FBI tries to repeat program success

Officials say new IT handbook will help program managers follow best practices

The FBI is far from anointing its Sentinel case management project a success. But officials are applying lessons learned in the past year to the rest of the bureau’s technology projects.

In a soon-to-be-released updated version of its Information Technology Handbook, FBI officials are incorporating some of the best program management techniques, such as cost estimating and security certification and accreditation processes, that it used with Sentinel.

“We update the handbook every year, and we wanted to infuse the product with best practices to ensure consistency across the board,” said Dean Hall, FBI’s deputy chief information officer. “This will be a tool for program managers.”

Dean Hall, FBI

The handbook is one way the FBI is formalizing its project management practices, a step the Government Accountability Office recently criticized the bureau for not performing more quickly.
In a July 30 report, GAO auditors found the FBI’s cost estimating and program management practices were inconsistent.

But Hall said the IT Handbook is the FBI’s answer to the shortcomings that GAO identified.

“We have several techniques we use as standard practices,” Hall said. “For Sentinel, we did two cost estimates and did a reconciliation process of the two. We looked for a mix of approaches to make sure we have the right kind of estimates.”

Hall said GAO auditors want the FBI to standardize its best practices.

Randy Hite, GAO’s director of IT architecture and system issues and author of the report, said having the handbook in place is important, but the FBI also must train its program managers.

Hite said GAO continually monitors the FBI’s progress with Sentinel at the request of the House Judiciary and Appropriations committees.
Congress continues its keen interest in Sentinel as it enters Phase 2 of Sentinel. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said he was concerned about the FBI’s continued lack of control over its IT projects. Sensenbrenner, a former Judiciary Committee chairman, said the FBI must improve its oversight of contractors and define performance-based metrics.

In its report on a Commerce, Justice and Science spending bill, the House Appropriations Committee asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to report on the FBI’s implementation of seven recommendations from a March 2006 Justice IG report to ensure that the bureau does not repeat past IT development failures.

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