Senate probes FBI case file project

The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and State likely will hold hearings Feb. 3 on the FBI's Virtual Case File project, according to legislative sources. The hearings are expected to air the results of a Justice Department inspector general report, first reported by GCN, that called the $170 million VCF project a failure.

The hearings likely will feature testimony by FBI director Robert Mueller III; the bureau's CIO, Zalmai Azmi; Justice inspector general Glenn A. Fine; executives of vendor Science Applications International Corp.; and witnesses from Aerospace Corp., legislative sources said. SAIC of San Diego has been the main contractor for the VCF project, and Aerospace Corp. late last year completed a separate report evaluating the project.

VCF was designed to dramatically upgrade the bureau's case management system, the Automated Case File System, or ACS, and forms part of the Trilogy project that also involved the deployment of PCs and new networks across the FBI. The bureau has completed Trilogy's PC and network deployment phases.

Trilogy was called the FBI Technology Upgrade Program when planning for the next generation of bureau technology began in the early 1990s. Officials subsequently abandoned the FTUP acronym and the project came to be named Trilogy.

The sources added that the early release of the inspector general's draft report caused significant consternation in the bureau's IT operation, but that the FBI has held off conducting a leak investigation.

The Senate subcommittee is preparing for the hearings by requesting answers to several questions about the progress and future of the VCF project, sources said.

Senators also likely will focus on plans for the bureau's next attempt at building a comprehensive case management system, the Federal Investigative Case Management System. The interagency FICMS project involves coordination among the FBI, the Homeland Security Department and other investigative agencies.

But some federal technical specialists familiar with the project say the FBI's case management requirements'including the ability to keep track of about 100,000 cases annually and 10,000 active cases at any given time'are much more demanding than those of other agencies with smaller investigative operations.

The technical specialists noted that VCF came to grief partly because its managers allowed the case file project to stray into areas such as evidence management that fell outside the original requirements for the system.

The General Accounting Office has been investigating the VCF project for more than a year at the behest of House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and ranking minority member John Conyers (D-Mich.). Sensenbrenner has repeatedly condemned VCF schedule delays and cost overruns

Widespread reporting of the inspector general report following GCN's initial coverage prompted Mueller to issue an announcement to all FBI employees that referred obliquely to the problems with the case file project and asked them to be patient with the VCF's development, a bureau source said.

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