US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller told the US House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies last week that the follow-on to the notoriously failed $170 million Virtual Case File program would once again slip its schedule and cost targets, the New York Times reported.
Sentinel is the FBI's next-generation information management system. According to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), Sentinel's key objectives are to: (1) successfully implement a system that acts as a single point of entry for all investigative case management and that provides paperless case management and workflow capabilities, (2) facilitate a bureau-wide organizational change management program, and (3) provide intuitive interfaces that feature data relevant to individual users.
When the Sentinel contract was awarded in 2006 it was going to cost a total $425 million and take six years to be full complete and rolled out. It is now at $451 million and is expected to rise to at least $481 million and slip possibly several months if not longer.
The Times story says that Director Mueller decided to suspend work on Sentinel to correct some "minor" technical issues and make some design changes. These issues included, according to the Times, "slow response times, awkward display pages and screen print that was too small."
For these problems to be appearing now, given Sentinel's extremely high Congressional profile, the importance of Sentinel to the FBI, and the supposed tight oversight of the program after the VCF fiasco, indicates to me that there may be much more here than is being publicly disclosed. Even the Department of Justice CIO rates the program as a 3.5 out of 5 in terms of overall program risk.
If I were Congress, I would ask the GAO to do an in-depth review of the program immediately. Things don't sound right.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.