SAIC says FBI should deploy its case management system

Science Applications International Corp. said Tuesday that it has urged the FBI to fully deploy the Virtual Case File case management system the San Diego company has provided in a pilot version. The troubled VCF project has been the subject of several critical reports and investigationsby the Government Accountability Office, the Justice Department Inspector General's Office, the National Science Foundation and Congress.

'We certainly believe they could deploy VCF,' said Mark Hughes, president of SAIC's system and network solutions group. He added that scuttling VCF, a move the FBI is considering on recommendations from the Justice IG, would delay the bureau's adoption of modern case management software by three years or more.

The FBI has paid SAIC $113 million for VCF so far, Hughes said. The bureau has said it budgeted $170 million for the case management system.

Hughes rejected the conclusion of a report by Aerospace Corp., prepared under contract to the FBI and delivered in December, that VCF should be abandoned. The Justice Department IG also has said that VCF is inadequate and should be abandoned in favor of a new system called the Federal Investigative Case Management System.

SAIC won its contract to build VCF in June 2001, Hughes noted. After six months of work, the bureau entirely revised its requirements for the project, rendering the first few months' effort useless, he added.

FBI systems officials have referred to the project's initial phase, during which the goal was to furnish a graphical user interface for existing FBI systems, as 'putting lipstick on a pig.'

Hughes elaborated on previous statements by SAIC executives that the bureau's shifting requirements and frequent management changes during the VCF project hindered the effort.

He added that SAIC itself bears some responsibility for the project's problems.

'We should have communicated with the FBI's senior levels more aggressively than we did,' Hughes said. 'We believe there was good communication with our direct interfaces but we should have communicated better at the higher levels to make sure we were on the same page.'

Hughes added that SAIC may have taken some risky steps to speed the project because the bureau said it was so critical. 'We established eight different programming teams operating in parallel,' he said. 'It was very hard to coordinate the activities of these eight different teams. We could have done a better job of that.'

He concluded, 'The ultimate test is that we delivered a product in December that does what it is supposed to do. We also did stress testing and modeling on the system and we believe it can be scaled up to [deployment across] the full FBI.'

If the bureau decides to deploy VCF, the FBI eventually will be able to stop relying on its outdated Automated Case File System case management software and phase in additional VCF functions, Hughes said. 'I think most of the capabilities we have designed and coded can be deployed within a year,' he said.

The company and the bureau renegotiated the VCF contract in mid-2004 and arrived at a requirements document that would not be changed through December, Hughes said. 'We went through a thorough process called alpha contracting which was a way for SAIC and the customer to talk in depth and make sure there were no misunderstandings. That worked very well,' he said.

FBI officials were not immediately available to respond to SAIC's statements.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, State and the Judiciary has scheduled a hearing for Thursday afternoon to air VCF issues. Bureau Director Robert Mueller III, CIO Zalmai Azmi, representatives of Aerospace and SAIC are scheduled to testify.

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