Success in reorganizing the FBI to thwart terrorists depends greatly on the bureau's ability to solve its IT problems
Success in reorganizing the FBI to effectively prevent terrorist attacks depends to a great degree on the bureau's ability to solve its information technology problems, FBI Director Robert Mueller told a House subcommittee June 21.
Mueller said he is trying to transform the FBI's 90-year-old bureaucracy that still depends heavily on paper documents to one that uses digital information and enables agents and divisions to communicate instantaneously with one another and retrieve information from integrated databases of the FBI, CIA, State Department, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
The FBI is seeking more than $300 million for technology projects in fiscal 2003.
But some members of a House appropriations subcommittee that oversees FBI budgets remain skeptical.
"We've heard director after director say, 'Give me the money and I will modernize [FBI] computer systems,'" said Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.). Congress has given the FBI $1.7 billion since 1993 to spend on a half-dozen large computer programs, yet the bureau is still struggling, he said.
"We have been pleading" with the FBI to develop a common computer architecture that would make its systems work with one another and with systems in other agencies, but so far that hasn't happened, Rogers said.
"What assurances can you give us" that the FBI will succeed this time "if we give you the money?" he asked Mueller.
Mueller said he hoped to hire a chief information officer who has extensive experience in the commercial sector and will be assigned to build a computer architecture and use technology to break down bureaucratic "stovepipes" in the FBI.
He acknowledged that some past modernization programs have failed.
The bureau's automated case support system, or ACS, for example, "is user- unfriendly. If a system is unfriendly, people won't use it. They'll go back to paper," he said.
But other systems bought in recent years have been successes, he said, such as the National Crime Information Center that police across the nation use to conduct criminal background checks.
The FBI's key modernization effort is Trilogy, a $400 million project to replace the bureau's paper-based case management system with modern desktop computers and networks.
The first phase is under way, Mueller said. The FBI has scrapped many of its pre-Internet era computers and replaced them with Pentium machines, created local- and wide-area networks and equipped agents with current commercial software — making the computers FBI agents use at work comparable to those they buy for use at home, he said.
Future phases include migrating data from 30 to 40 separate systems to a data warehouse, where it can be accessed from the new desktop computers to support casework. That will take until the end of 2003, Mueller said.