Sentinel, which is being developed under the lead of Lockheed Martin, will eventually replace the FBI's outdated, fragmented and sometimes even paper-based case management efforts with a more integrated system. However, delays and complaints about system performance caused the FBI to issue multiple stop work orders over the past few months to allow Lockheed to address the problems.
"Given the delays associated with the completion of phase 2, we are examining ways to reduce costs and limit our reliance on contractors to keep the project within its budget," Mueller said. "Currently, the FBI is consulting with industry experts to evaluate our plan to finish Sentinel." This contrasts somewhat with earlier testimony, in which Mueller had characterized delays and cost-overruns to Sentinel as minor.
Sentinel is under higher scrutiny than it might have otherwise been because of the earlier failure of a similar project -- the $170 million Virtual Case File system. Congress has repeatedly expressed disquiet about Sentinel's progress, with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, saying last week that he was concerned that uncertainty about Sentinel's projected costs and timelines "is a signal that the FBI will be unsuccessful in finishing Sentinel."
However, in some ways, the Sentinel project was built from the ground up to accommodate shifts in deployment strategy. The project is being done in four phases, giving the FBI the chance to reassess its progress and future moves at critical points, such as now, when the second phase of Sentinel is nearing completion.
The evaluation of Sentinel's future is taking place as part of a 90-day review already underway with the help of "outside experts." Though it's not immediately clear who those experts are, FBI retained Booz Allen Hamilton and MITRE to analyze and address some of Sentinel's earlier problems.
For its part, Lockheed says that it continues to be committed to Sentinel's success. "With approximately 90 percent of the system's infrastructure (hardware and software) deployed and more than 9,000 users voluntarily accessing the system on a monthly basis, Sentinel is proving vital to the FBI's mission," the company said in a statement. "We look forward to partnering with the FBI to define the best technical approach and most affordable path forward to enhance Sentinel while we continue to support the currently operational system.