FBI looks in-house to complete Sentinel system

The FBI is trying to determine the best way to complete its Sentinel electronic caseload management system. Key parts of the system were made available to agents this month.

The FBI wants to rely more on its own information technology staff members rather than outside contractors to complete its new electronic information and case management system that’s faced delays and is estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Senate panel that the bureau is working with outside experts to come up with the best way to complete the final two phases of developing the program, named Sentinel. Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract to develop the multi-phased program in 2006.

Sentinel is meant to provide the bureau with a Web-enabled electronic case management system. Once completed, the system is supposed to deal with the management of records, workflow and evidence, as well as providing capabilities for searching, reporting and sharing information.

Earlier this year the bureau decided to partially suspend work on the third phase of the four phase Sentinel program after officials decided that they weren’t satisfied with the last component of the second phase, an important part of the overall project. The partial stop-work order to Lockheed also applied to the fourth phase of the project. The price of the program that had been estimated to be about $450 million, but could be pushed up by delays.

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“Given the delays associated with the completion of phase two, we are examining ways to reduce costs and limit our reliance on contractors to keep the project within its budget,” Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee July 28, according to a transcript provided by the FBI. “Currently, the FBI is consulting with industry experts to evaluate our plan to finish Sentinel.”

Mueller said that after successful pilots, the second phase had now been deployed to agents and that phase should be completed this fall at the latest.

“I am actually pleased that the heart of the program, phase two, is now on agents' desks and the case management system is there,” Mueller said. “We have to look at both the budget and the time frame down the road and determine how much of that work can or should be done by the – by the contractors, how much of that work can and should be done by ourselves given the new technology. And as we finish phase two, that'll be what we're looking at in the next three months.”

In a statement Lockheed said that an enterprise-wide roll out of the remaining Sentinel phase two capabilities was finished July 23. "Upon deployment, all FBI users now have complete access to Sentinel’s case management capabilities," the company said.

“We look forward to partnering with the FBI to define the best technical approach and most affordable path forward to enhance Sentinel while we continue to support the currently operational system,” Lockheed said.

In April, the Justice Department’s inspector general issued a report that pointed put rising costs for Sentinel. The IG said FBI officials have acknowledged the project will cost more than the latest previous estimate of $451 million and will likely not be completed until 2011. The FBI originally estimated the project would cost $425 million and be completed by December 2009, the IG said.

When asked about cost during the hearing Mueller didn’t give a new estimate for how much the project would cost or say whether it would be done by 2011. Mueller said he couldn’t give a completion date until FBI had additional information about the successes and failures that the bureau found during phase two.

When asked if the cost would exceed $1 billion, Mueller said, “Certainly it would not exceed $1 billion.”

“I can tell you, as you pointed out, there was an overarching budget for this project. We hope to stay within that budget. There are ongoing negotiations, but I am mindful of the necessity of maximizing the products that we get and minimizing the cost to the taxpayer. Which is why, as I say, we're looking at alternative capabilities and with less reliance on contractors that can prove to be more expensive than if you can do it yourself in-house,” Mueller added.


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