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FBI tests software to replace canceled project

Agency presses ahead as lawmakers question earlier failure

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- FBI officials said they hope to award a contract by the year's end for a complex new software program to replace a failed project that was canceled this year at a cost of more than $100 million to taxpayers.

A technical feasibility study is under way on the new information management system, dubbed Sentinel, with experts from the National Institutes of Health before plans to begin a bidding process this summer, officials said Monday.

The FBI has suffered stinging criticism for its mishandling of investigative information and use of outmoded technology -- particularly in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The bureau's efforts to press ahead with plans for a case management system and other technological capabilities come as some lawmakers continue to examine troubles that led to the costly failed project.

On Monday, the FBI acknowledged a report from the House Appropriations Committee indicating the bureau had been aware of problems with the project known as the Virtual Case File system as early as 2003.

"This is old news. We did see problems in late 2003, and after those early indications, we began developing a two-track approach," said an official who asked not to be identified.

In spring 2004, the official said, the agency privately documented problems while awaiting delivery of the software from contractor Science Applications International Corp.

The FBI also apparently hired another contractor to conduct an independent review, which recommended canceling the project.

A limited pilot project in the FBI's New Orleans, Louisiana, field office sought to see if any portion of software products for the case file system could be salvaged.

The FBI said this $17 million project yielded some benefit for the new system to be built.

In congressional hearings, FBI Director Robert Mueller has acknowledged the expected loss from the canceled project will be about $104 million.

Mueller told lawmakers he is unable yet to place a price tag on the Sentinel project.

The project is slated to be completed in four phases over an unspecified period of time, officials said Monday.

The systems will include search capabilities, protocols for processing and handling FBI reports, security issues and a new system for records management.


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