FBI's technology upgrade delayed again

The FBI's beleaguered effort to upgrade information technology systems has suffered another setback, this time causing a delay of at least a month, the bureau's director said Thursday.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the agency that deploying the first phase of the so-called Sentinel program will be delayed until at least next month "due to some unforeseen technicalities." He did not elaborate.

Mueller said the program was supposed to begin a test period at FBI headquarters and some field offices this month. He said the FBI is now in the final approval process with its contractor, Lockheed Martin, for the first phase to begin.

The FBI has been trying to upgrade its IT architecture for years, especially to give agents an electronic case-management system. But former programs were scrapped due to technology and contract problems. Sentinel is intended to replace the now-defunct Virtual Case File system, which was to be the FBI's state-of-the-art information management architecture.

The bureau spent about $170 million on Virtual Case File, which was abandoned two years ago. It was part of a program called Trilogy to modernize the agency's outdated computer systems. The FBI launched the Sentinel program last year.

At Thursday's panel hearing, lawmakers said they are closely watching Sentinel.

"After the collapse of Trilogy, the FBI must stay on track, and see that this program does not fail," said Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. "At the Congress' request, both the [Government Accountability Office] and the Justice Department [inspector general] are monitoring and overseeing this program. We will maintain our vigilant oversight to ensure that this program stays on track and that no taxpayer dollars are wasted."

Subcommittee ranking Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama said he "will not support unlimited and unchecked resources and will not tolerate broken promises for results for IT projects that are not fulfilled or delivered."

Mueller said the second phase of Sentinel is more important because it will be deployed to more agents in the field. But he could not give lawmakers a firm timeline for beginning that phase.

"Not in this year," he said. He estimated that it could take one year to 18 months to deploy the second phase after the first begins, so the FBI can work to incorporate lessons learned from the first phase. He added that Sentinel ultimately will have four phases.

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