FBI takes another swing at case management with Sentinel system

With the FBI’s Virtual Case File project called out on strikes, the bureau has moved its designated replacement on deck.

The FBI plans this year to launch the Sentinel project, which would provide a new case management system and other applications based on a service-oriented architecture. FBI officials said Sentinel will replace the defunct VCF project, which agency director Robert Mueller III quietly terminated.

Mueller tolled the bell for the much-maligned project in his responses to questions from the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce and Related Agencies in March.

Mueller cited a December consultant report on VCF that said it “was not scalable and that the engineering was not what it should be in order to make it the effective tool for the FBI, and it requires us now to go a different route.”

Later in the same response, Mueller said, “I am tremendously disappointed that we did not come through on Virtual Case File.”

Mueller admitted in Senate testimony in January before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that the bureau had squandered $104 million on VCF software that will not be reused.

While Mueller performed last rites for VCF, FBI officials neglected to tell its prime contractor. A VCF pilot project continued as planned until April 15, according to the bureau and Science Applications International Corp.of San Diego, the prime contractor for the effort. As late as last week, SAIC spokesman Jared Adams said, the FBI had not officially informed the company that there is no chance that the bureau will choose to complete VCF.

As for Sentinel, bureau officials have been using the moniker since last month. The FBI will design Sentinel using the Federal Investigative Case Management Solution, which will provide a blueprint for federal law enforcement case management systems. Officials said they expect to issue a request for proposals this summer, or at the latest by Sept. 30.

Using the name Sentinel “helps remove any confusion about what FICMS is and what the actual solution for the FBI will be,” said Price Roe, senior policy adviser for Justice’s CIO, Vance Hitch.

Roe added that Sentinel is “the first implementation of an FICMS framework. Because of the service-oriented architecture, other agencies will be able to use the core solution.”

As for Sentinel itself, “It’s a new name,” Roe said. “We had to work with the appropriators and the Office of Management and Budget to make sure they were on board with our general approach. The name is something after the fact.”

FBI officials said Sentinel would provide the bureau’s special agents and other employees with:
  • Automated workflow tools

  • Search capabilities

  • 8Record and case management tools

  • Reporting protocols.

“We have been briefing people on the Hill and in OMB about the plans for this project, and will continue to do so. Most of the interest is on what the FBI is doing” to apply technology to its mission, Roe said. “Both Congress and OMB are intensely interested in Sentinel because of the importance of effective case management to the FBI and Justice’s larger counterterrorism and law enforcement mission.”

Additionally, senior bureau officials from across the country recently met in Washington to review the concept of operations for Sentinel, officials said.

The bureau plans to run the Sentinel procurement through the National Institutes of Health’s governmentwide acquisition contract office, other officials said. NIH and FBI officials currently are overseeing a technical feasibility study for the project, officials said.

The bureau has not yet appointed a project manager for Sentinel. Officials said the FBI is conducting an executive search that would include looking at Senior Executive Service leaders in other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, as well as private-sector executives.

“We have taken the lessons learned [from the VCF program] so we are better positioned to shape this next generation of electronic information management systems,” said an official, who requested anonymity. “Sentinel will go beyond [the capabilities of] VCF. It is part of a larger service-oriented architecture, to develop and deploy services and capabilities to FBI employees.”
Bureau officials said they expect to be able to add, remove or modify the system’s capabilities more easily because of its service-oriented architecture.

Each phase of Sentinel will be a standalone capability, another official said. The phased rollout plan is intended to facilitate training, the transition to the new systems, and the systems’ deployment and support.

Bureau officials said they now expect to roll out Sentinel in four phases, though the project’s contractor may change that approach.

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