IG: Tight controls on FBI's Sentinel project paying off

The FBI experienced a major setback in its failure to deploy the long-awaited Virtual Case File IT system, but it is performing better in its management of Sentinel, which is the successor system, according to a new report from the Justice Department's Inspector General.

Because of the serious problems with development of Virtual Case File?which was to replace the FBI's paper-based criminal investigation records system with electronic records?the inspector general's office said it has initiated a long-term audit and continued monitoring of Sentinel, and will issue several reports on the projects in the coming months.

Initially, there are signs of improvement. "As of October 2005, our preliminary assessment is that the FBI has instituted important improvements in its IT management controls and practices that it did not have when it attempted to develop the Virtual Case File," the inspector general's report said.

The report posted on the Justice Department's Web site on Nov. 18 highlights several major management challenges at the department, including concerns about timely upgrades to IT systems, information-sharing and information security.

Despite some successes the FBI's current IT systems overall "fall far short of what is needed," the report concluded. "The successful upgrade of the FBI's IT systems?as well as the development and integration of other important IT systems throughout the Department?remains one of the top challenges facing the Department in the years ahead."

One example is the Virtual Case File system, which was abandoned in early 2005 after three years of development, with the FBI acknowledging a loss of $100 million from the $170 million spent.

The program suffered from poorly defined design requirements, poor management continuity and oversight and lack of an enterprise architecture, among other shortcomings, according to a February 2005 inspector general report.

Those concerns are now being addressed in Sentinel, the inspector general stated. "Our preliminary review of Sentinel indicates that, for the most part, the FBI is attempting to address these weaknesses in preparing for the Sentinel project," the Nov. 18 report said.

However, the Sentinel program management office still is not yet fully organized and staffed, and its program manager has committed to two years with an option for a third year, which may result in turnover before the project is completed, the inspector general said. Management turnover was a factor in the problems with Virtual Case File, the report said.

Risks lie ahead for Sentinel because of its very aggressive award schedule, complexities in linking it with numerous legacy IT systems, the possibility of overlap with other FBI initiatives, possible changes in mission requirements, evolving enterprise architecture standards that may present new design problems and unknown project costs overall, the IG report said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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