FBI promises IT modernization slowdown is a smart move

Technical problems and adjustments interrupt progress

 The FBI has pushed back its schedule for completing the bureau’s new electronic information and case management system in a move that’s expected to hike the program’s $451 million price tag.

FBI director Robert Mueller told a House panel on March 17 that he made the decision to delay the program because of changes in technology and business practices, as well as user needs that couldn’t have been anticipated when the program started in 2005. Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract to develop the multi-phased program in 2006.

Mueller told members of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies that the whole system is now expected to be done in 2011, rather than 2010. The New York Times quoted congressional aides as putting the possible cost of that delay at $30 million.

“On the one hand there were certain things that users requested,” Mueller said according to a transcript of the hearing. “Secondly there were coding issues and thirdly we want to make certain that the system when it goes out meets the, I guess it would be the infrastructure requirements.”

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Specifically, the bureau decided to partially suspend work on the third phase of the four phase Sentinel program after officials decided that they weren’t satisfied with the last component of the second phase, an important part of the overall project. An FBI official said today that the bureau now expects to have the second phase of the program, for administrative case management, to be out by the end of the summer. 

Sentinel is meant to provide the bureau with a Web-enabled electronic case management system. Once completed, the system is supposed to deal with the management of records, workflow and evidence, as well as providing capabilities for searching, reporting and sharing information. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) told the Times that the FBI's delay is "terribly frustrating." Grassley, a frequent critic of the agency, further said: "We've been through this song and dance before. Wouldn't you think that after millions of dollars being wasted they'd finally get it right?"

FBI officials said today that the bureau informed Lockheed several weeks ago that the second phase of the project didn’t meet some design expectations and minor technical requirements. However, they said Sentinel works, but the FBI wants it to work better. The officials said because of the phased approach used for the project the system is currently being used by thousands of agents, analysts and professional staff.

The bureau soon expects to release a new outline for phases three and four of the program and is confident Sentinel will meet the bureau’s needs, the officials said. Meanwhile, the adjustments don’t affect the FBI’s ability to carry out its mission, they said.

The decision to take more time for the second phase of Sentinel follows another three month delay for completing that phase of the program that was disclosed last year. However, in September 2008, the Government Accountability Office praised officials approach to acquiring commercial information technology solutions for the project.

Mueller said during the hearing that although there have been issues, the FBI and Lockheed have a close relationship and both parties are committed to making the program work.

Lockheed Spokeswoman Emily Simone said in an e-mailed statement that her company is committed to delivering a flexible and affordable information management system for the FBI. “Already, voluntary user adoption of the Sentinel system has been encouraging, with users experiencing a marked improvement in their ability to access, retrieve and move information currently in the FBI’s Automated Case Support system,” she said.

The previous attempt to consolidate the FBI’s investigative software applications under a program named Virtual Case File failed because of limited oversight, ineffective controls over changes to the system and staffing issues, according to GAO.


About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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