Law Enforcement

ATF plans new case management system

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is planning to replace its legacy case management system with a modern, unified tool that gives investigators and attorneys access to case files, supports their updated business management system, works across mobile phones and tablets, and can support data from the retired system, according to a request for information posted on

Next generation case management systems have bedeviled federal law enforcement agencies. The FBI's Virtual Case File system cost the agency a reported $170 million before it was cancelled in 2005. This was eventually replaced with the Sentinel system, which itself incurred numerous delays. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently revised its plan for a purpose-built case management system, and is now seeking an off-the-shelf solution.

ATF appears to be taking some of these setbacks into account. The RFI specifies that the planned Next Generation Case Management System be built using agile development methodologies and commercial software. Interested contractors are asked to list their qualifications and certifications in agile.

The bureau's current software dates to 1998, and is divided across four applications – a criminal case management system called N-Force, a regulatory compliance tool called N-Spect, a lead management application dubbed N-Quire, and N-Force Vault, a property and evidence tagging system.

The planned new system will run on the web, use standardized data elements, offer end users geospatial mapping and a dashboard to create and run analytic reports, and interface with systems from other agencies, presumably including those of the Justice Department, ATF’s parent agency, and in particular the U.S. attorneys who prosecute cases.

Law enforcement systems present a complex and particular set of requirements. ATFs are spelled out in a 2,000-plus row spreadsheet that explains the administrative and investigative workflow for developers. For example, the system will have to be able to track requests for arrest and search warrants, associate warrants with particular cases, and obtain electronic signatures to approve such requests. Another section tracks the approval chain for requests for undercover officers.

The system will support attaching audio and video to records of witness and suspect interviews, and link those records to specific cases, along with case notes, transcripts and other media.

The system will manage the use of electronic surveillance equipment, as well as the chain of requests for obtaining court orders to bug suspects.

There's even a lengthy protocol for registering and managing confidential informants through a specialized database with need-to-know access for investigators, supervisors and bureau executives.

Interested vendors have until May 7 to respond to the RFI.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Wed, Apr 23, 2014 DC Fed Washington DC

Makes you kind of wonder; why couldn't ATF subscribe to FBI's Sentinel (sometimes called SATANel by end users). Since the Sentinel program was re-booted and a system actually came on line, it has been in use for a couple of years. The reboot used modern tech, was developed under Agile and it supports a very large and multi-faceted end user community. Someone (Issa?) should be asking one of three questions: 1. What does ATF need that Sentinel can't provide?, 2. What, if anything, is wrong with Sentinel?, and 3. How many case management systems does DOJ need?

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