More isn't better for case management

More is not necessarily better in terms of the case management systems that federal law enforcement and homeland security officials use. "Fragmented and redundant" is the nutshell description, frustrated government officials say.

"We spend millions and millions [of dollars] on case management every year so individual components can maintain their own systems," said a federal information technology official who was authorized to speak only on condition of anonymity.

The Justice Department is a good example. The agency has seven separate litigation systems, each assigning separate identifiers to every case. "That's crazy," the official said. "We have duplication of data."

Experts who are responsible for dealing with this issue said the situation must change soon. The group, called the Case Management Lines of Business Task Force, is one of five governmentwide common solution teams created in March 2004 by Office of Management and Budget officials.

"Our goal is to migrate everyone toward more consolidated pools of common systems," the official said. Task force members are preparing a three-part solution encompassing the administrative, investigative and litigation components of case management.

Imagine the coming reforms looking like a Mickey Mouse hat, the IT official said. One ear is a common platform for federal agencies with investigative functions. The other ear is the same for agencies involved in litigation of those cases. The dome between the ears represents unifying Web-enabled administrative functions that are needed to move cases from the investigators to the litigators.

Under this formulation, federal agents, analysts, attorneys and administrators will need a reason not to share information, the IT official said.

Toward that end, officials at Justice and the Homeland Security Department recently issued a joint request for information about a common case management system for investigation, known as the Federal Investigative Case Management System (FICMS). The eventual solution will be part architecture, part technology, said Zalmai Azmi, the FBI's chief information officer.

The FBI is the executive agent for developing FICMS. Responses to the RFI are due by Oct. 12. A follow-on request for proposals could be published near the end of fiscal 2005, said John Sindelar, director of lines of business initiatives.

Officials have submitted a common litigation case management business case to OMB and will release a corresponding RFP by next summer, the IT official said. "The need on the litigation side is immediate." Within three years, those seven Justice litigation systems should be consolidated into one, the official added.

Officials are still debating whether to issue a third RFI or RFP for a unifying administrative component. That component might simply be created from common administrative functions inherent to litigation and investigation case management, the IT official said. Responses to the FICMS RFI will help determine the answer.

FICMS is not "case management Version 1.0 for the entire government," the official added. Wholesale deactivation of existing systems in favor of a new common solution isn't even being contemplated. "We are building a common architecture, and that architecture will guide other investments."

Several versions of an integrated case management system will exist, Azmi said. "However, the building blocks will be the same. We all may use the same data model, the same technology, same front and back" ends.

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