FBI to phase in case file system

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Zalmai Azmi, FBI's Trilogy steward

Henrik G. de Gyor

FBI CIO Zalmai Azmi has taken the reins of an IT operation that is restructuring one of the most ambitious systems procurements in the federal government: the Trilogy system's Virtual Case File case management system.

The recently completed Trilogy modernization projects have had to overcome many obstacles.

Likewise, VCF has been hampered by schedule delays and other hurdles. But the full system, which will replace the Automated Case System with a new platform for managing files from creation through completion, is crucial to the bureau because it will greatly improve agents' ability to manage and share information.

Before his appointment as acting FBI CIO in late 2003, Azmi was CIO of the Justice Department's Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys. He also worked as a computer scientist for the Patent and Trademark Office. Before joining the civil service, he served in the Marine Corps.

Azmi spoke with GCN senior editor Wilson P. Dizard III at the bureau's headquarters in Washington.

GCN: A recent report by the National Research Council proposed that the FBI suspend work on the Virtual Case File project until it has a contingency plan for reverting completely or partially to the Automated Case System, which it uses now. Do you plan to do so?

AZMI: I met with that group, because the report that they issued was about six months out of date. So we decided to have a subsequent meeting to update them with the latest information, events in the last seven months.

One of the things we talked about was the deployment of VCF. We looked at VCF in December and realized that we would have to do a phased deployment. We are in the process of working with [VCF contractor Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego] on a phased deployment with contingency and disaster recovery plans in place.

GCN: The council also advocated additional scale, volume and stress testing of VCF. Are you going to do that?

AZMI: We have already conducted the testing of VCF with our facilities in [the Criminal Justice Information System].

GCN: The council recommended changing the contract management process. How do you plan to change the way you manage contracts for IT?

AZMI: What we are looking at now is a different contract management strategy. We are going for performance-based contracting, we are looking at fixed-price contracting and we are also looking at the control mechanisms in place to make sure that the vendors can deliver quality products. So we are looking at multiple tasks: First, we will define what quality products are. Second, we will define what the milestones of the projects are.


Throughout those milestones, we will look at the quality of the products and at the earned-value management process. That means overseeing how much money we have spent, where we are in the schedule and how much work we have done. If those aspects are not in sync, that means the contractor is not performing up to par.

The other process we are trying to enforce is developing our own lifecycle methodology. Instead of having the vendors use their lifecycle methodologies, we are making it mandatory that they use the FBI's own methodology.

GCN: Do you plan to do this monitoring with your own staff or hire contractors that specialize in overseeing large deals?
AZMI: It will be a combination. Depending on the scope of the program or project, we are probably going to have a team of people to look at it. Our Program Management Office has a large staff that specializes in program and project management.

We are hoping to use those people with their additional training and skill sets to manage our programs, because by rule you cannot have one contractor manage another contractor.
So we will have government employees in charge of all of our programs, with assistance from the contractors.

GCN: The National Research Council called on the bureau to expand its internal IT expertise and increase its internal IT staff quickly. Is this one of your agenda items?

AZMI: Absolutely. One of the things we are looking at right now is the resources we have in the bureau. As you are aware, previously the bureau's IT was managed by the Information Resources Division. What we are trying to do is expand the organization to have a section for policy and planning, an office for systems development, an office for operation and maintenance, and an office for program management.

To do that, we have to increase the number of people we have, and the contractors. So that is going to have an impact on the availability of facilities and space and also on being able to recruit qualified people to come here and work with us.

GCN: Some observers say the Virtual Case File will be quite complicated for users, because it has such broad and deep capabilities. How much training will the bureau's staff of 30,000 special agents get in using the system?

AZMI: This was one of the concerns of the [NRC] as well. When putting a program out with so many capabilities, there definitely was concern about how quickly we could train people.

We have looked at this in different ways. One was that we have published about 15 different Web-based training modules. None is mandatory for all the users in order to understand VCF. Five or six modules are task-specific.

Depending on their jobs and goals, users will study some of those modules. About 95 percent of the people have taken the basic modules. We are also looking at developing instructor-led training. That will be for the instructors actually training people, because we realize that Web-based methods are not going to meet everybody's needs.

Aside from that we have developed a transition team'a group of people who are going to help specific offices and functions in the transition to VCF. The way we have constructed our transition team, and we looked at the ratio right now, is that every 15 individuals within the FBI will have at least one transition member helping them.

The transition team members are coming from different groups within the bureau: administrative officers, electronic technicians, IT folks, agents, counterterrorism-counterintelligence folks.

So you are looking at a three-pronged approach: transition teams, in-class training and the Web-based modules. Aside from that, with the change in strategy to do a phased deployment, I think we can make the transition much better, because we are introducing the capabilities in increments and in modules. People can get comfortable with one module, then we will deploy the next capability and the next capability.

GCN: Are you confident that this process of training and phasing will lead all agents to actually use VCF for their daily work rather doing the real work on paper and then later entering it into the computer?

AZMI: I think most of the people will use it. If you compare VCF to ACS, there is a 100 percent difference between the two. VCF is more geared toward making information readily available. I think that aspect in itself will be very attractive to the users. They know, as soon as they put information in, it quickly will be available to everyone else to look at.

The other part is that we will do task assignments through VCF. Previously you wrote on a piece of paper, then you would either have to fax it or drive to a field office to get approval. In VCF you can do that electronically.

So something that could take 24 to 48 hours, even 96 hours, can be done in a matter of minutes. I think those aspects are very attractive to the users.

GCN: What is the status of the contract negotiations between the bureau and the SAIC vendor team for VCF? Will SAIC pay for some of the rework needed?

AZMI: We are in negotiations with SAIC currently. Duane Andrews, chief executive officer of [SAIC's] federal sector, met with me several weeks ago, and one of the commitments by SAIC was that they would be looking at cost sharing.

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