FBI trying to salvage $170 million software package

FBI trying to salvage $170 million software package

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will attempt to salvage parts of a US$170 million case-management software package despite growing criticism that the 4-year-old project doesn't work as expected.

The software package, called Virtual Case File, was supposed to allow FBI employees to more quickly share data about cases in progress, including terrorism investigations, and to help FBI agents around the country better search documents and connect leads coming from diverse sources. But this week, FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters he was frustrated with the progress on the software package.

Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), based in San Diego, delivered about one-tenth of what the FBI had envisioned for the package in December 2004, and the company did not incorporate many of the changes recommended by a second contractor about six months earlier, an FBI official said Friday. SAIC has worked on Virtual Case File since June 2001.

"It wasn't to where we thought it would be," said the FBI official, who asked that her name not be used.

The FBI has not scrapped Virtual Case File and the workflow prototype SAIC delivered, but the agency has asked another contractor to look for commercial or government off-the-shelf software that could be used instead, the FBI official said. The FBI has also begun testing the workflow package to see if "there's anything we can use in developing a future case management program," she added.

SAIC, in a statement released Friday, said it delivered the first phase of the project ahead of schedule and under budget after the terms of the contract were renegotiated. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. forced changes in the project and contributed to delays in the project, the company said. The project was originally scheduled to be completed in late 2003.

Virtual Case File is part of a larger FBI IT modernization project called Trilogy. "The FBI modernization effort involved a massive technological and cultural change, agency wide," Duane Andrews, SAIC chief operating officer, said in a statement. "To add to that complexity, in the time that SAIC has been working on the Trilogy project the FBI has had four different CIOs and 14 different managers. Establishing and setting system requirements in this environment has been incredibly challenging."

In addition to the workflow package, the FBI envisioned a case-management system, an evidence-management system and a records-management system as part of Virtual Case File. The FBI intended the software package to streamline a records-management system that now requires employees to scan hard-copy documents into computer files, the FBI official said.

In 2001, when the project began, no existing commercial products met the FBI's needs, the official said. Although the FBI hasn't gotten the full package it wanted, the agency learned lessons about contract management, and this contract has prompted the agency to overhaul its IT contracting practices, the official said. The agency also developed an IT road map since the program began, she said.

"It's definitely not fair to say we haven't gotten anyplace," the official added. "We haven't gotten the overarching program we wanted, but we're going to take these lessons and move forward with it."

The FBI's recent statements about Virtual Case File prompted criticism from U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, who said the FBI promised the project would be finished in late 2004 as recently as May. The 9/11 Commission, which released its report on the terrorist attacks last July, asked Congress to provide the FBI with the money it needs to update its IT infrastructure, Leahy said in a statement.

Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, called on the FBI to provide better information to Congress about its long-term projects.

"The FBI's long-anticipated Virtual Case File has been a train wreck in slow motion, at a cost of $170 million to American taxpayers and an unknown cost to public safety," Leahy added. "This is a vital task, and now Congress will have to provide more funding to get the job done. But throwing money at this chronic problem alone won't fix it."

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