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FBI's Troubled IT Project Not Keeping Up With Pace Of Technology Change

The FBI says the system a contractor built to improve information sharing doesn't meet its needs, despite the $170 million price tag.
The third installment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Trilogy technology upgrade program--designed to improve the agency's ability to share information about terrorism and other threats--is looking like anything but a blockbuster. Its Virtual Case File system, the $170 million centerpiece of Trilogy's third phase, lacks the security and overall efficiency required to make it usable, an FBI spokesman says.

"There were inadequacies," an FBI spokesman says. Virtual Case File, originally scheduled for deployment in December 2003, has been plagued by technical problems as the FBI's information sharing needs have evolved over the past few years. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the ability to share information was highlighted as a weakness in the FBI and other agencies. While there were cultural and legal barriers to information sharing, the outdated nature of the FBI's IT systems was also brought to light and cited among the reasons.

The agency in 2001 commissioned government contractor Science Applications International Corp. to build Virtual Case File. The agency will pay the advisory firm Aerospace Corp. to investigate Virtual Case File's problems and determine whether any part of the project can be salvaged. The New York Times reported Thursday that the contract is worth $2 million.

SAIC doesn't accept all the blame for the problems. "The FBI modernization effort involved a massive technological and cultural change agencywide," Duane Andrews, SAIC's chief operating officer, said in a statement. "All parties involved have made mistakes in the way the Trilogy program was handled in the past."

SAIC said it delivered--and the FBI accepted--the first installment of the Virtual File System in December, in what it calls a change in FBI strategy to do the project in a "less-risky, incremental, phased-in" deployment rather than all at once. The FBI has had four different CIOs during the life of Trilogy, SAIC said, and 14 managers on the project that began in 2001, making it "incredibly challenging" to set system requirements.

Part of the problem appears to be that technology is moving faster than the FBI and its contractors. The FBI acknowledges in a document highlighting recent technology improvements that "the pace of technological innovation has overtaken our original vision for VCF, and there are now existing products to suit our purposes that did not exist when Trilogy began."

The FBI in June determined that Virtual Case File wasn't going to meet the agency's needs. Aerospace's job will be to evaluate the project as well as off-the-shelf software and applications designed by other federal agencies to determine how the FBI can best move forward with plans to give agents the ability to better share case-file information.

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