FBI to roll out new investigations system in 2011

FBI Director Robert Mueller today gave senators a new timeline for developing a computer-based system for managing investigations, which has come under renewed criticism for cost overruns and schedule delays.

A key test of the Sentinel case management system will be completed this summer and the FBI expects to have the system fully developed by 2011, Mueller told the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee at a hearing. Plans originally called for the system to be rolled out this fall.

But subcommittee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she was worried the FBI is facing another "boondoggle," noting that the bureau wasted nearly $120 million on a previous technology program that resulted in "techno junk."

Mueller said he was cautiously optimistic that the FBI is on the right path to resolve technical problems with Sentinel, adding that if problems persist he will take "whatever steps are necessary" against the program's prime contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp.

Last month, the FBI issued a partial stop-work order to Lockheed Martin as Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine released a scathing report stating it is no longer clear when Sentinel will be developed or how much it will cost.

The IG report estimated that the cost of the program has risen from an original estimate of $425 million to about $450 million, but Mueller today said he did not know how much it will ultimately cost.

Under the order, the FBI and Lockheed Martin are focusing on completing the final segment of the second phase of Sentinel. Mueller said a four-week test program will be done over the summer, followed by a rollout in the fall.

When asked by Mikulski if he believes Lockheed Martin has received "a sufficient wake-up call," Mueller said: "I do believe that's the case."

Lockheed Martin said in a statement that the company agrees "that the path forward must be realistic, achievable and satisfactory to those who use the system."

"Already, voluntary user adoption of the Sentinel system has been encouraging, with users experiencing a marked improvement in their ability to access, retrieve, share and manage information currently in the FBI's legacy Automated Case Support (ACS) System," the company said.

"Thousands of FBI agents, analysts and professional staff are accessing the system monthly, demonstrating the value they find in Sentinel's modern user interface and advanced functionality," the company said. "In addition, approximately 80 percent of the final Sentinel infrastructure (hardware and software) is in place."

During the hearing, subcommittee ranking member Richard Shelby, R-Ala., raised another issue with Mueller, saying he has serious reservations that the FBI is considering outsourcing DNA analysis to for-profit private laboratories.

Shelby had written to Mueller Tuesday to express concern that the policy shift was influenced by private labs exerting pressure on the new leadership of the FBI's laboratory.

Mueller told Shelby today he had not heard of any outside influence affecting the decision, and the policy shift is being driven by requests from local police departments to improve the efficiency and timeliness of DNA uploads into the Combined DNA Index System.

He added that nongovernmental entities will not have access to DNA samples in the system.

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