Latest Sentinel delay sparks spat with IG

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is delaying its $451 million Sentinel project by four months to May 2012—but whether the latest postponement is significant depends on who is doing the assessment.

Chad Fulgham, the FBI's chief information officer, calls it a “modest” schedule change, while the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General argues that the new timetable amounts to a substantial postponement.

The dispute is laid out in the latest report from Acting Inspector General Cynthia Schnedar. The reason for the most recent pushback of the deadline is that the FBI uncovered performance deficiencies in the system in recent testing. Agency officials believe the problems are a result of insufficient hardware capacity.

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“FBI determined that it will have to purchase new hardware before Sentinel can operate properly when it ultimately is deployed to all Sentinel users,” the Dec. 23 Office of Inspector General report said. “At the time of this report, the FBI was still determining the cost of the new hardware and the cost associated with the additional delay to Sentinel’s development and deployment.”

The hardware capacity issue is the latest setback for the longstanding IT development program. Sentinel was initiated in 2006 as a four-phase program with an estimated total cost of $425 million and completion by December 2009.

The project was restructured to a $451 million baseline with a June 2010 completion date after the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., completed the first phase. At the completion of the second phase, the inspector general’s office expressed concerns about program delays, budget and failure to deliver what was intended. The FBI issued a stop-work order in July 2010 and announced plans to directly manage Sentinel and to complete the remaining two phases using agile methodology.

As a result of those plans, the number of Lockheed Martin personnel working on Sentinel has been reduced to 10, from about 135, the audit said.

The FBI, when it shifted to agile development, initially had expected to complete Sentinel by September 2011, later pushing the deadline again to January 2012. In the most recent assessment, the FBI projected a completion date of May 2012.

While the federal auditors said there were still uncertainties on whether it will finish on time, they noted positive changes, saying that the FBI’s transition to agile development “has reduced the risk that Sentinel will either exceed its budget or fail to deliver the expected functionality by reducing the rate at which the FBI is spending money on Sentinel and by instituting a more direct approach to the FBI’s monitoring of the development of Sentinel.”

Fulgham, in an appendix to the report, wrote that as of Dec. 6 the FBI has completed development of 88 percent of the functionality of Sentinel’s current phase. In light of that, and of the other improvements, he said the postponement should be considered minor.

“The FBI-wide deployment is now scheduled for May 2012, as described in this report,” Fulgham wrote. “This modest extension is due primarily to the need to implement a standard five-year ‘refresh’ of computer hardware.”

However, the inspector general’s report did not endorse that view.

“While in its response the FBI indicates that the May 2012 estimated deployment date is a ‘modest extension,’ it is in fact a 7-month extension, which we believe is significant even if it is necessary to develop the full system and in light of the FBI’s previous development delays,” the audit report said. The inspector general apparently was adding in a previous delay into the calculation of seven months.

The dispute between Fulgham and the inspector general's office did not extend to the inspector general’s four recommendations for improving Sentinel, including advice to perform additional testing and to ensure that agile development meets project life cycle requirements. The FBI agreed with all of the recommendations.

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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