FBI touts progress on tech strategies

One year into the FBI's effort to become a terrorism-fighting organization, the bureau has made progress in using information technology as the cornerstone of the changes.

But some officials contend that the bureau has a long way to go with strategic planning for future workforce and IT investments.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, who announced the overhaul last May, told lawmakers this month that although the bureau has made several technology advances, the improvements are part of a larger management plan that still needs the bureau's attention.

"It all has to be part and parcel of an architecture," Mueller said. "As we put in place pieces of the information technology, we have to make certain we are looking five and 10 years down the road."

The General Accounting Office and the National Academy of Public Administration closely monitored the bureau's reorganization, focusing on about 40 re-engineering projects, IT initiatives, and information-sharing and counterterrorism efforts.

One year later, GAO auditors acknowledged that the FBI had taken steps in the right direction, but they warned that the bureau must complete a strategic plan.

"My intent is to follow up on those areas where the GAO and NAPA believe we need improvement, including strategic planning, human resources, always technology, as well as management and performance metrics," Mueller told lawmakers.

In the past 10 years, the FBI has received $2 billion for technology upgrades, said Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), but the bureau has continued to struggle to keep pace with changing technology.

"We have never really gotten the product we thought we were ordering," Rogers told Mueller. "Do you think we are getting there?"

To emphasize the bureau's shift in direction, Mueller outlined several advances, including the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which he called a fingerprinting model for the world. He said the recent focus on DNA databases and DNA technology were "the envy of the rest of the world." He also cited Trilogy and the Virtual Case File system.

However, John Pescatore, an analyst for Gartner Inc., said the Trilogy project was under way well before the reorganization began, and other IT projects have seen "next-to-zero progress" in the past year. "There's really nothing new on the IT side," he said.

Pescatore said Gartner recommended that the bureau look at the lessons learned by private companies that have merged and been forced to overhaul and integrate disparate systems.

He also suggested that FBI officials take a cue from Pentagon leaders, who realized in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that they needed to create a comprehensive disaster plan. The FBI should develop such a plan and test the bureau's organizational structure and communication lines, he said.

The FBI has spent much of the past year hiring new executives and forming working groups, rather than making substantial changes, Pescatore said. Officials should also invest in shifting the culture to one that supports change and information sharing.

"They've done a lot of looking at what to do," Pescatore said. "Changing any organization that size is like turning a battleship."

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Improving the FBI

The National Academy of Public Administration and the General Accounting Office outlined several recommendations for getting the best out of the FBI's reorganization:

* Hire a well-qualified chief information officer and strengthen the role of the CIO's office. The bureau has been searching for a permanent replacement for Darwin John since he retired in May.

* Complete a revised strategic plan to guide the transformation effort.

* Develop a strategic workforce plan and hire a chief human capital officer.

* Issue an electronic records management policy that covers how case files are handled in the new Virtual Case File system.

* Ensure that agents have the proper training on the case file system and that records are being captured and backed up.

* Maintain the Trilogy network through ongoing upgrades.

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