Inspector general slams FBI IT program; bureau officials defend it

OIG raps Sentinel as two years behind schedule and $100M over budget

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's troubled Sentinel case management IT program came under fire from the bureau's inspector general today, while FBI officials defended its performance.

The bureau's IG has issued an advisory report that raised more questions about the FBI’s approach and future plans for its Sentinel IT program, given the troubled history of the project.

Meanwhile, FBI officials defended the bureau's performance in managing the $451 million system's development after the IG charged that the project has fallen two years behind schedule and at least $100 million over budget.

"Our review found that as of August 2010, after spending about $405 million of the $451 million budgeted for the Sentinel project, the FBI has delivered only two of Sentinel’s four phases to its agents and analysts,” Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote in the advisory report. “Moreover, we believe that the most challenging development work for Sentinel still remains.”

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In response, FBI Associate Deputy Director Thomas Harrington issued a statement  that accused the IG of using outdated cost estimates and of denying the FBI credit for taking corrective actions.

“We believe that the interim report does not accurately reflect the FBI’s management of the Sentinel project, and fails to credit the FBI with taking corrective action to keep it on budget,” Harrington said.

“Moreover, the interim report comes at a time when the FBI has changed its plan for completing the project, and the Department of Justice has authorized us to go forward with our new approach. The report, however, continues to rely on outdated cost estimates that do not apply to the current FBI plan,” Harrington wrote.

The bureau started the Sentinel project in 2006 to develop a digital case management system, following the failure in 2005 of the Virtual Case File project  due to poor design, high turnover and other factors. The original plan for Sentinel was a four-phased approach costing $425 million with completion in December 2009.

Phase 1 was finished in June 2007, while Phase 2 was completed in July, and costs rose to $451 million. In March, the FBI issued a partial stop-work order to Lockheed Martin Services Inc., the primary contractor, for portions of Phase 3 and all of Phase 4 due to issues regarding negative user feedback on performance, usability, and quality of work in earlier phases.

Because of Sentinel’s delays and cost increases, in July the FBI issued another order that directed Lockheed Martin to stop all work on the remaining phases. In September, FBI officials announced a new “agile development” approach for Sentinel, which would be performed largely in-house and with a revised plan that called for some reduction in Sentinel capabilities.

However, Fine wrote that the new approach is still in process.

“The FBI’s new plan to develop Sentinel is still evolving, is not officially approved, and is undocumented,” Fine wrote. “Our initial consideration of the FBI’s new and evolving plan raises several immediate concerns and questions.” These include doubts about the FBI’s lack of experience with the new approach, lack of a workflow process plan and a need to analyze how much of the existing Sentinel system can be used.

The IG recommended that the FBI reassess and update the functionality in Sentinel’s requirements; prioritize the remaining requirements; and reinstitute project health assessments and earned value management for Sentinel. Chad Fulgham, executive assistant director of information and technology branch for the FBI, agreed with those recommendations.

However, Harrington, the FBI’s associate deputy director, offered additional comments about the recommendations.

“The [IG’s] interim report expresses 'significant concern' about the FBI's new plan, yet it offers no alternative and recommends, in part, that we follow this course,” Harrington said. “Two of the [IG's] three recommendations direct the FBI to reassess the functionality described in Sentinel's requirements and prioritize the remaining requirements to have the greatest impact on agents and analysts. This is what we have done in moving forward to complete Sentinel using agile development."


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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