The FBI's top technology official will leave his post next month after five years on the job and constant pressure from Capitol Hill and government watchdogs to improve the bureau's development and deployment of advanced information technology.
Comment on this article in The Forum.CIO Zalmai Azmi said Wednesday the agency's relationship with lawmakers is "much more positive" now because he has focused on regaining their trust, increasing transparency of operations and making sure IT money is well spent.
Azmi's announcement came on the heels of a GAO report Tuesday that found the FBI has made headway halfway through its 6-year, $451 million project to replace its paper-based legacy systems for supporting mission-critical intelligence analysis and case management activities.
The program-in-progress known as Sentinel has been the focus of repeated questioning by House and Senate appropriators and members of the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees.
Sentinel's first phase of development ended last year and Azmi said the project is on time and on budget to reach another milestone in February that will "give us the security and ability to transition our data" from the existing case support system to the new platform. Sentinel's full roll-out is scheduled for mid-2010.
The FBI's current high-tech standing is a far cry from where Azmi began when he came to the agency after serving as CIO for the U.S. Attorneys executive office.
A dark day early in his tenure, he recalled, was when he informed FBI Director Robert Mueller that Sentinel's pricey predecessor -- the virtual case file system -- was doomed to fail. "That was not a good day," Azmi said.
On Azmi's watch, the FBI has delivered and networked new computers and BlackBerry devices to more than 700 FBI locations and re-engineered, streamlined, or automated more than 200 FBI work processes.
The bureau boasts 54 ongoing IT projects and 20 are slated for completion by the end of the year, he said. Meanwhile, desktop Internet access for staff is not ubiquitous, but 19,000 computers have been set up. Azmi predicted that all employees should be online by spring. The FBI's one BlackBerry per agent goal is nearly met with 20,500 of 22,000 devices in circulation.
While Azmi would not provide details on his plans, they do not involve civil service. After a 24-year government career, he has talked with a number of private firms. His wife and three children should enjoy having him at home more often, he said. "When most people talk about leaving for family reasons ... it sounds like you're being fired or indicted. That is not the case," he laughed.