McVeigh fiasco exposes need for IT overhaul
The FBI is seeking a major influx of money to improve its antiquated computer infrastructure in the wake of revelations that outdated information technology systems played a role in the bureau's 3,135 misplaced Oklahoma City bombing documents. The bureau is seeking $142.4 million in fiscal 2002 for its Trilogy program, a three-year overhaul of the FBI's technology infrastructure. The bureau has $100.7 million in fiscal 2001 allocated for Trilogy.
The request comes as the FBI reels from the revelation that documents were not provided to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh's defense team in part because of IT problems. Attorney General John Ashcroft has asked the Justice Department inspector general to fully investigate the case.
Lawmakers grilled FBI Director Louis Freeh last week about the McVeigh documents and the computer problems that allowed the snafu to occur.
Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that Congress has "lavished the FBI with money," including funds to modernize technology. But IT projects at the FBI have been plagued by delays and cost overruns, he said.
Problems with the agency's computer systems have been well known. Just last month, in a letter to Freeh, four senior members of the House Judiciary Committee suggested that the bureau must give IT issues greater attention. "The committee is concerned that the FBI has [IT] systems that are slow, unreliable and obsolete — systems that are unable to address the bureau's critical needs," the April 25 letter said.
People with knowledge of FBI systems said the bureau has been in desperate need of IT modernization. For example, only recently did the FBI field a fully interoperable e-mail system, said one person familiar with FBI systems who asked not to be identified.
The officials suggested that the task of updating the bureau's systems is daunting. "You're dealing with such a large workforce that is just so far behind," one official said.
Those officials, however, praised the FBI's modernization plan, which focuses on moving quickly to upgrade the infrastructure to include a decent desktop situation and using Web-based technology and data-mining techniques to hide the existing stovepipe systems to users.
They also said that the FBI has good leadership in place. Bob Dies, who retired as the general manager of IBM Corp.'s Network and Personal Computer Division, came onboard last year to spearhead the FBI's modernization efforts. Freeh, who is leaving his job in June after eight years, said in his testimony before the House Appropriations Committee's Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Subcommittee that the FBI has become overwhelmed by the number of documents created by its investigations.
"This wasn't a computer problem. This was a management problem," Freeh said. "We simply have too little management attention focused on what has become, over time, a monumental task" of dealing with investigative records, he said. The FBI's Oklahoma City bombing investigation alone resulted in more than 3.5 tons of evidence, including more than 28,000 interviews.
"The dizzying pace of the evolution of crime, terrorism and technology, I believe, has caused us to lessen our focus [on records management], a function so basic that perhaps we have taken it for granted. Not any more," Freeh testified.
When the bomb exploded in Oklahoma City in April 1995, the FBI was converting to a new investigative information system, the Automated Case Support system. FBI investigators were concerned about how the conversion would affect the ongoing investigation.
"Investigators in Oklahoma City believed they could better ensure that the information was properly entered into the system, maintain the investigation's confidentiality, and more effectively identify and prioritize additional investigative leads," Freeh said.
Many FBI field offices, however, did not respond to 16 separate requests for bombing documents over the years. The missing documents were only found when FBI archivists started collecting material for storage.
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