- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

The FBI has improved its ability to plan and manage a new information-technology project but still faces major problems in implementing the program, designed to replace a failed $170 million system, an audit says.

Known as Sentinel, the program was introduced last year as a replacement for the failed Virtual Case File system and is scheduled to be fully operational by 2009 at an expected cost of $425 million. It is part of an FBI effort to close internal communication gaps and improve information sharing with other law-enforcement and intelligence agencies.

The system will be built by Lockheed Martin Corp., the winning bidder last week on a $305 million contract. The FBI also expects to spend about $120 million evaluating the system.

The audit by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General said that although the FBI has developed new technology-planning processes that can help the agency complete a new case- and information-management system, “several continuing concerns” remain regarding the FBI’s management of the new project.

Those concerns include incomplete staffing of the Sentinel program management office, the FBI’s ability to redirect funds to complete the second phase of the project without jeopardizing its mission-critical operations, and Sentinel’s ability to share information with external agencies and provide a framework for other agencies’ case-management systems.

The audit also raised questions about the FBI’s ability to control Sentinel’s costs and a lack of documentation required by the bureau’s information-technology investment management processes.

In a response to the audit, the FBI said steps were being taken to ensure the system’s security, design and costs.

The Virtual Case File system ended last year after the Office of the Inspector General said the project had poorly defined design requirements, lacked mature information-technology investment management and suffered from poor management and oversight.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said the FBI plans to fund the first two phases of Sentinel by seeking congressional approval to redirect funds, with the third and fourth phases funded by new appropriations. He said more than $14 million of the initial redirection will come from the bureau’s counterterrorism budget, $13 million from intelligence-related activities and $2 million from its cyber division.

Previously, “the FBI lacked an effective, reliable system to track and validate the project’s costs. Although the FBI stated that it is evaluating a tool to track Sentinel project costs, we view the potential weaknesses in cost control as a project risk,” Mr. Fine said.

In addition, he said, the bureau has not adequately examined Sentinel’s ability to connect with external systems in other Justice Department areas, the Department of Homeland Security and other intelligence agencies. He said that if “such connectivity” is not built into Sentinel’s design, other agencies could be forced into costly and time-consuming modifications.

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