IG slams FBI tech projects

FBI's Management of Information Technology Investments

The FBI is wasting millions of dollars by not effectively managing its information technology investments, according to the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General.

A Dec. 19, 2002, report lists a host of weaknesses in the bureau's IT management processes, including its $458 million Trilogy project, intended to upgrade the agency's underlying IT infrastructure.

FBI Chief Information Officer Darwin John, who took the position last July, told the IG's office in a written response to the report that he had already undertaken a review of the agency's practices and is likely to implement changes by February. FBI officials agreed with most of the IG's 30 recommendations and cited progress already made on many of them.

Many of the shortcomings listed pertain to the systematic planning, tracking and evaluation of IT projects. The bureau was not following a disciplined process to oversee project costs or milestones, the IG's office found.

"The FBI continues to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on IT projects without adequate assurance that these projects will meet their intended goals," according to the report.

For example, under Trilogy, the FBI missed a July 2002 milestone date for completing IT infrastructure upgrades to field offices, despite $78 million that Congress had added specifically to accelerate the program's progress.

The FBI's problems have become more urgent following 2001's terrorist attacks, said Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. "We don't have five years for the FBI to get this right," he said.

Aftergood said he is unsure that the FBI can solve the web of shortcomings the report details. The report's key value is in calling attention to the problems. "It ceases to be the responsibility only of the IT managers," he said. "It is now the responsibility of the FBI director and the congressional overseers."

The news is troubling but not surprising to some of those congressional overseers, said Amy Spanbauer, spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

Gibbons and others in Congress are urging agencies to speed efforts to improve their information-sharing abilities. It is a formidable challenge, she said.

"Just writing it down in legislation doesn't necessarily get the job done," she said. "The obstacles have been in place for years or even decades, and to break down those obstacles doesn't happen overnight."

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Room to improve

The Justice Department inspector general's recommendations to help the FBI get its information technology management back on track include:

* Requiring its Information Technology Investment Management program office to act more swiftly so that board members can carry out their responsibilities competently.

* Ensuring that all members of the IT investment boards receive sufficient education and training to execute assigned responsibilities effectively.

* Creating a process for field offices to submit input and get feedback from FBI headquarters before installing IT equipment.

* Developing written policies and procedures for management oversight for use by the investment review boards.

* Creating an employee training plan specifically tailored to IT specialists and electronics technicians.

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