Sentinel system will replace FBI's Virtual Case File

FBI's Sentinel

Provides the bureau's special agents and other employees with:

  • Automated workflow tools

  • Search capabilities

  • Record and case management tools

  • Reporting protocols

The FBI is poised to launch the Sentinel program to build, among other things, a case management system to replace the defunct Virtual Case File project, officials said.

Bureau officials have been using the Sentinel moniker for the service-oriented architecture project since last month. They confirmed the details of the project on the condition that their names not be used.

Sentinel is to be designed along the lines of the Federal Investigative Case Management Solution (FICMS), which will provide a blueprint for federal law enforcement case management systems. Senior bureau officials from across the country recently met in Washington to review the concept of operations for Sentinel.

Officials said they expect to issue a request for proposals by Sept. 30.

Using the name Sentinel "helps remove any confusion about what FICMS is and what the actual solution for the FBI will be," said William Price Roe, senior policy advisor for Justice Department Chief Information Officer Vance Hitch.

Sentinel is "the first implementation of an FICMS framework," Roe said. Because it is based on a service-oriented architecture, other agencies will be able to use the core solution.

According to Roe, the agency has been working with the appropriators and the Office of Management and Budget to ensure they were onboard with the general approach. "Most of the interest is on what the FBI is doing" to apply technology to its mission, he said.

Bureau Director Robert Mueller III has not yet announced the beginning of Sentinel, although in March he outlined the technology direction of the project in testimony before the House Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, state and justice. During that testimony, Mueller signaled that the FBI would abandon VCF.

In response to questions from the panel, Mueller cited a December 2004 consultant report on VCF that said it "was not scalable and that the engineering was not what it should be in order to make it an effective tool for the FBI, and it requires us now to go a different route."

"I am tremendously disappointed that we did not come through on Virtual Case File," Mueller later said.

A VCF pilot project continued as planned until April 15, according to the FBI and San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp., prime contractor for the effort. As late as last week, SAIC spokesman Jared Adams said the FBI had not officially informed the company that there is no chance it will choose to complete VCF.

Mueller in January admitted in testimony before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice and science that the bureau had squandered $104 million on VCF software that will not be reused.

The bureau plans to run the Sentinel procurement through the National Institutes of Health's Government Wide Acquisition Contract office, officials said. NIH and FBI officials are overseeing a technical feasibility study for Sentinel, officials said.

The bureau has not yet appointed a project manager for Sentinel. Officials said the FBI is conducting an executive search that will include looking at Senior Executive Service leaders in other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, as well as private sector executives.

"We have taken the lessons learned [from the VCF program], so we are better positioned to shape this next generation of electronic information management systems," an official said.

"Sentinel will go beyond [the capabilities of] VCF," the official added. "It is part of a larger service-oriented architecture, to develop and deploy services and capabilities to FBI employees." Bureau officials said they expect to be able to add, remove or modify the system's capabilities more easily because of its service-oriented architecture.

Each phase of the four-phase project will be a standalone capability, one official said. The phased rollout is intended to facilitate training, the transition from old to new systems, the systems' deployment and support.

Wilson P. Dizard III is a senior editor with Government Computer News. He can be reached at



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