Government // Leadership
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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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The FBI's plan still has to pass muster with several federal authorities, including the Inspector General, the Department of Justice, and the Office of Management and Budget. Project Sentinel is among 26 major IT projects identified by OMB in August as being subject to review under its TechStat program. The FBI has also briefed four Congressional committees on its plans -- Congress has held multiple hearings about Sentinel over the last year.

Agile development takes an iterative approach to software development, where programming teams develop capabilities in increments as a way of staying closely aligned with business requirements. Instead of one long list of requirements, agile methodology would break Sentinel up into buckets of functional and non-functional requirements, reducing overlapping, repetitive work. "If you take the requirements and bucketize them, you see commonality among them and you can attack them in such a way that you don't have a lot of redundant work being done," Fulgham said.

Fulgham says the FBI has some experience with agile development, having used the technique to develop Delta, an application that manages FBI agents' confidential sources. "The federal government is fairly new to this methodology, but it has worked," he said, pointing to better feedback, system performance, and an improved quality and number of sources in Delta.

Much of Sentinel's core functionality is comprised of commercial software, including EMC's Documentum document management software, Oracle databases, IBM's WebSphere middleware, Microsoft's SharePoint, and Entrust's PKI technology. Fulgham said FBI engineering teams will work with those partners more directly going forward to integrate their products into Sentinel. "They will have a much more profound impact on the architecture, on how we deploy and integrate their products," he said. "And if we run into issues, they will have a direct line to us."

Lockheed Martin will continue to be involved in Sentinel, primarily providing support to the capabilities it has already delivered. "As we go forward, Lockheed Martin will be more in a support role, providing subject matter experts the FBI needs to complete the system, and we'll continue to support the system that's presently deployed," Lockheed's Shrewsbury said in an interview. The FBI will also continue to use Lockheed test environments. Still, Shrewsbury said there would be "workforce impacts" for Lockheed Martin, and didn't rule out the possibility of some layoffs as a result of the changes.

FBI CTO Jeff Johnson indicated that the Sentinel's still-to-come capabilities will not be diminished under the new approach. "The deliverables effectively will not change," he said. An executive steering committee would be required to approve any changes that might be desired or necessary.

CIO Fulgham said Sentinel's internal engineering teams will be collocated at the FBI's headquarters and that the agency's newly deployed collaboration tools, which include instant messaging, presence technology, voice over IP, and video conferencing, will facilitate collaboration. "The smaller team approach takes out a lot of the bureaucracy," he said.

Fulgham joined the agency 21 months ago from brokerage firm Lehman Bros. on Wall Street, where Johnson also worked before coming to the FBI. Fulgham said he is attempting to bring "industry best practices" to the bureau's IT planning and execution.

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