DOJ readies regional exchange

The pilot of the Regional Data Exchange will start in six months, the Justice CIO says.

Justice Department officials are readying an operational pilot to test the Regional Data Exchange, an FBI-led effort to share crime information between federal, state and local law enforcement organizations.

The pilot will start within six months, said Vance Hitch, Justice Department chief information officer.

"Getting the data in format that's shareable, that's going to take six months," Hitch told Federal Computer Week. "Then it'll be operational."

The pilot organization will most likely continue to use the regional exchange's technology until the full rollout occurs, Hitch said. "After they get it, it's going to be hard to give it up," he said.

Regional pilots of the National Data Exchange, an effort to create a central data repository of law enforcement incident and event reports also led by the FBI, are already underway, Hitch added.

Both the national and regional data projects form part of the department's Law Enforcement Information Sharing Program (LEISP), an effort to distribute nationwide data captured by all levels of law enforcement. Full implementation of LEISP projects will require an ongoing series of pilots, Hitch said.

Although the data exchanges are FBI-directed projects, funding in fiscal 2006 will come from a centralized account for information sharing technology in the Justice CIO shop. The projects "are key to all of LEISP," Hitch said. "They have to fit exactly right, they have to serve the whole department, not just the FBI. That's why I'm controlling money for it."

Department officials hope to consolidate now separate information technology funding streams into the Justice Information Sharing Technology account and significantly increase its congressional appropriations during fiscal 2006 – $181 million, up from $76 million in combined accounting funds being spent in fiscal 2005.

"The Department of Justice that I came into was a very decentralized organization," said Hitch, who was appointed in March 2002. "My job is to make it much more strongly centrally coordinated from an information technology perspective."

That does not mean centralizing everything, he added.

Within the information sharing technology account are projections for increased funding for a planned departmentwide litigation case management system — $9.1 million in fiscal 2006, up from $2.4 million in fiscal 2005. The Litigation Case Management Core Solution parallel efforts to establish a departmentwide Federal Investigative Case Management Systems. FBI officials plan on issuing a request for proposals for the federal investigative system later this year to replace the bureau's much-maligned Virtual Case File software.

"There's a lot of history there that is not pretty, but in terms of moving forward, I think we have a common vision on how to do that and we're in the initial stages of doing that," Hitch said. Handing off cases from investigators to lawyers should not require developing a third system, Hitch said. The transfer process "should be baked in the procurements we're doing," he added.

Also set for a substantial budget increase next fiscal year is the department's effort to consolidate its core financial systems, the Unified Financial Management Systems (UFMS). The project is now at the point where a system integrator will be selected later his year, Hitch said. "We've already selected the software, and we're doing the high level planning right now that will guide the implementation roll out," he said.

The integrator will be chosen via a request for proposals set to be released during the third quarter of the federal fiscal year, Hitch added. The contract award's value will be large, adding that "a big financial system for a department like the Department of Justice is going to be huge."

The requested UFMS appropriations jump — $132.9 million, up from $82.4 million in fiscal 2005 — represents renewed confidence in the project's feasibility, Hitch said.

"We've had some hiccups so far that have it slowed it down, and I frankly am one who has slowed it down to make sure that we're doing this correctly," he said. Agencies and bureaus within the department had to come to better agreement on what "unified" means, he said. The system will not deal with unique needs by ignoring them, Hitch said.

"We had to come to grips with the interplay between the decentralized nature of the Department of Justice and what needed to be centralized for adequate financial control and we hadn't adequately done so," he said. Justice bureaus will be able to customize the system, "not through program changes, but through the way they set up the coding block structure and other things," he added.


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