Law enforcement

In Sentinel, the FBI finds an unlikely poster child for agile

Shutterstock image: J. Edgar Hoover FBI building.

The FBI has struggled mightily with case management software over the years. But the bureau's CTO thinks previous failures have taught the FBI how to do agile development, which involves rapid delivery and adapting to changing requirements.

The FBI turned around the troubled, nearly $500 million Sentinel case management system in 20 months by empowering the relevant people to make fast decisions, according to CTO Jeffrey Johnson.

"We were able to get really aggressive in a scrum, agile methodology partnering with that ecosystem that we already had built, partnering with the problem set that we already understood for case management at the FBI," he said Nov. 19 at a breakfast hosted by AFCEA's Bethesda Md., chapter and sponsored by FCW.

"You don't have somebody sitting in an ivory tower making a decision three weeks ahead of time," added Johnson, who is also assistant director of the FBI's IT Applications and Data Division. "You get the person who’s got the most information making the decision at the right time. And that, to me, is the fundamental shift."

The FBI awarded the Sentinel contract to Lockheed Martin in March 2006. Development of the case management system was supposed to be finished by December 2009, but technical deficiencies and other shortcomings meant it was not deployed until July 2012 -- after the FBI took over operational management of the program.

A Justice Department audit published in September 2014 found that although most FBI employees surveyed said Sentinel had had a positive impact on FBI operations, they had concerns about the system's search and indexing functions.

Johnson, a former unified communications manager at Lehman Brothers, said Sentinel was delivering new capabilities every month and could be a game changer for the FBI, with the right commitment and support from the bureau.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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