FBI to begin second phase of case management project

The FBI this month awarded a task order to begin work on the second and more complicated phase of its case management system, a program that will allow agents nationwide to share information on investigations.

Under the Phase II task order, the FBI will build out a Web portal for the case management system, known as Sentinel. Under Phase I, Lockheed Martin, which won the $305 million Sentinel contract in March 2006, built the front page of the Web portal, which features functions such as Google search and an FBI phonebook.

Under Phase II, the FBI will build the functionality to put case files on the system and allow agents to manage the cases, write reports and share evidence and other information. In Phase II agents will be able to perform records management, including the ability to send notifications and action items, and assign and reassign leads.

"The FBI is very forms-driven; making them available online will help to facilitate information sharing and collaboration," said Dean Hall, deputy chief information officer for the FBI. "Agents need assurance that documents that are highly selective will be protected, but they also need to be able to share that information across the enterprise. Ensuring that proper access controls are in place is essential. A cornerstone of Sentinel is strong identity and data access management."

Sentinel was developed as a replacement for the FBI's failed $170 million Virtual Case File, which was supposed to automate the bureau's paper-based investigation system. The FBI accelerated work on the VCF shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Reports cited the failure of the FBI to share information with agents inside the bureau and with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies about suspicious students taking flying lessons prior to Sept. 11. The FBI killed VCF in 2005 after repeated budget overruns, missed deadlines and performance issues.

Sentinel isn't "necessarily a grand plan; more of a way to take advantage of existing technologies," said Ray Bjorklund, chief knowledge officer for FedSources, a federal marketing research firm in McLean, Va. He said law enforcement agencies need to move information and evidence on investigations quickly so that decisions can be made and actions can be taken at a moments notice. "In the context of a post-9/11 world, it becomes even more important," he said.

Hall declined to identify the value of the task order for the second phase. However, he said the task order remained in line with budget projections, which according to a Government Accountability Office report, totaled $138 million in fiscal 2007 and $50 million for fiscal 2008. "The funding profile hasn't changed, but we have switched to incremental funding and therefore did not award the entire amount to Lockheed upfront," Hall said. "It is easier to divide it into segments."

He said the bureau plans to have the Sentinel portal site operational in six months. In early 2008, the FBI will start Phase III, which includes making electronic forms and workflow management applications available, while continuing to add various functions to the main Web site. "The Sentinel portal will be a one-stop shop," Hall said. "It will follow the same sort of model as a Yahoo! or Google portal."

Hall acknowledged the difficulties of migrating from a paper-based system to digital formats. "First, you need a strong data repository with operations capabilities," he said. "You need the ability to recover information very quickly in the event of a loss. Maintaining that and maintaining digital identities properly through Public Key Infrastructure are all [crucial]. We've been working closely with Lockheed on this."

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