Virtual Case File a virtual bust

Five years of development and $170 million in costs has produced for the FBI an incomplete electronic records management system that may be outdated before it can be fully implemented, an FBI official said Jan. 13.

Only about one-tenth of the planned capability of the Virtual Case File has been completed by contractor Science Applications International Corp., said the official, who gave a formal press briefing on an anonymous basis. Virtual Case File is part of the Trilogy program, the bureau's modernization effort. The application was originally due December 2003.

Currently, only the automated workflow portion of the case file management system is operational, on a pilot test basis in the New Orleans field office and Washington, D.C. At full capacity, the system should enable electronic records management and evidence management, and allow for varying levels of access based on a user's security clearance. Updating the agency's Investigative Data Warehouse currently requires FBI workers to manually scan officially signed agent reports, a cumbersome process that would be eliminated with electronic records management, the official said. Reports pertaining to counterterrorism are added to the data warehouse nightly, the official said.

Work on the Virtual Case File began in 2000. Five years later, the technology world has changed and the way the system was developed makes updating it virtually impossible. For example, the Virtual Case File can't create or transmit electronic signatures, nor could that capability be added. FBI officials also expanded the scope of the file's mission and begun closer collaboration with the intelligence community following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the official said.

Whether agency officials will press forward in completing the Virtual Case File remains to be seen, the official said. FBI officials have hired Aerospace to conduct an independent assessment, but a draft report from the Justice Department's inspector general already concludes the program will not work. The official refused to answer questions on the content of the draft report.

BAE Systems is also conducting an assessment of the bureau's electronic case management requirements; both reports are due by the end of this month, the official said.

"Based on those recommendations, we have to make a decision of where we want to go with the future case management system in the bureau," the official said.

FBI officials will also examine the workflow portions of the system following three months of real-life testing, after which the agency will shut down that test and assess the file's performance based on feedback from users.

If the program is canceled, bureau officials will attempt to salvage and reuse Virtual Case File software and hardware components, the official added. Of the $170 million spent so far, $40 million may be automatically reusable because that amount was spent on government-owned hardware. "Folks are already asking for it," the official said.

In addition, the situation has offered invaluable lessons, the official said. Among the lessons learned are contract management, program management, schedule development and how to monitor the status of FBI programs.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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