New FBI computer records system FAIL

Here we are, a decade into the 21st Century, and the FBI caseload system is still largely paper based. Huh, WTF??? I have had a home computer since 1986 and my entire home record and bill paying system has been computerized since 1990. I guess you could call me an early adopter.

The FBI’s first attempt to computerize their caseload system began in 2000 with the Trilogy project. As with almost everything the government does, it was an epic costly FAIL.

In 2000, the FBI began the Trilogy project to upgrade its outdated information technology (IT) infrastructure. This project, originally scheduled to take three years and cost around $380 million, ended up going far over budget and behind schedule. Efforts to deploy modern computers and networking equipment were generally successful, but attempts to develop new investigation software, outsourced to Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), were a disaster. Virtual Case File, or VCF, as the software was known, was plagued by poorly defined goals, and repeated changes in management.In January 2005, more than two years after the software was originally planned for completion, the FBI officially abandoned the project

Cost to taxpayers for this FAIL – $170M. After taking a Mulligan on Trilogy, the geniuses launched project Sentinel – an even more ambitious effort. Sentinel was supposed to go on line December 2009 at a cost of $425M. What was the result? The only possible result, of course – FAIL. (story here from the Washington Examiner)

After years of costly delays, a long-awaited computerized system for managing the FBI’s caseload remains far from completion and risks coming so late that it will be obsolete on arrival, a Justice Department report warned Wednesday.

The Sentinel system was designed as a user-friendly paperless way to manage cases that would be ready in December 2009 at a cost $425 million. It replaced an earlier $170 million computer program that was scrapped after consultants deemed it outdated and riddled with problems.

The program’s funding was raised to $451 million in 2008 but the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General said the project is now $100 million over budget and nowhere near finished.

It warned that the longer Sentinel takes to complete, “the more likely it is that already implemented hardware and software features will become obsolete.”

The report recommended that the FBI reassess the program’s requirements — including one that it integrate millions of records from the largely paper-based system now being used — and to focus on requirements that most affect agents and analysts.

In a letter to the Office of Inspector General, the FBI said it agreed with the recommendations and had already started working on them.

But in a statement issued Wednesday, FBI Associate Deputy Director Thomas J. Harrington criticized the report, saying it relied on outdated cost estimates and didn’t give the FBI enough credit for making changes to the program.

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the report “disheartening.”

Disheartening? Wasting 10 years and $620M with almost nothing to show for it. No, Mr. Leahy, I don’t believe that is an appropriate response from a senator who oversees the DOJ and FBI. How about disgusting. Or disastrous. Better yet, how about turning the FBI on its head and shaking out the morons responsible for this failure at all levels. Heads should roll and asses should be kicked. That’s the appropriate response to this.

This used to be a country that led the world in technology innovation. We went from putting monkeys in orbit to landing men on the moon in less than a decade. We simply cannot accept this level of failure from our government any longer.

Full IG report here.


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