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3/17/2006
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Lockheed Martin Leads The Way For FBI Sentinel Project

An inspector general's report says FBI planning provides "reasonable assurance" that the new program can avoid the problems that plagued its botched Virtual Case File project.

The FBI Thursday awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. the lead spot in the bureau's $425 million project to build an information management system called Sentinel, which will Web-enable systems that include records management, workflow management, collected item and evidence management, and records search and reporting.

Lockheed, whose contract covers $305 million of the overall cost of Sentinel, will head up about a dozen companies in the project, including Accenture and Computer Sciences Corp. The contract covers six years, which will extend past Sentinel's 2009 due date to cover maintenance and management of the system.

Sentinel's price tag may be a bit hard to swallow, given the $170 million the FBI already spent on its Virtual Case File system, which turned out to be little more than a high-tech paperweight. The FBI last March terminated VCF, citing poorly defined design requirements, an ineffective approach to IT investment, and poor management continuity and oversight. The FBI claims to have learned its lessons with VCF and plans to use commercially available software rather than custom-built software, as well as bring Sentinel online in a phased approach rather than all at once.

Sentinel's first phase will provide FBI agents, analysts, and other personnel with a Web-based portal that will initially allow them to access the soon-to-be-replaced automated case-support system and, later, data in the new case-management system. It will also include a case management “workbox” that will summarize a user’s workload (the case files an agent or analyst is working on) and provide automatic indexing in case files according to person, place, or thing.

The second phase will begin the transition to a paperless case records system by providing electronic case document management and a records repository. A workflow tool will support the movement of electronic case files through a review and approval process, while a security framework will provide access controls and electronic signatures.

Phase three will provide a new Universal Index, which is a database of people, places, or things that relate to a case. Expanding the number of attributes in the system will enable more precise searching and enhance agents’ ability to “connect the dots” among cases. The final phase will implement Sentinel’s new case-management and reporting capabilities, including the management of tasks and evidence. During this phase, Sentinel will be connected to the automated case-support system, data on closed cases will be migrated from ACS to Sentinel, and the process to retire ACS will begin.

The FBI’s planning provides “reasonable assurance” that it can successfully complete Sentinel, Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote earlier this week in a report. But he raises concerns about whether Sentinel will be able to share information with external intelligence and law enforcement agencies, or provide a common framework for other agencies’ case management systems. That’s a key problem identified in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, so Sentinel--all $425 million's worth--needs to solve it.

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