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FBI System Modernization Faulted

Delays and cost overruns on the FBI's $451 million Sentinel case management system have drawn fire from an inspector general and the Senate.

The Department of Justice's inspector general has expressed new concerns about the progress of the agency's $451 million-plus case management system, less than two weeks after FBI director Robert Mueller told Congress that the bureau had again suspended work on certain parts of the system's deployment.

"After more than 3 years and $334 million expended on the development and maintenance of Sentinel, the cost to Sentinel is rising, the completion of Sentinel has been delayed, and the FBI does not have a current schedule or cost estimate for completing the project," the report says.

The new report is the second in six months casting some doubt on the FBI's progress. Sentinel, started in 2005 under the development lead of Lockheed Martin and several other contractors, will eventually replace the FBI's largely siloed and sometimes paper-based case management efforts with an integrated system that will enable agents to more easily search and analyze criminal and national security information.

Sentinel itself is a replacement for the FBI's first case management digitization effort, the unfinished $170 million Virtual Case File program that was once seen as a future cornerstone of the FBI's post-9/11 efforts, but turned into an almost archetypal failure of a big government IT project.

The new system is being rolled out over four phases. Currently, all of the first phase -- which replaced green screen search with a Web-based user interface that, among other things, can automatically populate a user's cases -- and most of the second phase are complete, and Lockheed and the FBI have begun work on the last two phases.

However, on March 3, the FBI informed Lockheed that certain parts of the second phase of work didn't match up to all of the FBI design expectations and technical requirements, and told Lockheed to pause work on parts of phase three that were dependent on the completion of phase two, as well as all of phase four.

In particular, the inspector general's report expresses concern about the FBI's acceptance of part of phase two last December, despite complaints about problems with performance, usability, and network security that arose out of an initial pilot test and despite an independent review that uncovered more than 10,000 deviations from the FBI's accepted software development practices. Those problems cost the FBI $780,000 to fix after it accepted the work as delivered, according to the report.

Overall, the second phase of work included the introduction of an enterprise portal, improved usability, and initial workflow, document management, records management, and external systems interface work. In particular, the delay comes down to problems with some electronic forms and associated workflows, an ability to transfer files from ACS to Sentinel, and a help tool, the report says.

Currently, Lockheed has begun to move administrative case data from the mainframe to the core Sentinel system itself. This will enable the FBI and Lockheed to deploy enhanced search capabilities based on Microsoft's FAST enterprise search products. With this -- and the migration of further data from ACS to Sentinel over the next phase of the project -- will come the ability for users to customize their profiles, enabling them to receive automatic alerts whenever information about certain individuals, topics, and locations gets posted or uploaded to Sentinel.

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