FBI: Accelerated IT plan not realistic

The FBI has abandoned plans to complete an overhaul of its antiquated computer systems by December. The bureau now says it will take until January 2004 to finish the Trilogy project.

During the past year, the FBI has installed new desktop computers, printers, scanners and Microsoft Corp. Office software in its 56 field offices and two information technology centers, completing Trilogy's first phase, according to Sherry Higgins, Trilogy project manager.

But FBI agents still cannot tap into the bureau's five main investigation databases from their desktops, and many of them cannot send and receive e-mail or access the Internet, Higgins told members of a Senate judiciary subcommittee July 16.

Last fall, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, FBI officials vowed to have Trilogy completed by the end of this year — almost a year ahead of the original completion date of October 2003.

But Higgins, who was hired in March, said finishing on the faster schedule would not be possible.

It will take longer to install "the right solution" than it would take to install "a solution. Deciding what is right takes time," Higgins told Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Administrative Oversight and the Courts Subcommittee.

Higgins said the date for completing the second phase of Trilogy has been moved from this month to next March "to allow additional time to test and deploy a secure, operational system." The second phase involves making high-speed connections between FBI offices.

The final phase involves installing five user-specific software applications designed to help FBI agents find, organize and analyze information, which will be delivered by January 2004, Higgins said. Work on the $400 million Trilogy project began last spring.

Schumer declared the three-year wait for a modern computer system "unacceptable." After the terrorist attacks and disclosure that FBI field offices failed to share information they had on the terrorists, Schumer said, "I find it impossible to believe that we cannot, for the safety of our nation, implement Trilogy any faster.

"We need it today, not tomorrow. We needed it yesterday." He described current FBI technology as "dinosaur-era" and "fossil technology."

Private-sector computer system experts said that installing a system as extensive as Trilogy in a private company would probably take about 18 months. But most companies would not be starting with technology as primitive as the FBI's, one expert said.

Higgins said in the four months that she has worked for the FBI, she has "been given a whole lot of reasons why the FBI is where it is" technology-wise, "and I have asked not to be given history as excuses."

Before working for the FBI, Higgins was a chief information officer and chief technology officer at Lucent Technologies.

Although Trilogy could give FBI agents better access to investigation files and other information that would help them do their jobs better, it poses serious dangers from a security standpoint, warned Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

A former U.S. attorney for the southern district of Alabama, Sessions said, "There are people who would be dead — would disappear tomorrow" if information from FBI investigation files is too freely available.

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