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9/15/2010
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FBI Takes Control Of Troubled Sentinel Project

Exclusive: The agency's CIO outlines a plan to complete the case management system with internal resources, while reducing reliance on primary contractor Lockheed Martin.




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Following a July decision to freeze the last two phases of development on its Sentinel case-management system, the FBI now plans to take over management of the project from its primary contractor, Lockheed Martin.

The agency plans to use agile development processes to complete the project using its own employees and other technology partners, while reducing its reliance on Lockheed Martin. FBI CIO Chad Fulgham, in an interview with InformationWeek, described the move as "a significant change in the scope and responsibility" for Lockheed Martin.

The decision represents a bold move by the agency to salvage the Sentinel project, which is currently budgeted to cost $451 million, from multiple delays and rising costs. Fulgham said his goal is to complete the project on budget and without further delays.

FBI director Robert Mueller indicated in April that Sentinel, originally scheduled for completion in 2009, would be pushed back into 2011 due to delays and stop work orders. Fulgham now puts the target completion date at Sept. 2011, the end of the government's fiscal year, but acknowledges that agile development projects can be difficult to forecast. Development on Sentinel, currently paused, should begin again by October, Fulgham said.

The FBI awarded Sentinel to Lockheed Martin in March 2006 following the failure of an earlier effort (called the Virtual Case File system) to replace its outdated system for managing case records, saying it had learned its lessons from Virtual Case File's shortcomings. Sentinel was originally due to be completed over four phases. Two phases have been delivered to this point, with most of the system's hardware and software infrastructure in place. In July, the FBI released enhancements to the system's user interface, new electronic forms, digital signature features, and additional collaborative features, and more than 5,000 users now login to Sentinel weekly. However, much of the system's functionality, including a new case management database and some reporting capabilities, has yet to be put in place, and the existing outdated Automated Case Support system has yet to be retired.

Mueller, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July, indicated that the agency might reduce its reliance on contractors and bring more of the work in house as way of gaining control over Sentinel, and that now appears to be the direction the FBI is heading. Fulgham said the FBI has been working with a Federally Funded Research and Development Center, which he declined to name, to evaluate its options and recommend a path forward. A draft report, with an emphasis on agile development as the project's new strategic direction, was filed with the FBI this week. "We believe that this has a lot of promise, and we are leaning pretty heavily toward this," said Fulgham.

Fulgham said that the FBI had considered retaining Lockheed as the prime contractor and systems integrator for Sentinel, but a rough time and cost estimate Lockheed provided to the FBI "was not acceptable." "The FBI believes they have the ability to do things we can't do in a leadership role in a way that they can more affordably and efficiently implement the rest of the project requirements," confirmed June Shrewsbury, VP of Lockheed’s security and citizen protection division.

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