Project Management Institute

FBI under scrutiny

Leaders of U.S. Investigative agency fail to make IT top priority


Leaders of U.S. investigative agency fail to make IT top priority.

For more than a decade, the FBI's experiences with IT have been plagued by budget overruns, slipped deadlines and devastating critiques from outside auditors.

Tom Lynch, director of the Cato Institute's project on criminal justice, told CNET “If there is a serious computer problem at the FBI, it's simply been because it's a low priority—not a lack of funding—as far as I can tell.”

In December, both Computer Sciences Corp. and Science Applications International Corp. missed deadlines to implement a major element of the Trilogy Project, an initiative to overhaul the agency's outdated information technology (IT) systems, which is now in its third and last stage.

At a Glance

Project: Trilogy program, an initiative to overhaul the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's information technology infrastructure

Initial Budget: $379 million

Revamped Budget: $596 million

Project Scope: Deploy 21,000 new desktop computers; 5,000 printers and scanners; implement Virtual Case File, a centralized Web-based referencing database to 622 sites

Pitfalls: Lack of executive sponsorship has led to budget overruns, slipped deadlines and devastating critiques from outside auditors.

Both enterprises were set to deliver components for the Virtual Case File, a Web-based program that combines 31 databases to enable agents a centralized researching tool. According to FBI Director Robert Mueller III, the project won't be completed until later in 2004. Cost overruns are expected to reach $50 million beyond the original $119 million estimated budget, according to Baseline magazine.

As a result, the contract with Computer Sciences Corp. has been redrafted to account for missed deadlines. Financial penalties will be incurred for further violations of the contract. Mueller also has told a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating the project's management that the FBI plans to rewrite its contract with Science Applications International Corp. as well.

“The Virtual Case File project is not going well,” an IT manager inside the bureau told Government Computer News. “It is costing too much and it is late.”

Mueller repeatedly has said that Trilogy is key to enabling the bureau's investigations to prevent terrorist attacks. Upgrading the FBI's technology gained greater urgency after the attacks of 11 September 2001, exposed the agency's inefficiency.

Longtime observers of the FBI acknowledge that the bureau's networks were shabby before 2001, but they argue that the project delays are caused by more than out-of-date systems. Essentially, IT was not a priority for the bureau's top management, according to an analysis by CNET

On the Trilogy project, the U.S. General Accounting Office gave the FBI a 1-out-of-5 rating, with 5 being highest. The FBI, auditors concluded, had failed to appoint a chief information architect, create a master IT plan or establish an “architecture-steering committee”—all of which are required to achieve even a modest rating of 2 out of 5.

“I don't agree with the idea that the FBI or the Justice Department has been starved for funds,” the Cato Institute's Lynch told CNET “I do not think that is so. When these statements are made, the average layperson can be forgiven for thinking that the budget numbers have been going down over the years. In fact, the budgets for the Justice Department and FBI have been going higher and higher.”

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