Justice IG hits FBI's Sentinel IT program

Bureau says partial stop-work order shows effective management controls

The Justice Department’s inspector general is worried about the rising costs and delays of the FBI’s projected nearly half billion dollar project to modernize its case management system.

“After more than three years and $334 million expended on the development and maintenance of Sentinel, the cost to Sentinel is rising, the completion of Sentinel has been repeatedly delayed, and the FBI does not have a current schedule or cost estimate for completing the project,” the IG said in a newly released technical assistance report on the project.

The IG’s concerns about the progress of the Sentinel project – now estimated to cost more than $450 million and to be completed in 2011 – follow a recent decision to delay parts of the program because of changes in technology and business practices and user needs that couldn’t have been anticipated when the program started in 2005. Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract in 2006 to develop the multi-phased program.

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On March 3,  the FBI decided to partially suspend work on the third phase of the four-phase Sentinel program after officials decided that they weren’t satisfied with the last component of the second phase, an important part of the overall project. The partial stop-work order to Lockheed also applied to the fourth phase of the project.

The FBI said a statement today that the partial stop-work order is an example of the bureau using effective management controls, identifying areas of concern, and reporting on those areas. 

The FBI said because of the phased approach used to develop Sentinel, the system is already being used daily by thousands of FBI employees. The bureau also said the adjustments don’t affect the FBI’s ability to carry out its mission and the bureau is fully cooperating with the IG and has been responsive to its recommendations regarding Sentinel.

“The system works; we want it to work better,” the bureau said. “The FBI has learned from its previous challenges and has incorporated industry best practices, strong management controls, independent verification and validation, and user testing to ensure the highest quality system is developed.”

However, the IG said that in addition to cost and schedule changes, the bureau is having problems ensuring that Sentinel is meeting established requirements such as meeting users' needs.

“Given the importance of Sentinel to the future of FBI operations, particularly in moving FBI agents and analysts from a paper-based system to a modern computer-based system, the FBI must ensure that its revisions to Sentinel’s budget, schedule, and requirements are realistic, achievable, and satisfactory to its users,” the IG said.

Meanwhile, according to Lockheed, about 80 percent of Sentinel’s final hardware and software is already in place. “Together with the FBI, we are taking a measured and phased approach to development that allows us to actively seek, address and incorporate user feedback as we incrementally deliver new system capabilities,” Lockheed said in a statement. The company also said it’s focused on adjusting the system to better align with user priorities and expectations.

The IG said the FBI doesn’t have new official estimates for the cost and completion date for the project. However, the bureau and Lockheed said they are working on developing the new schedule.

The IG said FBI officials have acknowledged the project will cost more than the latest previous estimate of $451 million and will likely not be completed until 2011. The FBI originally estimated the project would cost $425 million and be completed by December 2009, the IG said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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