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FBI's New Case Management System Delayed

Completion of the $451 million Sentinel system, to be used for searching and analyzing criminal and national security data, has been pushed back to September.

The launch of the FBI's $451 million Sentinel case management system, originally due by the end of the year, has been delayed until September 2010, according to an audit by the FBI's inspector general.

Begun in 2005 and being developed by Lockheed Martin, Sentinel will replace the FBI's largely paper-based and otherwise siloed case management efforts with a single digital system based on mostly off-the-shelf software. The system is designed to search and analyze criminal and national security information and will include records management, evidence management, and collaboration.

In Nov. 2007 the FBI extended the development of phases two and four, pushing the project's completion date from December 2009 to June 2010. The latest delay adds another six months of development and deployment time to phase two, and three months to the project.

Sentinel was a replacement for the FBI's failed Virtual Case File program, an unfinished, customized Web-based case management system that had become a centerpiece of the FBI's post-9/11 efforts before the agency dropped it after spending $170 million.

Despite this delay, the FBI isn't poised for a repeat failure. The Government Accountability Office last year recommended the procurement practices used to develop Sentinel as a model for the rest of the FBI, and all signs point to Sentinel's eventual completion.

Sentinel is being rolled out in phases, along the way replacing aging systems like the FBI's Automated Case Management System, Criminal Informant Management System, Bank Robbery Statistical Application, and Financial Institution Fraud and Integrated Statistical Reporting Analysis Application.

During the first phase, finished in June 2007, the FBI offered a new user interface and improved search to access case information already in its databases, as well as personal and squad-level "work boxes" that summarize cases and leads.

During the second phase, which was expected to be finished in July 2009, the FBI and Lockheed shuffled priorities, had difficulty developing forms and document workflows, and ran into trouble when an enterprise directory upon which Sentinel's single sign-on capabilities depend initially failed meet security requirements.

Phase two ended several months behind schedule and $18 million over budget, pushing back the completion date. The inspector general reports that phase two capabilities, which include a new portal, electronic forms, migration of FBI case records to a new system, and an automated document and case file workflow management, won't be available to all users until next month.

Sentinel remains relatively close to its original $425 million budget. Though the FBI was able to make up for the $18 million overrun with a risk reserve that had been set aside, and though the report expresses confidence that the new time line for completion is realistic, the inspector general warns that "the cost and schedule growth of phase two heightens the risk and probability" of further cost overruns and project delays.

The report expresses concern about staffing levels in Sentinel's project management office, citing reduced staff because of turnover.

The FBI responded in a statement that the Sentinel program has "steadily improved and refined its business practices" and noted that it has filled the staffing holes mentioned in the report.

In the final phases of Sentinel's development and deployment, the FBI plans to migrate case data from an "antiquated" case management system to Sentinel, connect Sentinel to other FBI systems, increase access controls, and add forms to Sentinel's electronic form library.

According to the report, users have begun to complain about Sentinel's performance. However, those complaints are likely to diminish as the FBI's network infrastructure goes through its own upgrade.

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