FBI CIO Azmi will retire in October
Zalmai Azmi, the FBI’s chief information officer who has directed the bureau’s massive information technology upgrade projects for almost five years, announced today that he will be retiring from the government Oct. 17.
Azmi, a native of Afghanistan who has spent 24 years working for the federal government, said he was retiring to spend more time with his wife and three young children. Azmi said he was considering several opportunities in private industry but had not made any decision on where he would be going.
During Azmi's tenure, which began in early 2004, the bureau has worked to transform its IT operations after criticism of its technological capabilities that followed the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“In 2004, everybody was asking me when the FBI would join the 21st century,” he told reporters. “Today I can tell you that we are in the 21st century and continue to move forward.”
Azmi said two of his biggest challenges were the technological issues associated with trying to “leapfrog a whole generation of IT” and coordinating the rollouts of a large portfolio of IT programs at the same time the bureau was undergoing other strategic changes.
Azmi said the FBI had extended its networks to more than 800 locations around the world. Those networks support the transmission of audio, video, text, images and graphics at the unclassified, secret and top secret classification levels, he said. He explained that five years ago the network did not support the transmission of large image files.
He also cited the expanding use of the agency’s knowledge management wiki named Bureaupedia. Azmi said Bureaupedia gives the FBI a platform for capturing knowledge and information that might not be available otherwise, including information useful for the next administration.
He also noted that BlackBerries had been deployed to 20,500 agents, analysts and task force members. He also cited plans to give each agent and analyst a computer with Internet access by next spring as examples of IT successes during his tenure.
Azmi also said the Sentinel program – the bureau's six-year, $451 million project to update its investigative case management system – is on time and on budget. Azmi said the most difficult day of his tenure came when he had to tell the FBI’s director that Sentinel’s predecessor, the Virtual Case File system, was not going to work.
Azmi said the FBI has had 54 IT projects in development during 2008 and plans to deliver 20 of them by the end of the calendar year. However, he said some of those projects will not have funding if Congress fails to pass a new budget for fiscal 2009 and the government operates under fiscal 2008's spending authorities under a continuing resolution for the entire year.
The FBI has not chosen a replacement, but Azmi said the recruitment and interview process has begun and a new CIO will probably be selected a few weeks after he departs. He added that the finalists who have been chosen are from outside the government.
“I believe we should be measured…not on where some think we should be, but rather on where we have come from and how much we have accomplished,” he said. “It’s important to emphasize that information technology is an evolutionary process that does not have an end – there is not a utopia for information technology.”
Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.