information Resources Division, FBI

Scott Hastings

Acting Associate Commissioner for IRM, Immigration and Naturalization Service

George Zarur

CIO, Marshals Service

John Hardwick

Deputy Assistant Director for IRM, Bureau of Prisons

(in millions, April 1999 - March 2000)

Getronics Government Solutions$ 74.2
Science Applications International Corp.51.6
CACI International Inc.37.6
Litton PRC Inc.34.8
Electronic Data Systems Corp.30.0
Aspen Systems Corp.29.8
Datatrac Information Services28.5
Labat-Anderson Inc.24.8
CACI Inc.24.2
Vinnell Corp.23.7

IT spending grows steadily

Sources for Inside Justice include the Federal Procurement Data System, the Justice Department and Input of Chantilly, Va.

A state contact designates a state or law enforcement agency to receive and process NICS checks for the dealers in that state.

In states that do not serve as points of contact, dealers request a NICS check by using a toll-free number to call a center under contract with the FBI. The call center then forwards the information electronically to the NICS Operation Center in Clarksburg, W. Va., for processing.

Using the dealers' information, NICS searches three FBI databases: the National Crime Information Center, Interstate Identification Index (III) and NICS Index, which contain more than 37 million records.

Ready for business

size="2" color="#FF0000">Systems upgrades have increased NICS' processing capability and reduced outages, FBI computer specialist Mark Testman says.

Meanwhile, the FBI installed two SGI Origin 2000 servers last September to handle increased processing requirements. They replace an eight-processor SGI Challenge server.

Under peak CPU loads, many features of the old system would shut down, said Mark Testman, computer specialist at the Information Technology Management Section of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services.

NICS processes between 600,000 and 700,000 transactions per month during its slow months, January through August. The number increases to 800,000 in September and 1 million in October and November. During December, the hunting and holiday gift giving seasons, the number goes up to 1.2 million transactions.

The initial NICS was designed with system requirements that relied heavily on individual state systems that would manage the bulk of end-user processing, Testman said.

As NICS neared completion, many states that had at first planned to complete checks at the state level decided to defer that responsibility to the FBI.

"What began as a system design to handle 15 end-user workstations now had to function with over 300 workstations supported," Testman said.
A built-in reserve-processing capacity was not enough to process the increase in production.

"We processed nearly 75,000 transactions on Dec. 23-a record number," Testman said, adding that after the installation of the servers by Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego, there have been no hardware or software problems. NICS has a three-tier architecture. The back-end uses an Origin 2000 server configured with eight 400-MHz R12000 processors, 8G of RAM, two 14G system disks, a 4-mm internal tape drive, a CD-ROM drive and a system console. A backup server of the same configuration parallels the primary server.

The middle tier consists of seven SGI O2 workstations. About 400 O2 workstations with front-end graphical user interfaces support the users.

Steady backup

Last September, the FBI linked NICS and the Interstate Identification Index, a segment of the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System that provides criminal history information. Now the system can run even when IAFIS is down.

"The NICS interface to IAFIS was a single point of failure since NICS is dependent on the availability of III database records," Testman said.

NICS had been frequently affected by technical problems within IAFIS that caused NICS service outages.

"Comparing the last three months of 2000 to 1999, a 60 percent decrease in outage minutes has been realized," Testman said.

Major Programs
' Trilogy. The FBI's Trilogy is a $300 million, three-year project that comprises three basic information technology components: user applications, information presentation and a data backbone network. Encompassing the entire agency, the plan adopts commercial products and is compatible with legacy systems to manage investigative and intelligence information.

' IDENT/IAFIS. This is a joint undertaking of the Justice
Management Division, Immigration and Naturalization Service and FBI to improve the use of technology to identify, de-tain and prosecute criminal aliens attempting to enter the country.

The system includes expanding INS fingerprinting capabilities at the border and integrating the service's IDENT data and fingerprint system into the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. The Justice Management Division will modify the Joint Automated Booking Station to transmit INS data to the FBI and will have management responsibility for the project.

IDENT/IAFIS will provide federal, state and local law enforcement agencies with all relevant immigration information as part of a criminal history response from a single FBI search request.

' Joint Automated Booking Station. This initiative between the FBI, Bureau of Prisons, Drug Enforcement Administration, INS and Marshals Service aims to automate the booking process, letting agencies share and exchange information, and to establish a system for tracking federal offenders. By October 2002, all law enforcement components are expected to have a JABS interface.


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