FBI Case Management System Marked for Termination

Modern case-management capabilities remain atop the Federal Bureau of Investigation's IT Most Wanted List as the bureau's $170 million Virtual Case File (VCF) project faces imminent termination.

Seth Grimes, Contributor

February 3, 2005

3 Min Read

DashboardModern case-management capabilities remain atop the Federal Bureau of Investigation's IT Most Wanted List as the bureau's $170 million Virtual Case File (VCF) project faces imminent termination. A forthcoming report by the Justice Department's Inspector General will read like an indictment of FBI executive and IT management, according to Government Computer News. GCN quotes a Dec. 20 draft as saying that VCF, designed to manage documentation for investigations and prosecutions, "will not meet FBI needs," that "the FBI has no clear timetable or prospect for completing VCF" and that the planned replacement, the Federal Investigative Case Management System, is "unlikely to benefit substantially from the VCF [project] from a technical or engineering standpoint."

VCF would have been the third leg of the bureau's late and overbudget Trilogy IT modernization program. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) told Congress that the FBI's weak IT management contributed to Trilogy's 21-month delay and $120 million cost overrun.

Commendably, the FBI commissioned the National Research Council (NRC) to review Trilogy independently of the GAO and Justice Inspector General audits. The NRC found in a May 2004 report:

  • "The FBI must first and as a matter of its highest priority in its IT efforts formulate an enterprise architecture."

  • The bureau's plan for a "flash cutover" from the old Automated Case Support system without testing or provisions for reversion is a risky approach that's "nearly guaranteed to cause mission-critical failures and further delays, with implications for training, performance, coherence, internal morale, public image and cost to recovery."

  • While VCF was conceived to support FBI's conventional law-enforcement work, post-September 11th the bureau expected it, without design modifications, to meet very different intelligence needs. There are "significant differences in IT requirements between systems supporting investigation and those supporting intelligence.... The FBI [should] refrain from using the VCF as the foundation on which to build its analytical and data management capabilities for the intelligence processes supporting the counterterrorism mission."

  • FBI application development processes exclude users. "It is essentially impossible ... to anticipate in detail and in advance all [user] requirements and specifications." The bureau should adopt extensive prototyping and usability testing with real users.

  • Senior FBI management improperly delegated project leadership to contractors, lacking its own adequate skill base for IT modernization.

Architectural incoherence, poor planning, mission creep, unrealistic development processes and deployment expectations, improper delegation and inadequate management also plague private industry. But missed profit targets hardly compare with unsupported law-enforcement and counterterrorism needs.

The FBI reportedly will rely on commercial or existing government-owned systems to replace VCF, salvaging little from the $170 million effort beyond a better understanding of requirements. There's no word yet whether the bureau will be making fundamental changes to the flawed IT management and contracting processes at the root of the VCF debacle.

About the Author(s)

Seth Grimes


Seth Grimes is an analytics strategy consultant with Alta Plana and organizes the Sentiment Analysis Symposium. Follow him on Twitter at @sethgrimes

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