More Computer Woes at FBI, New System Late Over Budget

By Maya

Oct 20, 2010 1:03pm

ABC’s Jack Cloherty and Jason Ryan report:

You think you have computer problems?  A new system being installed at the FBI is two years behind schedule, $100 million over budget, and still doesn’t have spell check.

The revelation is the latest fiasco in the FBI’s nearly decade-long effort to install a computer system that would help agents track cases and manage evidence.  The Department of Justice Inspector General today released a report that found that after spending about $405 million of the $452 million budgeted for the “Sentinel” system, only about half the system is completed. That means that FBI agents, already busy trying to prevent domestic terror, will still have to take time to process 18 case-related forms by hand, print the forms to obtain approval signatures, and maintain hard copy files.

The Sentinel project follows a bungled, three- year, $170 million effort to develop an electronic case management system called the Virtual Case File.  The FBI pulled the plug on that effort in 2005, and instead moved ahead with the Sentinel project.  But things have been going so badly with Sentinel that last month the FBI decided to take over the project itself, limit the contractor’s role in the system, and finish the project itself in one year.

FBI officials say that in August they took key steps to reduce dealing with Lockheed Martin on the contract to streamline the program’s development and keep it Budget. In a statement FBI Associate Deputy Director, Thomas J. Harrington “We examined several options in detail, and selected an approach based on what is known as “agile development” methodology. This approach will reduce our reliance on traditional contractors and allow for cost-savings by dealing directly with product experts. By using agile development and products not previously available for the Sentinel project, we expect to complete the essential functions of Sentinel within budget."

But the Inspector General is not so sure that’s the answer, either.  The IG report points out that the FBI plan is “still evolving, not officially approved, and is undocumented.”   And in a master stroke of understatement, the report says, “the undocumented 1-year estimate for system completion appears optimistic based on the FBI’s past history with information technology projects.”

After the report was released today Harrington said in response to the report, “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. Moreover, the interim report comes at a time when the FBI has changed its plan for completing the project, and the Department of Justice has authorized us to go forward with our new approach. The report, however, continues to rely on outdated cost estimates that do not apply to the current FBI plan."

Until the system is up and running it looks like FBI agents could be filing those paper case reports by hand for quite some time.

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