IG faults FBI data system

Despite over three years of work and more than $300 million in taxpayer dollars, it is no longer clear when the FBI will develop a computer-based system for managing investigations or how much it will cost, the Justice Department's inspector general concluded in a report released today.

FBI officials plan to request congressional approval to reallocate funds from other information technology programs in order to continue work on the Sentinel investigative case management system, which was launched to move agents from a paper-based system to a computer-based one, Inspector General Glenn Fine said in a blistering 16-page report.

The program's cost has risen from an original estimate of $425 million to about $450 million and is expected to go higher, while the FBI this month issued a partial stop-work order to the Sentinel prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., the IG report said.

"Our concerns about the FBI's ability to complete Sentinel in a timely and cost-effective manner have escalated," the report said. "As of March 2010, the FBI does not have official cost or schedule estimates for completing Sentinel.

"The remaining budget, schedule, and work to be performed on Sentinel are currently being renegotiated between the FBI and Lockheed Martin," the report added. "While the FBI does not yet have official estimates, FBI officials have acknowledged that the project will cost more than its latest revised estimate of $451 million and will likely not be completed until 2011."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., plans to review the report, a committee aide said.

"He has been frustrated in the past with the slow implementation of the Sentinel program," the aide said. "Given the concerns that the report raises about the shifts in costs and the implementation timeline, I expect that he will continue to raise this issue with the FBI."

Sentinel was launched in 2006 after the FBI's failure to develop a $170 million networked system called the Virtual Case File.

The IG found that the FBI accepted delivery of a development phase of Sentinel in November even though agents knew it had serious problems.

For example, 82 percent said the system would make completion of their tasks much harder than current FBI practices, the IG wrote.

One tester reported that it took more than four minutes to attach a picture to a file and there was no way to stop the process once it was started, while another said users experienced waiting times of over 30 seconds for the system to render a blank form for completion or to save a form, the report added.

The FBI spent an additional $780,000 in operations and maintenance funds to correct defects after it accepted the Sentinel phase, according to the report.

In addition, a review team found that Lockheed Martin deviated from accepted engineering practices, resulting in more than 10,000 inefficiencies in Sentinel's software code.

In a statement, the FBI said it is "fully cooperating" with the IG and has taken steps to satisfy recommendations from previous audits. The agency also emphasized that parts of the Sentinel program are working and being used by thousands of agents and analysts, and about 80 percent of the system's final infrastructure is in place.

The agency defended the partial stop-work order as an example of good management controls. "The FBI has learned from its previous challenges and has incorporated industry best practices, strong management controls, independent verification and validation, and user testing to ensure the highest quality system is developed," the agency said.

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