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Report sharply critical of delays, costs of FBI case management system

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Department Producer
  • The system is intended to streamline the handling of evidence and documents
  • The inspector general says it is $100 million over budget and two years behind schedule
  • The FBI has said it has assumed direct management of the project from the contractor

Washington (CNN) -- The FBI's troubled new system designed to help agents and analysts electronically handle evidence, reports and documents is now about $100 million over budget and two years behind schedule, according to a report by the Justice Department's internal watchdog.

The stinging report by investigators for Inspector General Glenn Fine is sharply critical of the lack of progress on the automated case management system known as Sentinel. The project was intended to move the FBI from an outmoded paper-based system to an electronic system for handling and sharing information about criminal cases.

Sentinel was launched with fanfare in 2006 after a previous effort collapsed, costing taxpayers more than $100 million. Sentinel was supposed to be completed at a cost of $451 million in 2009. Lockheed Martin was hired to develop the system.

Serious problems developed last year during the development of the second phase of the four-phase project. The intended user-friendly system had "serious performance and usability issues and had received overwhelmingly negative user feedback during testing with FBI agents and analysts" the report said.

The inspector general's report says the automated system has so far "not delivered much of what it originally intended." It concludes Lockheed Martin has already burned through most of the original projected cost, even though "the most challenging development work for Sentinel still remains."

The report says the FBI recently informed the inspector general that the Bureau will now assume direct management of Sentinel and significantly reduce the role of Lockheed Martin. The project may take another six years to complete, by which time some functions may be obsolete, the report concludes.

The FBI said it concurred with the report's recommendations to get the project back on track, and had already taken appropriate action. However, a statement issued by Associate Deputy Director Thomas Harrington Wednesday took issue with some of the findings by the inspector general.

"We believe that the interim report does not accurately reflect the FBI's management of the Sentinel project and fails to credit the FBI with taking corrective action to keep it on budget," Harrington said. He complained the IG report includes an inflated cost estimate for completing Sentinel "based on a worst case scenario for a plan that we are no longer using."

Harrington also noted the report expresses "significant concern" about the FBI's new plan yet it "offers no alternative and recommends in part that we follow this course."

A key Senate leader who has been monitoring the FBI's difficulties in developing the Sentinel system said he found the new report "disheartening." Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, blasted the delays and cost overruns, saying, "These stumbles continue to be alarming."

"I have used the Judiciary Committee's oversight authority for years to press the FBI to work aggressively to fix these problems, and I will continue to do so until this expensive and important program is working as it should be," Leahy said.