Law Enforcement

FBI agents stymied by Sentinel search function

The FBI's Sentinel online case management system gets good marks overall from users, but special agents and others at the bureau report headaches with the search and indexing functions, according to a report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General.

This marks the 10th OIG report on the $500 million Sentinel system, which got off to a rocky start. It was later rescoped by IT officials, who assumed lead project management duties from contractor Lockheed Martin in 2010 and put development on an agile basis. The system has drawn its share of attention from congressional overseers and internal auditors because of delays and cost overruns.

In a recent OIG survey of more than 2,500 FBI employees, which generated 1,150 responses, 59 percent of Sentinel users said they sometimes, rarely or never were able to generate needed results with the system's search function. The problem is especially pronounced in field offices and other locations away from the FBI's Washington headquarters. Furthermore, about 40 percent of users reported being unhappy with the organization of search results.

Some also complained about the time it took to append indexing information to documents added to the system, including structured documents such as financial records used as evidence in a case or unstructured documents such as email messages. The OIG report observes that although the FBI does not yet have automated tools to assist in indexing documents, "there is an increasing need for the FBI to address this issue."

FBI evidence handlers, who number among the heaviest Sentinel users, were the least satisfied with the system, according to the report. More than two-thirds of electronic surveillance technicians and evidence custodian technicians said Sentinel is a drag on their productivity because of the increased time spent logging the movement of evidence out of evidence control rooms.

Nevertheless, 72 percent of respondents said Sentinel has "enhanced the FBI's ability to carry out its mission," while 69 percent touted improved information sharing and 63 percent approved of the way the bureau handled the transition from the previous system. Almost 60 percent said Sentinel helped improve their daily productivity.

Overall, about 36 percent of users want to see new features added to Sentinel, especially integration with other FBI IT systems and improved search functionality.

In reply comments, FBI officials said the Sentinel 1.5 release coming out in October includes search upgrades.

They also concurred with recommendations that they solicit user feedback for design enhancements, improve technological solutions to the indexing problem and ensure that agents take advantage of the new operational support technicians deployed to reduce the administrative burden on users.

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 and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

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


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