FBI's IT raises red flags for Senate judiciary chairman

The FBI’s past setbacks in implementing information technology upgrades and its recent abuse of national security letters to obtain data on Americans are reasons to be concerned about its efforts to construct the $1 billion Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometric database, lawmakers said today.

“The confidence and credibility of the FBI has also taken a hit as the bureau seeks to exploit increasingly potent technologies,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, said in a prepared statement for the committee’s oversight hearing on the bureau.

The FBI announced last month that Lockheed Martin had won a contract to design, develop and deploy the NGI system — an upgrade to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System that collects and stores fingerprints related to law enforcement investigations.

The contract, which could be worth as much as $1 billion, was for a base year and up to nine option years. Last week, IBM — one of the other vendors that had been vying for the contract — protested the award. The Government Accountability Office has until early June to make a decision.

“There has to be a concern that if we are going to embark on anything like this — which goes so much into the privacy of Americans — that we know what we’re doing,” Leahy told FBI Director Robert Mueller at the hearing. “We also have to look at the impact that such a database can have on the privacy rights and civil liberties of Americans.”

“I want to make sure that the FBI has mastered emerging and enhanced technologies in the fight against crime — we know the difficulties they have had in past years on file sharing and other technological problems that the FBI had,” Leahy added

Mueller said in a statement that the bureau had continued to upgrade its IT systems, including improving case management and file-sharing systems.

“Although the FBI’s [IT] systems have presented some of our greatest challenges, they have also resulted in some of our most significant improvements in the past six years,” he said.

He also said that progress continued to be made on Phase 2 of Sentinel, the FBI’s next-generation caseload management system, which is scheduled to be implemented in July 2009. The final four phases of the project are set to conclude in May 2010, he added.

Leahy said in his statement that he hoped the stream of setbacks associated with the FBI’s efforts to update its computer system will finally come to an end.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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