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10/21/2010
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FBI Disputes Audit On Troubled Sentinel Project

The Federal Bureau of Investigation slams an inspector general's report on its long-delayed and over-budget case management system overhaul as inaccurate and based on outdated information.

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday slammed a new report by its inspector general, saying that the report's continued concerns about the $450 million Sentinel case management project's ability to stay on schedule and budget were based on outdated data and didn't accurately reflect FBI management and plans for the project.

The inspector general's report expresses concerns that the Sentinel project is "delayed, over budget, and in danger of not delivering a fully functional case management system." The report notes that cost estimates have already increased from $425 million to $451 million, and that Sentinel's completion date has been pushed back repeatedly. It also expresses concerns with the FBI's management of Sentinel, and with its move toward a new agile development strategy for Sentinel's completion.

"We believe 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," FBI associate deputy director T.J. Harrington said in a response to the report. For example, Harrington says, the report mentions neither the Department of Justice's formal approval of the new development strategy nor the reception of National Archives and Records Administration authority for the use of Sentinel to generate official FBI records.

The FBI's forceful response to an internal audit represents a relatively rare step. Typically, agencies respond to criticism by the inspector general in responses that are then integrated directly into the report. In this case, however, the FBI took the extra step of issuing a press release to try to stay ahead of the critical report, even going so far as to accuse the inspector general of failing to comply with generally accepted government accounting standards.

Regardless of the FBI's stance on the individual report, however, it's clear that Sentinel isn't where the FBI had expected it to be by now. While in August the FBI estimated it would have spent $405 million of the $451 million budgeted for the project by the end of September, it has only delivered two of Sentinel's four phases to agents and analysts. Original estimates under the $451 million budget had estimated these two phases would cost only $306 million.

The FBI is pushing on its budget limits for Sentinel even as the delivery of functionality lags behind where the FBI thought it would be by this time. Sentinel only has the ability to generate and process half of the case-related forms that the FBI had intended to deliver by the end of phase two of the project, and even these forms are still not fully automated. So, while FBI agents and analysts can use the forms, they still have to print them to obtain approval signatures and keep hard copies of the files.

In addition, Sentinel is integrated with eight other IT systems, rather than the 10 the FBI had expected by the end of phase two. Missing are hooks into a document conversion system and the FBI's financial management system. An administrative case management functionality has also been delayed.

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