FBI deploys first phase of technology upgrade

The FBI this week rolled out the initial part of its $425 million information technology system upgrade to reduce agents' dependence on paper-based files.

Employees now have an Internet-based interface giving them access to the Automated Case Support system. A "personal workbox" summarizes agents' cases and leads, while a "squad workbox" allows supervisors to better manage resources and make assignments. The new interface also has a better search function, according to the agency.

The upgrades mark the first of four phases for the six-year effort, known as Sentinel and designed to take the place of the failed $170 million Virtual Case File project.

"With the completion of Phase 1, FBI employees will see a marked improvement in their ability to access, retrieve and move information," said Joseph Ford, the FBI's associate deputy director, in a statement.

Lockheed Martin Corp. worked on the first stage of the program under a $57 million contract awarded in March 2006. It includes options that could be worth $248 million for work on the three additional phases.

Linda Gooden, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Services, said in a statement that the company is "proud to support the FBI in the first-phase delivery of this highly capable system."

The initial upgrades were originally scheduled to take effect earlier this year, but in April, FBI Director Robert Mueller told congressional appropriators that the deployment would be delayed at least a month because of "some unforeseen technicalities." Mueller said Sentinel would begin a test period at FBI headquarters and some field offices that month, and that the agency was in the final approval process with Lockheed Martin for the start of the first phase.

A group of FBI employees trained on the system in preparation for the initial deployment. They will serve as the points of contact for support in their offices. All FBI employees were offered training, the agency stated. As part of it, users had opportunities to make recommendations on changes to the application.

Mueller told congressional appropriators that Sentinel's second phase is more important than the first because it will affect more field agents. He said the second phase could come a year to 18 months after the first starts. The interim would be used in part to incorporate lessons learned from the first phase, he said.

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