FBI Sentinel Update

The FBI announced last week that it had deployed the first phase of Sentinel, the FBIâ''s next-generation information management system. The $425 million Sentinel project is the follow-on program to the failed Trilogy effort which included the infamous Virtual Case File (VCF) system, which was written about in gory detail by IEEE Spectrumâ''s Senior Associate Editor Harry Goldstein in September 2005. The deployment was about a month behind schedule due to â''unexpected problems.â''

As FBI Mueller stated in testimony to the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies on 26 April 2007 that Phase II of the Sentinel roll-out, which was more important than Phase I because it â''addresses more of our business practices, would take from one year to 18-months to occur, but he could not say when that would be completed. The four phases of the planned Sentinel roll-out is scheduled to be completed by 2009.

While the current roll-out is some good news for the FBI, there are still storm warnings in the air. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), said at the April hearings that, â''Since the FBI announced the VCFâ''s successor, the Sentinel program, I have seen nothing to boost my confidence in the Bureauâ''s ability to manage the status and cost of this project. While the FBI estimates that Sentinel will ultimately cost the American taxpayers $425 million, a December 2006 OIG audit report questioned the reliability of the total estimated costs for the programâ'¿. By my calculations, at least $253 million has been invested in Sentinel alone from FY05 to FY07 between reprogramming dollars and Congressional appropriations. The Presidentâ''s FY08 Budget proposes no funding for the project. â'¿ Director Mueller, this committee has to ask: Is this déjà vu all over again?â''

While criticism of the FBI from Leahy is expected, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala), a strong supporter of the FBI, also told Mueller at the hearing that, â''As I stated last year, given your Trilogy failure, I will not support unlimited and unchecked resources and will not tolerate broken promises for results for IT projects that are not fulfilled or delivered.â''

Director Mueller testified that Sentinel is under budget at this time, and he expects it to complete under budget. He said that he meets with the Sentinel team every week, and I have been told that Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor, has daily discussions with the FBI CIO Zalmai Azmi to review progress and outstanding program risks. Mueller also said that they provide bi-weekly briefings to Congress on the status of Sentinel in an effort to keep everyone informed. "No surprises" seem to be his desire.

At the hearing, Mueller said that Phase II is in a re-planning stage, which should be complete by the end of the summer or early fall. If things continue to go as planned, the Sentinel project at least may keep from doing any further damage to the FBI's reputation. However, if there are any unexpected hiccups, watch out. The Senate is definitely ready and armed for bear.


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City