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FBI Sentinel Case Management System Actually Over Budget

Audit finds FBI failed to include $60 million in operations and maintenance expenses in calculating the cost of a system that agency has been developing for more than a decade.

An internal audit of the long-delayed new FBI case management system, Sentinel, which has roots dating to at least September 11, 2001, and which went live in July, found that while the project technically came in under budget, it did so without many of its initially planned features or costs that were included in initial projections.

In a report issued last week, the FBI's Office of the Inspector General determined that, while Sentinel's estimated $441 million cost was less than the $451 million projected in 2008 when the law enforcement agency rebooted the project after initial delays and cost-overruns, the final cost glosses over some key facts.

In particular, while the initial cost estimates included two years of operations and maintenance expenditures, the FBI's final cost estimate did not include that spending, which will add up to $60 million, according to the agency, making the true cost of the project $501 million.

[ See FBI's Sentinel Project: 5 Lessons Learned. ]

The FBI began planning Sentinel in 2005 as a follow-up to the earlier, incomplete Virtual Case File system, a post-September 11 effort to more easily share information, that the FBI scrapped after spending $170 million. When the Sentinel initiative kicked off, it was expected to cost no more than $425 million and be completed by 2009.

However, target dates were soon pushed back and cost estimates subsequently revised. Former FBI CIO Chad Fulgham, a Lehman Brothers vet who left the FBI in April 2012 to rejoin the private sector, took a number of steps to get the project back on track, including hiring a former colleague from Lehman as his CTO, taking control of the project from lead contractor Lockheed Martin, and shifting heavily to agile development.

While those changes helped keep costs down and accelerate deployment, and while FBI employees and others now use the system on a daily basis, the agency will need to continue to spend, particularly on contract labor, to make certain improvements to the system and to ensure routine maintenance and operations functions are performed; hence the $60 million in such anticipated costs over two years. Additionally, the FBI has kept some old systems and data, such as some data from the pre-existing Automated Case Management system, in place.

The report was the Inspector General's ninth on Sentinel, and it indicated that a tenth and final report is due out in December.

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