FBI: Trilogy alone won't do it

"Reforming FBI Management: The Views from Inside and Out"

The FBI took its lumps last week over its antiquated information technology infrastructure and a host of missing laptop computers. But the top IT priorities at the agency are security and creating a document management system, according to the bureau's IT chief.

Those priorities are closely aligned with two of the FBI's most recent embarrassments: the arrest of veteran agent Robert Hanssen for spying for the Russians for 15 years and the mishandling of thousands of documents in connection with the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

"Our IT infrastructure is in need of repair, and our approach to IT planning and funding has been less than adequate," said Bob Dies, assistant director of the FBI's Information Resources Division, at a July 18 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Trilogy, the FBI's three-year plan to modernize its infrastructure, is designed to begin dealing with those issues, he said. The Bush administration is seeking $95 million in fiscal 2002 for the program.

But Trilogy might not be enough, he added. Recent events "indicate a need to quickly go beyond Trilogy's infrastructure plan to incorporate a state-of-the-art IT security process and a world-class records management system," Dies said. "Those would be our first two priorities." The bureau could then work on updating financial and personnel systems that date back to the 1980s.

In that vein, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced July 20 that consulting firm Andersen would conduct a management study of the FBI, including how it maintains its IT operations.

FBI officials said it will take more funding to fix the problems, but lawmakers warned that the bureau may find it tough to get more money until there is some indication it has a handle on its management problems. "The FBI has not been strapped for funds. The FBI has been strapped for leadership," said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

Dies said the agency has made significant purchases of technology for programs in support of state and local law enforcement agencies. "What we need to do now is invest in the tools and support to satisfy the basic investigative needs of all our special agents and their support personnel."

The FBI's existing IT infrastructure is inadequate, Dies said. More than 13,000 desktop computers are 4 to 8 years old, and most of the smaller offices are connected to the FBI's internal network at sluggish speeds equivalent to a 56 kilobits/sec modem. "Fundamentally, at the dawn of the 21st century, the FBI is asking its agents and support personnel to do their jobs without the tools other companies use or that you may use at home on your system," he said.

Trilogy is designed to improve the FBI's network by linking bureau offices with high-speed connections, enabling employees to access information throughout the bureau and providing tools that will enable agents to better organize, access and analyze information.

"The Trilogy program enables the FBI to have a workable system of information technology resources," Dies said. "Trilogy will not by itself give the FBI a world-class, state-of-the-art system."

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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