GAO probes FBI's case file project

The General Accounting Office is investigating the FBI's Virtual Case File project at the request of House Judiciary Committee chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) and the committee's ranking minority member, John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.)

The two lawmakers told GAO to find out whether the bureau had taken to heart the lessons learned when traitorous FBI agent Robert Hanssen exploited the agency's systems to sell secrets to Moscow. The agency is building VCF as part of the larger Trilogy program to overhaul its information systems.

In a letter to Comptroller General David Walker in early October last year, Sensenbrenner and Conyers cited an August 2003 study of the Hanssen affair by the Justice Department's inspector general. Justice recommended security upgrades, among other measures, to detect improper computer use and prevent security feature overrides.

Sources inside and outside the FBI have confirmed that the Virtual Case File project now has exceeded its budget without achieving the intended goals.

Sources said today that FBI officials may approach Congress to request budget reprogramming. They also might deal with the overrun by attempting to compel the contracting team headed by Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego to pay for the work needed to complete VCF.

FBI spokesman Ed Cogswell today declined to comment on the SAIC contract, the VCF delay or the GAO investigation because, he said, the bureau is still negotiating with the company. An SAIC spokesman referred questions to the bureau.

A source familiar with the GAO investigation said the congressional audit agency has found that VCF costs rose after the program was overhauled in 2002. Although the VCF section of Trilogy had been under way since the late 1990s, the 2002 project re-evaluation called for re-engineering the case file project. 'But a lot of money was spent before that,' the source added.

The re-engineering effort included a major push to strengthen VCF file security. The case file project, already a major effort by 2002, became even larger after that.

The FBI has worked to pave the way for adoption of the new case file system by sending some of its special agents to conferences on how case file systems operate. That effort is intended to shift the bureau's culture so that special agents will more readily adopt the new case file system.

'The Virtual Case File project is not going well,' an IT manager inside the bureau said. 'It is costing too much and it is late.' When word of the delays and extra costs reached FBI leaders, the bureau IT manager said, 'The director [Robert S. Mueller III] was not a happy man.'

The bureau announced yesterday that it had accepted delivery of the infrastructure component of Trilogy from Computer Sciences Corp. under a separate contract.

'The completion of this phase of the FBI's information technology project, known as Trilogy, presents the FBI with the vehicle to deploy additional components for sharing information, deploying analytical capabilities and strengthening the security features,' a bureau statement said. 'The next phase to be developed and deployed is the Virtual Case File, which is intended to provide case management tools and information sharing capabilities' for special agents and analysts.

Last November, the bureau blamed CSC for delays in Trilogy deployment. Last month, Mueller told a Senate appropriations subcommittee that the FBI would hold contractors financially accountable for project delays.

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