FBI reports significant progress on IT modernization

U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller Wednesday told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the bureau is only months away from completing work on a massive upgrade of its global IT infrastructure.

Since the March 28 completion of the FBI’s US$400 million enterprise network, known as Trilogy, the bureau has completed desktop upgrades for all of its field offices around the world, and it’s now in the process of finishing the upgrades at its Washington headquarters, said Mueller. In addition, he said, ongoing software upgrades, based primarily on analyst applications and tools, are on track to be completed in November.

“All of these upgrades are necessary to implement what we call the ‘virtual case file,'” said Mueller. “We expect to have the user-friendly, Web-based applications for the agents online in December, and with that will (come) the migration of much of our data to an up-to-date database structure, which will enable us to use the latest analytical tools to search that data.”

The virtual case file plan required the bureau to re-engineer its entire workflow process, said Mueller, whereas previous IT programs in the FBI simply automated paper-based processes.

Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) yesterday reintroduced the FBI Reform Act, which they first introduced in 2001. Senate Republicans blocked passage of the measure at the time.

The FBI Reform Act calls for a 10-point plan to improve FBI information management and IT procurement. Most significant among the 10 points is a requirement that IT management positions in the bureau be filled by personnel with private-sector experience, as well as mandates that a public key infrastructure be deployed and “undue” restrictions and impediments to software acquisition be removed.

Such improvements have been necessary since before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Leahy.

“I recall (asking) during that time one of the very top people in the bureau if they had done a Google search on some of the people we were suspecting (of being involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings), and the response was something like, ‘What is a Google search?'” said Leahy. That is “something that their 8-year-old neighbor could have told them.”

But the IT challenges facing the homeland security effort go beyond the FBI. And Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) pushed Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary for border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), on the issue of whether or not IT systems at DHS can communicate effectively with systems at the FBI.

“Even though progress has been made in a lot of agencies, there is no technological communication between these departments,” said Durbin.

“There is a continuous flow of information from the FBI to Homeland Security and vice versa,” responded Hutchinson. However, “it is important that we develop systems that are more compatible. The information is flowing, but it would flow better if we had more compatible systems.”

Appearing yesterday before a joint hearing of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security and the House Judiciary Committee, William Parish, acting assistant secretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection (IA/IP) at the DHS, acknowledged immediate challenges stemming from a lack of access to IT systems.

Although construction of a new facility for the IA/IP division is currently under way, the division has been forced to establish “work-around” procedures, such as deploying liaisons to other agencies. “This exchange of personal and direct access to other analysts will provide E essential connectivity to ensure information is shared until all of our IT systems are in place,” said Parish. “I’m confident that these work-around measures are succeeding.”