New FBI management system is big bucks

A new case management system being implemented by the U.S.Federal Bureau of Investigation to help fight terrorism could costas much as US$500 million, blowing away the $170 million it sankinto a previous project that was abandoned a year ago, according toa government watchdog group.

In a 91-page audit report released Tuesday by the inspectorgeneral’s office in the U.S. Department of Justice ( PDF availableat,cost estimates for the new FBI IT system range from $400 million to$500 million, based on information provided by the FBI tocongressional inquiries. An exact figure for the project isexpected when the FBI finalizes a contract for the system, calledSentinel.

That contract award is officially expected sometime in the next30 days, but Tuesday an FBI spokeswoman said that it will comeshortly.

“The FBI has completed the vendor evaluations in the Sentinelcontract award process,” FBI spokeswoman Catherine Milhoan said ina statement. “We are currently in negotiations with one of thevendors and have advised the other vendor that their proposal wasnot within the competitive range. We cannot disclose the identityof either vendor at this point.”

Milhoan said the number of bidders that pursued the contract andrelated details will also be made public when the contract mattersare settled.

The inspector general’s office, which was previously highlycritical of the FBI’s earlier failed attempts to upgrade itstechnology systems as a result of “poorly defined designrequirements, lack of mature Information Technology InvestmentManagement processes, and poor management continuity andoversight,” was much more upbeat about the proposed Sentinel systemand its planned oversight.

“With Sentinel, the FBI is relying on improved managementprocesses, use of commercially available components and afour-phase approach over 39 to 48 months to develop a replacementfor its obsolete Automated Case Support (ACS) system,” the auditstated. “In reviewing the management processes and controls the FBIhas applied to the pre-acquisition phase of Sentinel, we believethat the FBI has adequately planned for the project and thisplanning provides reasonable assurance that the FBI cansuccessfully complete Sentinel if the processes and controls areimplemented as intended.”

The report added that several concerns remain, however — forexample, the program management office for the project is not yetfully staffed, and there are questions about Sentinel’s ability toshare information with external intelligence and law enforcementagencies. It also remains uncertain whether Sentinal can provide acommon framework for other agencies’ case management systems.

The audit also said the inspector general’s office will continueto monitor the FBI’s system security plans as the project evolves.As of December 2005, the FBI had not completed a system securityplan or a required verification and validation plan. Even so,Sentinel was allowed by the FBI to proceed, the report said.According to the inspector general, the FBI said at the time that asystem security plan couldn’t be completed until Sentinel’s vendorprovides detailed information on the project’s design. A separatecontract will be awarded to develop an independent verification andvalidation (IV&V) plan. Those explanations were deemed”reasonable” by the inspector general’s office. “However, in ournext audit, we will monitor whether the FBI completes the systemsecurity plan and the IV&V plan during the early stages ofSentinel’s development,” the inspector general’s report stated.

The new Sentinel Case Management System is designed to replacean antiquated system for managing records, workflow and evidencethat FBI workers need in order to handle cases.

The earlier attempt to upgrade the system, dubbed the VirtualCase File (VCF) system, was a three-year project that failed tomeet expectations. Last August, the FBI began soliciting bids for areplacement for the failed VCF effort.

According to the audit, Sentinel will be rolled out in fourphases. The Associated Press reported last week that LockheedMartin Corp. was the winning bidder for Phase 1, which will providea Web-based portal where FBI and other government law enforcementagents can gather data and information.

Phase 2 will begin the shift to paperless case records bycreating an electronic case document management system and datarepository, while Phase 3 will entail the rollout of an elaborate”universal index” database of people, places or things relating tocases. Phase 4 will implement the project’s new case management andreporting capabilities and will then move all the existing ACS dataover to the new systems, according to the FBI.

Network World staff contributed to this report.

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