RealTime IT News

FBI's Virtual Case File Flops

The glacial pace of government is no match for the speed of private technology enterprise. After four years of work on a custom application, the FBI may now be able to get what it needs off-the-shelf.

The FBI is ready to scrap Virtual Case File (VCF), an automated case management system, to replace an antiquated method of gathering information that relied heavily on paper. The bureau held a press conference in Washington on Thursday, where an official spoke to reporters but asked to remain anonymous, because the project is the subject of an internal investigation.

SAIC delivered the first phase of the new, roll-out on time and under budget -- at least according to the renegotiated terms. According to a report by Government Computer News, the Justice Department's Inspector General Office decided that it didn't meet the FBI's needs.

The FBI hired SAIC to develop VCF In June 2001. VCF would replace its Automated Case System, which could not import reports or information from external sources. The new case management and workflow application was part of the Trilogy project, which also included new computer hardware, presentation software and network infrastructure provided by several independent vendors.

But SAIC said scope creep and a merry-go-round of managers made the project "incredibly challenging." According to a written statement released by SAIC on Friday, in the time the company been working on the Trilogy project, the FBI had four different CIOs and 14 different managers.

While San Diego, Calif.-based SAIC originally signed on to modernize the FBI's criminal case management system, after 9-11, the agency's mission began to focus on terrorism investigation and prevention, and SAIC said this change led to delays and cost overruns. Company executives were not available for comment.

Another change in requirements followed the May 2004 release of a National Research Council report recommending the FBI change its deployment strategy for VCF from all-at-once to a less risky incremental phase-in for VCF functions.

The report politely concluded that "the FBI's IT modernization program is not currently on a path to success." It pointed out that the FBI had no contingency plan to deal with system failure if the untested VCF was turned on all at once.

It also pointed out that the FBI's efforts could be hampered by the same disconnect between senior leadership and the IT department that plagues many commercial enterprises.

"We put ourselves in position to play catch-up," admitted an FBI spokesperson. "We're getting there, but we're not moving at the pace we wanted or hoped to. When it ultimately gets delivered, it will be right." Now, the FBI is considering switching to off-the-shelf software, perhaps with some custom modifications.

"Our needs have changed, as well as the technology," he said.

He said the FBI has hired two companies to evaluate SAIC's project and what needs to be done: Aerospace Corp., which operates a federally funded research and development center, and BAE Systems, a defense and aerospace contractor.

Meanwhile, a test pilot of a workflow management system is taking place in the FBI's New Orleans office in the next three months. "We'll do this in very small chunks," he said.

He emphasized that the FBI's work still goes on, using the old ACF system. "We're doing it the hard way now," he said. The project goal, he said, is to "take advantage of the technology that's available and give ourselves the chance to do our jobs most effectively."