FBI Computer Funding Is Uncertain

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

The Justice Department's inspector general warned yesterday that funding for the FBI's new Sentinel computer system is uncertain and that the program's final price tag could exceed its $425 million budget.

A 112-page audit by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said that a current White House budget request includes only $100 million for Sentinel in fiscal 2007, although the FBI says it needs $57 million more to keep it going.

The FBI plans to make up the difference with leftover funds from other areas, but the audit warns that moving too much money "could erode the FBI's mission capability in counterterrorism, cybercrime and other important operational areas." Congress has yet to act on a budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Sentinel is designed to give agents the ability to manage case files from computers at their desks. The audit is the second in a series of planned reviews by Fine's office; it warned in March that the FBI was at risk of repeating many of the same mistakes with Sentinel that it made with a failed attempt to build a computerized case management system, the Virtual Case File (VCF), to replace the FBI's antiquated paper-based system. VCF was abandoned in 2005 after costing the government $170 million.

Previous audits and reviews found that the FBI did a poor job of overseeing and managing VCF, and that the main contractor delivered a product that was incomplete and unusable.

In contrast to VCF, which was built from scratch, Sentinel will rely primarily on off-the-shelf commercial software adapted for the FBI. Lockheed Martin Corp. is slated to receive $305 million as the main contractor on the project, which is supposed to be begin operating by 2009.

Yesterday's audit also raised questions about the assumptions underlying the FBI's overall cost estimate, which is based on rough calculations and does not include $25 million in related improvements.

The FBI said in a statement that the extra money needed for the current fiscal year "has long been identified from existing FBI balances and will not impact operational programs." The bureau played down concerns about Sentinel's cost, saying the project "is within cost and schedule."

The newest report says the FBI has made "significant progress" in several key areas, including improving management controls and finding ways to ensure that the software will work as intended.

Fine made five specific recommendations to overcome various problems. FBI officials said they agreed with the ideas and had begun implementing them.

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