FBI may scrap $170 million project
Leahy: The program is 'a train wreck in slow motion'
From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A top FBI official said
Thursday the bureau may have to scrap a computer program that so far has
cost $170 million and was intended to be an important tool in fighting
Bureau officials told a news briefing that they expect to find that
after four years in development their much-touted Virtual Case File system
does not work. But they said a suitable replacement is commercially
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the project is
being reviewed by the Justice Department, The Associated Press
FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was in Birmingham, Alabama, Thursday,
said he was "frustrated by the delays."
"I am frustrated that we do not have on every agent's desk the
capability of a modern case management system," Mueller said.
"At the same time, we have made substantial changes in the way we
handle information information technology within the FBI."
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate
Judiciary Committee, called the program "a train wreck in slow
Leahy noted that the FBI said last May the Virtual Case File system
would be completed by the end of 2004.
"Now we learn that the FBI began to explore new options last August,
because it feared that VCF was going to fail," Leahy said in a press
"Bringing the FBI's information technology into the 21st century should
not be rocket science."
He said that getting straight answers from the Justice Department and
the FBI "has been so difficult that we had to take the step of asking for
an independent investigation by the Government Accountability
Speed information sharing
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the FBI and
contractor Science Applications International Corp. have been racing to
complete the project, which is intended to speed the rapid sharing of
"It's like changing the wheels on a car going 70 miles an hour," the
senior FBI official told reporters. "We're mission-oriented. We have no
The official acknowledged the seriousness of the flaws, but insisted
the problems have had no major impact on the FBI's counterterrorism
"All the information is getting there. It's just that we're doing it
the hard way," the official said.
Counterterrorism information collected by agents through interviews and
surveillance currently becomes available only after it is uploaded nightly
into a system accessible to the nation's intelligence community.
The current program requires FBI personnel to manually enter, print,
sign and scan their information into the "investigative data
Counterterrorism information collected by agents gets top priority and
is entered into the system within 24 hours.
Information dealing with such matters as violent crime, organized
crime, fraud and other white-collar crime may take days to be shared
throughout the law enforcement community, the officials said.
The new software program was supposed to allow agents to pass along
along intelligence and criminal information in real time.
The FBI expects to learn within weeks whether it will have to scrap the
system, a scenario the officials said was likely.
Before making that decision, the FBI is awaiting a final report by an
independent consultant, Aerospace Corp., hired to review the state of the
the software project and analyze what is available commercially.
FBI officials indicated they expect to get the consultant's conclusion target=_blank name=rv1>
by the end of the month. They predicted that at least $130 million of the
$170 million project could be lost.
Meanwhile, the FBI's New Orleans field office has launched a
three-month pilot project to determine whether about 10 percent of the
Virtual Case File system development can be salvaged.
The office will run a prototype of the system that SAIC delivered to
the FBI in December after missing previous deadlines.
"We delivered the initial operational capability of the FBI's virtual
case file system as contractually agreed upon, at the end of December,"
said SAIC spokesman Jared Adams.
The senior FBI official said he would withhold a verdict on whether any
portion of the software could be incorporated into a successor system
until the trial's conclusion.
Top FBI officials cited a wide range of reasons for the
The rapidly changing state of technology was insufficiently understood,
and an entire system was developed to replace the antiquated FBI computer
and record management systems.
One official said that "next time" the FBI would seek a modular system
in which capabilities can be added or changed to the existing
The FBI said the changed mission of the bureau following the September
11 attacks added a burden to the case-file system developers, who launched
the complex project upgrade in 2000.
FBI officials say they are awaiting a review on the status of the
agency's major technology projects, which together are costing more than
The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, is working on a broad
review of the FBI technology upgrades, including the troubled project.
Key FBI officials were scheduled to meet Thursday with the Justice
Department inspector general and separately with lawmakers to discuss the
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