The FBI's hunt for order

Freeh's testimony

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is seeking a major influx of money to improve its antiquated computer infrastructure in the wake of revelations that outdated information technology systems played a role in the bureau's 3,135 misplaced Oklahoma City bombing documents.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.

MORE INFO

Bureau for change

FBI Director Louis Freeh's improvement plan would:

* Create an office that would exclusively focus on records management.

* Change Trilogy project plans "to include sophisticated document-handling

accountability and auditing functions to support enhanced line supervision

of these issues."

* Hire a "world-class" records manager to direct FBI activities.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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