- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

The FBI will have to replace or scrap a $170 million electronic case management system deemed critical to the war on terror after failing to deploy it despite more than three years of effort, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said yesterday.

In a report, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said implementation of the Virtual Case File (VCF) system, designed to replace the FBI’s antiquated paper-based system, was hampered by poorly defined and slowly evolving design requirements and weak management practices at the FBI.

Following the September 11 attacks on the United States, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III designated improving the FBI’s computer systems as a top priority, and members of Congress and the independent September 11 commission said overhauling the bureau’s case management systems was critical in allowing the FBI to “connect the dots” with other intelligence agencies to prevent new terrorist attacks.

The IG’s report also cited weaknesses in the way contractors were retained and overseen by the FBI, the lack of management continuity at the bureau on the project, unrealistic scheduling of tasks, and inadequate resolution of issues that warned of problems in the system’s development, including delays and cost increases for the new system.

Mr. Mueller said that while the bureau was addressing the management issues raised in the report, he was “disappointed that plans to fully deploy” the system have been delayed. But he said he was “confident that the bureau is moving in the right direction.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the FBI, called the bureau’s computer upgrade program a “train wreck in slow motion.”

“Bringing the FBI’s information technology into the 21st century should not be rocket science; it is a complicated process, but it is certainly doable,” Mr. Leahy said. “Time and again, the project has fallen victim to escalating costs, imprecise planning, mismanagement, implementation concerns, and delays.”

Mr. Leahy noted that problems in implementing the system were never communicated to Congress, “and it is not because Congress failed to ask.” He said the program’s failure was “predictable,” noting that in three years, the VCF contract was modified 36 times and the program was headed by five chief information officers and 10 project managers.

Mr. Fine said that while upgrades for the FBI’s overall Trilogy Information Technology Modernization Project, which included VCF and was designed to enhance the bureau’s information technology infrastructure, had been successfully completed, the project was 22 months late and $78 million over budget.

The infrastructure upgrades included deploying new hardware and software, and new communications networks in the wake of the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. The total costs for the infrastructure components of Trilogy increased from an initial listing of $238.6 million to $337 million.

In the inspector general’s report, investigators said the VCF system “either will require substantial additional work or will need to be scrapped and replaced by a new system.” It also said the FBI had not yet provided a realistic timetable or cost estimate for implementing a workable VCF or a successor system.

According to the report, IG investigators concluded that the prospects for completing VCF remain unclear.

“The VCF was intended to be the backbone of the FBI’s information systems, replacing the FBI’s paper case files with electronic files,” the report said. “Case data in the VCF could be approved electronically, and the electronic files would be available throughout the FBI immediately as entered.

“Various lead and case information could be easily associated for analysis,” it said. “Because of the FBI’s inability to develop and deploy the VCF, the FBI continues to lack critical tools necessary to maximize the performance of both its criminal investigative and national security missions.”

The report noted that in addition to the FBI, several other entities shared the responsibility for failing to properly manage, monitor and implement the new management system, including the Justice Department, the General Services Administration, and two contractors, Computer Sciences Corp. and Science Applications International Corp.

But the inspector general’s report concluded that the main responsibility rested with the FBI.

“The FBI acted on a legitimate and urgent need to upgrade its IT infrastructure and replace the antiquated ACS [Automated Case System]. But in the FBI’s desire to move quickly on the Trilogy project, it moved forward with contracting for this very large and complex project without providing or insisting upon defined requirements, specific milestones, critical decision review points, and penalties for poor contractor performance,” it said.

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