Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Audit Cites FBI Technology Problems
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's struggles with technology are expected to continue to eat up millions of dollars and still leave agents and analysts wanting for a seamless electronic system to manage investigations, according to a federal audit released Wednesday.
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine said the FBI has already spent $405 million of the $451 million budgeted for its new Sentinel case-management system, but the system, as of September, was two years behind schedule and $100 million over budget.
Thomas Harrington, FBI associate deputy director, said the audit uses an outdated and "inflated cost estimate" that is "based on a worst-case scenario for a plan that we are no longer using."
The FBI's technology problems aren't new, but they have potential consequences for the bureau's efforts to prevent terrorist attacks, particularly at a time when the domestic terrorist threat is growing.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks exposed the FBI's troubles with information sharing, and the bureau accelerated plans to replace its unwieldy case-management system with new software.
That technology project was called Trilogy and was supposed to deliver software called Virtual Case File that was to help FBI agents share investigative documents electronically. The inspector general called the project a fiasco and said the FBI and its contractors wasted $170 million and three years.
FBI Director Robert Mueller canceled Virtual Case File in 2005 and started a new project called Sentinel to be completed in 2009.
The system is supposed to provide agents and analysts with a secure Web-based system to search and manage evidence and get approvals for documents.
According to Mr. Fine's audit, the system is still far from completion.
In July 2010, the FBI issued a stop-work order to contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. and decided to take over management of the completion of Sentinel.
FBI officials now say they can complete the system by September 2011, with additional spending of $20 million, according to the audit.
Mr. Fine found cause to doubt those estimates. He cited a review conducted by Mitre, a research group that is funded by the federal government, that estimates it will cost another $351 million to complete the system.
The FBI's Mr. Harrington said: "We believe that the interim report does not accurately reflect the FBI's management of the Sentinel project, and fails to credit the FBI with taking corrective action to keep it on budget."
The FBI is no longer planning to move to Sentinel the 8.3 million case files managed under its outdated system. One of the initial goals of the technology program was to have a seamless case-management system for all cases.
The Justice Department audit says the FBI's latest plans "would raise questions about the cost and complexities of the FBI having to maintain two separate case management systems for the foreseeable future—an obsolete system for old cases and another system for new cases."
Chad Fulgham, FBI executive assistant director for information and technology, said in a letter to Mr. Fine that the bureau concurs with auditors' recommendations that the FBI reassess how functional the Sentinel system will be and put priority on the elements that will most benefit agents.