Auditors warn FBI not to repeat mistakes

CIO says funding for all IT modernization needs is lacking

Federal Bureau of Investigation: Weak Controls over Trilogy Project Led to Payment of Questionable

The FBI’s poor record of managing its Trilogy information technology modernization program puts it at high risk of mismanaging Sentinel, a new program to create an automated case file management system, congressional auditors said last week. FBI officials also warned that funding problems could stall the bureau’s efforts to modernize its IT operations.

News stories last week revealed that the bureau couldn’t afford e-mail accounts for all of its 2,000 agents in New York City. The following day, government watchdogs took the agency to task for not keeping track of major IT modernization program spending and assets.

Later in the week, Zalmai Azmi, the FBI’s chief information officer, acknowledged that the bureau doesn’t have enough money to pay for essential IT services such as e-mail. The FBI receives $300 million a year to support 42,000 federal, state, local and contractor partners in law enforcement worldwide. That averages to about $7,100 per person, Azmi said. “You can do the math and tell if I have enough money.”

The $10 million annual appropriation that the FBI receives for expanding its unclassified network barely covers costs, Azmi said. The bureau can afford e-mail accounts with the domain name for only 22,000 of its 30,000 employees, he said. “It’s purely an issue of funding,” he added.

The FBI has established rooms with computer kiosks for offices in which not everyone has an account or a computer, he said. The bureau plans to connect all 56 of its field offices to the Internet by the end of the year.

During the past five years, the bureau has prioritized its funding and focused on supporting e-mail classified as secret, said Richard Haley, the FBI’s deputy chief financial officer. With that now completed, the bureau will develop top-secret and unclassified networks, he said.

Eventually, every agent will have a computer connected by three fiber-optic cables — one each for secret, top-secret and unclassified information, Azmi said. He will submit a budget to pay for the IT upgrades, he added.

Overcharging the FBI
The Government Accountability Office reported March 21 that the FBI and the General Services Administration lacked sufficient management controls to prevent more than $17 million in potential overcharging and lost or stolen equipment in the FBI’s Trilogy IT modernization program.

“FBI’s review and approval process for Trilogy contractor invoices, which included [GSA’s] review in its role as contracting agency, did not provide an adequate basis to verify that goods and services billed were actually received by FBI or that the amounts billed were appropriate,” GAO auditors reported.

If the FBI fails to improve its control of contractor payments, it risks overpaying contractors on future projects, said Linda Calbom, director of financial management and assurance at GAO. The FBI and GSA must ensure that interagency agreements clearly delineate roles and responsibilities and provide enough oversight, she added.

Azmi said the FBI has located more than 1,000 items that GAO said were lost or missing. Most of them had mislabeled or outdated bar codes, which the FBI uses for tracking, he said. None of the missing equipment contained classified data, he added, and therefore it does not pose a potential security risk.

Guarding Sentinel
Calbom said GAO’s recommendations based on the two-year Trilogy review equally apply to Sentinel, the bureau’s new $425 million automated case management system. Sentinel will replace the failed $170 million Virtual Case File system. VCF was to be part of Trilogy, but that program was abandoned after repeated cost and schedule overruns.

Azmi said that after the VCF debacle, the FBI instituted many changes to prevent similar problems from occurring with Sentinel. He said he receives independent validation and verification audits, which provide quantitative analyses and assurances of accountability.

To prevent repeating problems outlined in the GAO report, a unit within the Sentinel team reviews all administrative functions such as invoices, travel expenses, and the receipt and location of all assets, Azmi added.

Lockheed wins Sentinel bidFBI officials picked Lockheed Martin for a six-year, $305 million contract to build Sentinel, the bureau’s automated case management system.

The contract will provide two years of operations support and maintenance beyond the four years necessary to develop the system, said Zalmai Azmi (left), the FBI’s chief information officer. Development will end in 2009, and the program will be complete in 2011, he said.

Azmi estimated that Sentinel will cost $425 million — more than its predecessor, the $170 million Virtual Case File system. The new program will cost more because of the extra two years in the contract and because Sentinel will include intelligence functions that VCF did not.

Lockheed Martin will rely on service-oriented architecture and certified commercial products, using little custom development, said Linda Gooden, president of Lockheed Martin Information Technology.

Lockheed Martin started working on Sentinel last week and will deliver the first of four phases within a year, Azmi said. Its first phase will include a Web portal with single sign-on access to give FBI agents “one-stop shopping to most of our legacy systems.”

— Michael Arnone


  • Federal 100 Awards
    Federal 100 logo

    Nominations for the 2021 Fed 100 are now being accepted

    The deadline for submissions is Dec. 31.

  • Government Innovation Awards
    Government Innovation Awards -

    Congratulations to the 2020 Rising Stars

    These early-career leaders already are having an outsized impact on government IT.

Stay Connected