FBI Outlines $425 Million Computer Upgrade

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 17, 2006

The FBI unveiled plans yesterday for a $425 million computerized case-management system, vowing to avoid the oversight and technology problems that doomed a previous $170 million effort and has left agents still working largely on paper.

Lockheed Martin Corp. will get $305 million as the primary contractor on the project, with most of the rest going to program management and other work inside the FBI. The FBI's chief information officer, Zalmai Azmi, said agents would have secure Internet access to many FBI systems within a year and that the entire new system, dubbed Sentinel, would be up and running by late 2009.

The project is the latest effort by the FBI to update its antiquated, mainframe-based computer systems, frequently identified as one of the key obstacles to the bureau's attempt to sharpen its focus on intelligence and terrorism. The bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks sharply criticized the FBI's technology flaws, which may have played a role in some of the missteps before the terrorist strikes.

A previous effort, dubbed Trilogy, led to successful hardware upgrades and thousands of new PCs, but the final phase -- a software system called the Virtual Case File -- was abandoned last year amid cost overruns and management problems.

The Justice Department's inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, warned in a report issued Monday that the FBI is at risk of repeating several of the same mistakes with Sentinel. The review raised concerns about management turnover and weak cost controls.

But Azmi told reporters yesterday that the FBI has included an aggressive system of audits, outside management review and financial controls to guard against any problems.

"We have a number of controls in place to ensure that this program is not following in Trilogy's footsteps," Azmi said.

Azmi said Sentinel would offer FBI agents and analysts "one-stop shopping" for access to the bureau's dozens of incompatible databases. "The list of capabilities that this program will bring will be enormous," he said.

Two companies that are part of the Lockheed Martin project team, Computer Sciences Corp. and CACI International Inc., also played roles in the earlier Trilogy efforts, Azmi said. The main contractor on the failed software system, Science Applications International Corp., is not involved in Sentinel, officials said.

Linda Gooden, president of Lockheed Martin Information Technology, said she is "confident that the FBI has instituted the appropriate checks and balances" to guard against overruns and other problems. The company's pay will be "performance-based," she said.

Lockheed will continue refining and overseeing the project for two years after it is installed to ensure a smooth transition, Azmi said. The only other bidder for the Sentinel contract was another defense contractor, Northrop Grumman Corp.

The FBI's computer troubles have caused serious friction on Capitol Hill and have forced the bureau to borrow funds from other programs, including counterterrorism, to pay for Sentinel. Fine's report warned that "diverting substantial funds from such mission-critical areas could begin eroding" the FBI's effectiveness.

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