FBI blows $305 million on case file computer upgrades

The Federal Bureau of Investigation wants to spend $305 million to replace its aging mainframe-based case management computer system with a more modern system known as Sentinel. But Congressional leaders and others believe that the new system may meet the same fate as the FBI’s last attempt to modernize its case-handling computer systems.

The FBI spent $170 million on the Virtual Case File, a more modern computer system for managing active cases, before finally giving up because the system didn’t work.

The current computer system, Automated Case System, is an ancient terminal-based application running on a mainframe driven entirely by keyboard-based commands. FBI agents hate it. In fact, they hate it so much that they prefer to keep their records on paper.

FBI special agents have complained to many Congressional committees over the past several years about ACS. The joint House/Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into 9/11 intelligence failures found that “ACS is limited in its search capacity, difficult to use, and unreliable.”

And the new system, Sentinel, will cost almost twice as much as Virtual Case File, before the inevitable cost overruns and delays resulting from the FBI’s failure to use performance-based contracting.

Critics aren’t convinced yet. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic co-chairman, said at the May hearing that he remained “very concerned” about progress on what he called an “essential task.”

“The bureau’s effectiveness hangs in the balance,” he said, “and the American people cannot afford another fiasco.” — CNET News.com

Here’s what FBI director Robert Mueller III had to say:

Somehow, though, things will be different this time. Because we said so. And we really want it to be. But we haven’t made any significant changes to our flawed contracting methodologies or our screwed up IT infrastructure. Why, we only paid $10 million for ink pens and highlighters out of the IT budget. Things are definitely improving!

I generally say government computer security sucks, and with good reason, but it appears that government computers suck, too–

The problems with the nation’s security go beyond the FBI’s computer systems and networks and their contracting boondoggles.

“Too many risks and threats are being treated as public problems to be dealt with through law enforcement when they should be treated as private problems to be dealt with through security,” says Jim Harper, director of information policy studies for the Cato Institute. “There should be more personal and corporate responsibility” for individuals’ and businesses’ security, he argues.

“Foolishly Blundering Incompetents,” says homeland security strategist W. David Stephenson. “Federal Buffoons and Imbeciles,” says former NSA analyst Russell Tice. (Okay, what he really said is unprintable.) Can you come up with a better acronym for FBI?

One thought on “FBI blows $305 million on case file computer upgrades

  • June 19, 2007 at 9:54 am

    The problem with the FBI and their contracting difficulties is the management. Political appointtees are not qualified to manage large operations, rather they are qualified to write checks to their parties candidates.

    A professional management team at the FBI could solve their records keeping and date sharing problems in less than a year given a non-political interference mandate.

    Most of the agents are qualified to do an agents job, but just like the public school system, a good teacher does not a good school principle make and the same problem is present in the FBI. Professional managers must be hired rather than promoting from the masses.

    Simple solutions for simple problems

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