Video: FBI’s computer system under fire

updated 2/3/2005 6:14:58 PM ET 2005-02-03T23:14:58

A $170 million computer system intended to allow the FBI to better manage criminal and terrorism cases will have to be scrapped or require a lot of additional work, the Justice Department’s inspector general said Thursday.

Glenn Fine, the inspector general, blamed bad planning and management by the FBI for most of the problems encountered in the design of a system to move large amounts of investigative information into new digital databases that could be accessed throughout the FBI.

Known as the Virtual Case File, the system is supposed to give FBI agents and analysts an instantaneous and paperless way to manage criminal and terrorism cases.

“The VCF effort that began in June 2001 has been unable to meet the FBI’s case management needs,” Fine said in a report issued Thursday.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said his agency already has addressed management issues raised in the report. “I am disappointed that plans to fully deploy an automated investigative case management system for the FBI have been delayed, but I am confident that the bureau is moving in the right direction,” said Mueller, who was testifying to Congress later Thursday about the computer project.

Lawmakers have been sharply critical of the computer upgrade.

FBI officials, after a reading a draft of the report, said last month the system designed by Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego needs work, probably at substantial additional cost, and might have to be shelved altogether.

Improvements post-9/11
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mueller made improvement of the agency’s computer systems a priority. Members of Congress and the independent Sept. 11 commission said the overhaul is crucial to enabling the FBI and intelligence agencies such as the CIA to “connect the dots” in preventing attacks.

Virtual Case File was to be the final piece of the overhaul of antiquated FBI computers, a venture called the Trilogy project. The first two phases of the project — deployment of a high-speed, secure FBI computer network and 30,000 new desktop computers — have been completed.

But Fine noted that each phase of the Trilogy project “has been plagued by delays.” Even when Congress provided an extra $78 million to rush completion of the first two parts of the project, the FBI managed to beat the original target date by just a month, he said.

Full overhaul cost $581 million
Trilogy has so far cost taxpayers $581 million, $200 million more than originally budgeted. The FBI has yet to say how much more money will be needed to put an up-to-date case management system in place.

Mark Hughes, president of SAIC’s system and network solutions group, defended his company’s work and blamed turnover at the FBI and design changes demanded by the agency for most of the problems.

The company delivered a portion of the system in December, and it is being tested in the New Orleans FBI office. “The system does what it was supposed to do, it works,” Hughes said. FBI officials said the software they received was about 10 percent of the entire project, while Hughes put the figure at 20 percent.

Hughes urged the FBI not to abandon Virtual Case File. “If they don’t deploy the system and build a new one, they’re going to have to wait at least three years before agents get any capability,” he said.

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