Despite some issues, audit finds Sentinel on track

The FBI's management of the Sentinel program has resolved many of the problematic issues that failed its Virtual Case File (VCF) system, but contract management and effective cost and schedule still fall short, government auditors said.

In the second report on the case management system, the Government Accountability Office found that the FBI is heading down a successful path, but needs to address some outstanding problems.

"The FBI is managing various aspects of Sentinel according to a number of effective system acquisition best practices," auditors wrote.

However, GAO also found the FBI's cost and schedule estimates are unreliable and it is not overseeing its support contractors adequately.

"The FBI's policies and procedures that form the basis for Sentinel's schedule and cost estimates are not fully consistent with reliable estimating practices," the report states. "The bureau is not effectively performing a key tracking and oversight practice for its many support contractors that are performing program management functions."

Auditors said the concern is that the FBI has not defined performance metrics for its support contractors.

The FBI awarded Lockheed Martin a six-year, $305 million contract in March 2006 to build Sentinel to provide case management services, automated workflow and records management functions. Sentinel's effort replaced the VCF program, a $170 million fiasco that the bureau ended in March 2005.

Although the FBI disagreed with GAO's assessment on how it is overseeing its support contractors, agency Chief Information Officer Zal Azmi said in his written response to the audit that the bureau will update its information technology handbook to include cost and schedule estimating best practices.

Azmi said that effort would be done in late fiscal 2007.

"The FBI does not concur with GAO's comments that the FBI should establish and implement performance standards in statements of work for Sentinel support contractors relative to the quality and timeliness of products and the performance of services," Azmi told the GAO. "The Sentinel program management office support contractors have defined position descriptions and skills required to perform the functions defined in the staffing plan."

Azmi added that all products provided by support contractors, including white papers and meeting minutes, are approved by government supervisors.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a former Judiciary Committee chairman, said the report shows the FBI has not done enough to reform its issues. He said the main reason behind VCF's failure was the FBI's poor monitoring of the performance schedule of its prime contractor.

"I don't understand why the FBI can't follow its own handbook when keeping track of cost and performance on Sentinel," he said in a news release.

To its credit, the FBI has made several important changes, GAO said.

The bureau has:
  • Established effective processes to mitigate risks before they have a chance to affect Sentinel's cost, schedule or performance.
  • Begun planning for the workforce and business process changes that Sentinel will require.
  • Implementing controls and tools for systematically identifying Sentinel's component parts, such as software and hardware, and controlling configuration of parts that ensures the integrity of each.
  • Defining expectations for the prime contractor and measuring performance against those expectations.

The FBI "has implemented a number of best practices for Sentinel and by doing so has placed itself on a path to both avoid the kind of missteps that led to the failure of VCF and increase the chances of putting needed mission capabilities in the hands of bureau agents and analysts as soon as possible," the report states.

Jason Miller writes for Government Computer News and Federal Computer Week, 1105 Government Information Group publications.

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