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.”

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