Justice CIO gets control over information-sharing systems funding

Congress earlier this month directed the Justice Department's CIO to take financial control over the agency's information-sharing systems.

In the conference report for the fiscal 2006 appropriations bill that includes Justice, lawmakers created a new $125 million fund called the Justice Information Sharing Technology account to pay for 'planning, development, deployment and departmental direction' of these technologies.

The House passed its version of the Science, State, Justice and Commerce appropriations bill Nov. 9, while the Senate approved its version'the Commerce, Justice and Science bill'Nov. 16. The bill now goes to President Bush for signature to become law.

'The Justice Information Sharing Technology account provides more control to the department Chief Information Officer to ensure that investments in information technology are well-planned and aligned with the department's overall IT strategy and enterprise architecture,' the Senate said in its committee report about the fund. 'While the committee is supportive of IT enhancements and the creation of systems that work across agencies and departments, it also is concerned that the CIO has control of less than 10 percent of DOJ's requested $2.7 million in IT expenditures.'

The bill also earmarks $10 million for the Unified Financial Management System and $5 million for the Public Key Infrastructure and Secure Communications program.

Lawmakers also directed Justice to 'set up an Investment Review Board to be led by the deputy attorney general to oversee the development of all critical IT infrastructure acquisitions and improvements.'

The review board will assess the initial business case and cost justification for projects and help create realistic performance metrics that measure compliance with the projects' stated scope, costs, schedule, performance and quality.

The lawmakers' decision to centralize control of information-sharing systems to the CIO comes at a time when the Justice inspector general put information sharing and IT systems planning and implementation among the top challenges the department is facing.

Counterterrorism is Justice's top challenge for the second year in a row, but information sharing is second, and IT systems planning and implementation and cybersecurity are rated as the fourth and fifth top challenges.

'[The] Office of [the] Inspector General found that the department has made progress in improving its sharing of law enforcement and intelligence information, but it continues to face significant challenges in this area, both within the department and with its law enforcement and intelligence agency partners,' the IG said in its report. "...[O]ne of the biggest obstacles hindering the FBI's ability to rapidly and fully share information are problems associated with its IT systems, particularly the FBI's failure to upgrade its automated case management system."

The IG also said Justice needs to improve the Terrorist Screening Center's operations, including database management, operational planning and coordination between participating agencies.

As for IT, the IG said it is conducting an ongoing review on how Justice is managing its IT investments and developing an enterprise architecture. The IG said the agency has yet to establish either one, but is working toward both pieces.

The auditors also have initiated a long-term review of the Sentinel program, which would replace the failed Virtual Case File system.

'Initially, this audit is focusing on the FBI's planning for the project, including its approach to developing the system, management controls over the project, information technology management processes, project baselines, contracting processes, and funding sources,' the IG said. 'Our preliminary assessment is that the FBI has instituted important improvements in its IT management controls and practices that it did not have when it attempted to develop the Virtual Case File.'

The FBI, the IG said, asked Congress for approval to reprogram $97 million to pay for the first of Sentinel's four development phases in September.

Additionally, the IG found Justice's cybersecurity in need of help. While the 2005 audit will not be released until December, the IG said the department's networks and databases are at 'continual risk from unauthorized access as hackers and potential terrorists develop new techniques to breach government computer systems.'

In 2004, the IG found Justice has several problems, including a lack of contingency plans for all certified and accredited systems, the ability to track vulnerabilities and corrective actions that were taken and the FBI had accredited and certified only 40 percent of its 15 systems.

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